||The year 2014 has been designated by the United Nations as the year of Small Island Developing States. In September, governments of the world will convene at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, in Apia, Samoa. The timing of this designation and of the Summit could not be better, or more urgent.
Small Islands Developing States are a global treasure in terms of their rich human culture, plant and animal life and raw, natural beauty. Small Island Developing States are also extremely vulnerable to changes brought about by mankind. Protecting these islands must be a top priority for all of us as we move towards
negotiating new international agreements and as we take action at all levels of society to fight climate change, slow land degradation and conserve biodiversity.
Small Island Developing States are among those that contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. At the same time, they are on the front line of climate impacts. They are threatened by rising sea levels, increasing number and severity of extreme weather events, ocean acidification that impacts coral reefs, fishing and fresh water, and changes to weather patterns that reduce food and water security. These impacts can result in significant loss of life and damage to property and infrastructure, threatening the very existence of these island economies.
Small Island Developing States with limited land areas are also vulnerable to desertification and land degradation. This is due to many factors, such as overuse of limited resources, deforestation and catastrophic natural events. Cyclones, typhoons, drought, flood and fire all pose grave risk to island life. The impacts to
water supply, natural resources, and traditional forest, lagoon and reef-based subsistence systems are severe.
Small Island Developing States value biodiversity as the cornerstone of life and are vulnerable to losing this biodiversity. Many of these nations rely heavily on biodiversity for subsistence. A single natural disaster can devastate ecosystems, especially where deterioration already exists. The ecosystem services biodiversity
contributes ensures clean water, fresh air, food and shelter, and access to traditional medicines. A healthy and diverse ecosystem is essential to the livelihoods of island peoples.
The combined challenges of climate change, desertification and biodiversity loss represent an existential struggle for small islands. Under worst-case scenarios, changing natural world conditions could raise seas, erode land and reduce flora and fauna to the point where islands are either completely under water or
uninhabitable, forcing inhabitants to migrate away from their ancestral homeland.
Facing these immense challenges, 2014 needs to be a time for enhanced action under all three Rio Conventions. Such action, at all levels of government and society, can help Small Island Developing States
adapt to the effects of climate change, retain diverse ecosystems and slow land degradation. The potential capital and needed technologies exist, what is needed is the political will to act.
Small Island Developing States are demonstrating such will and are already leading by example and urging the rest of the world to join their efforts. For example, several Small Island Developing States are leading the charge in renewable energy use, ecosystem protection and land restoration. They are sharing both innovative and tested solutions, proposing concrete programmes and taking an active role in building their future.
The global community must follow this leadership, listen to these concerns and accelerate action. Threats to the smallest and most vulnerable members of the international community are ultimately threats to everyone. Governments of the world must come together to take ambitious action on climate, preserve biodiversity and maintain land integrity to create truly sustainable development for generations to come.