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Help yourself: how small islands can adapt to climate change

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Emma L. Tompkins
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Small islands are responsible for few greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but they will experience the worst effects through sea level rise and water shortages. Small islands must act now to be ready for these changes.Adaptation is the process by which communities prepare
for and cope with changes in the climate. Many small islands, represented
through the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), are demanding assistance
from industrialised nations for this process. Research from the University of
East Anglia, UK in collaboration with the Caribbean Community Climate Change
Centre and five UK Overseas Territories in the Caribbean, suggests a different
approach, focusing on how small islands can help themselves and work together to
cope with climate change.
Low-lying islands are particularly vulnerable to climate
change, especially sea level rise and changes in rainfall patterns. Adaptation
should be a major part of national climate response strategies. This can be
achieved through training, research and the creation of response networks, followed
by implementing a range of planned actions together.
By integrating weather and climate information into
planning processes, it is more likely that physical infrastructure (such as
buildings) and ecological buffers (such as coral reefs) will cope with future
impacts. The research offers several ‘best practice’ examples:
A risk management
approach to prepare for tropical storms is a good model for dealing with an
increase in natural disasters.
An external
climate change agency, such as the UK Climate Impacts Programme, can help
government departments, businesses and individuals assess their vulnerability.
Focusing policies
on poor people and those living in sub-standard conditions means that more people
are able to adapt successfully.
Plans must account
for the growth of permanent climate problems (such as temperature rises) which
cannot be prepared for in the same way as ‘one-off’ hazards.
Early warning
systems and hazard monitoring help to make sure that enough resources are
available for emergencies.
Local communities and individuals can start adapting through
their own awareness and self-interest. However, at the public level, governments
must lead adaptation programmes. The research outlines six main areas for
implementing adaptation strategies:
Developing open
and transparent policies that integrate land use, coastal and watershed
management plans with disaster mitigation strategies.
New policies for
long-term infrastructure planning that deliver water supply, roads, ports,
schools, shelters and airports.
Investment in a communications
programme, which may need to include the entire population, to raise awareness
and educate different groups about their vulnerability.
Gathering and
analysing information on climate change science, impacts, adaptation and
mitigation options, as well as areas of uncertainty and the arguments of
The use of a ‘no
regrets’ approach to paying for such changes, as most are beneficial whether or
not climate change occurs and therefore can be justified on economic grounds.
The support of
regional networks to create collective pressure, funds, knowledge and methods
of assistance.