September 16, 2019

Climate Change and the Impact on Island Nations

ECOSOC: Environmental

Topic: Climate Change and the Impact on Island Nations

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are at special risk of the dangers of climate change and its devastating impacts. In 2019 the Fijian planned to relocate 40 villages to a higher elevation due to flooding. In that same year, Hurricane Dorian stalled over the Bahamas, causing billions of dollars in damages, destroying 13,000 homes, and killing 5 people. The severity of Dorian and its slow landfall are caused by rising ocean temperatures and changing weather patterns. On Tuvalu, climate-related illnesses, such as Ciguatera poisoning, influenza, fungal diseases, conjunctivitis, and dengue fever, have all increased in the past decade. Two out of nine of Tuvalu’s islands are also at risk of being submerged by rising sea-levels. Responding to the challenges that SIDS are grappling with is the challenge of the entire international community.

There are 38 sovereign nations designated as SIDS, along with 20 territories. They are situated across the globe and range in size from nations like the Republic of Fiji to small islands like Nauru. 65 million people live in SIDS, constituting about 1% of the world population. For their size, SIDS are some of the most abundant reservoirs for biodiversity on the planet, often homes to plants and animals that exist nowhere else. The economies of SIDs are often reliant on biodiversity for fishing and tourism, which can constitute up to half of the gross domestic product. SIDS already face unique economic and sustainability problems due to the limited resources and remoteness associated with living on islands. Many SIDS must import fuel, raw materials, and food in order to sustain their populations. Many SIDS also rely on foreign aide to afford the high costs of importing. They also rely on foreign aide to fund rebuilding efforts after climate disasters, and to fund sustainability and climate change mitigation efforts. For example, after Hurricane Dorian, the government of Bahamas took out debt to repair damages, which it estimated would take five years to return to the typical debt level for the nation. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented some opportunity for ecological recovery as human activity has been curbed, but has also decimated the tourism industry that many SIDS rely on. The ability of states to continue providing services to their citizens and continue to respond to climate change is in danger. SIDS are now petitioning the International Monetary Fund for debt relief.

There are many efforts to slow climate change and help SIDS to survive the damage done to their islands. These efforts fall in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Part of the effort is making sure developed nations (like the United States and China) are doing their part in reducing their carbon emissions and adhering to international agreements. Advocacy by SIDS was essential in the creation of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. SIDS have also been implementing solutions on their islands to respond to the effects of climate change and maintain habitability. Examples of efforts include investing in renewable energy, collecting rain water for agriculture,  and adapting infrastructure. However, all of these solutions are reliant on funding, which is threatened by SIDS already tenuous economic position, the high reliance on debt, and the economic impact of COVID-19.

The Environmental Committee consider the best way to resolve the many challenges facing SIDS because of climate change. What should be done to prevent more damage to these islands? What can be done to help islands to respond to the humanitarian and ecological problems that are already occurring? Are there examples of success stories within SIDS that can be implemented more broadly? How will these solutions be administered, and how does the high debt burden of these nations and the additional complications posed by the COVID-19 pandemic impact the committee’s decision?

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