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The Alliance of Small Island States

The complexities and challenges confronting small island developing states are as varied and unique as the number of nations that fall into this category.

One of the major challenges small island developing nations face is the strengthening of their voice and position in the negotiations surrounding the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Although there are many nations within the UNFCCC process that have more assertively powerful voices, too many times employed to the detriment of all, small island states do have a strong, determined collective voice as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) group. Not least also, AOSIS has an authoritative Chairman to represent their collective case. Neroni Slade, Ambassador of Samoa to the United States of America and Permanent Representative of Samoa to the United Nations, became Chairman of AOSIS in 1997.

The small island, low-lying coastal nations that make up AOSIS may be diverse and each individual but they share a commonality in concerns, vulnerabilities and objectives. These nations are amongst those directly confronted, today, with the destructive consequences and impacts of climate change.

In the words of Neroni Slade: “Climate change is real. We know this from what is happening to our islands, whether through excessive rainfall or drought or through the destructive forces of increasingly frequent hurricanes and storms. The effects strike directly and deeply into the hearts of our development efforts. For small island states, the effect of a hurricane can be total. But sea-level rise is profoundly the most dangerous effect of climate change.”

Another commonality most of these nations share is that as developing countries their economies are small. The majority of the governments do not have the financial resources to both ensure the well-being and development of their people and at the same time to implement costly measures that adequately cope with the very real consequences and losses due to climate change.

Neroni Slade has pointed out that the construction costs, such as those associated with building seawalls, that would possibly protect an entire island would be astronomically high and well beyond the financial capabilities of these islands.

Photo: Sarah Granich/TIEMPO

He observes that, although small islands have many natural defences, these defences have been substantially weakened through misuse and suggests that “we need to save or resuscitate the coral reefs, and resurrect or replant protective natural vegetation like mangroves. It’s a massive task but we need to take the first step. Some of these activities can be undertaken by island states themselves, but some will obviously need financial support from our development partners.”

AOSIS has argued that an international insurance pool should be established to cover the losses suffered by small island states that have resulted from sea-level rise and other climate-related impacts. This is a reasonable argument given that these islands are forced to deal with the resulting consequences of the polluting nature of the industrialization process that has been undertaken by the developed countries.

Throughout the UNFCCC negotiations, AOSIS has made it clear that it should be rightly expected that the industrialized nations make much greater and more drastic cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions than they have to date. (Weather Eye, in this issue, comments on the failure of northern nations to meet their agreed emissions reductions commitments.)

Speaking as representative of the small island developing states, Neroni Slade continues, “we make no apology for the fact that we are driven by our fears and concerns for the safety and survival of our islands and communities. However, we believe very deeply that there is a fundamental question of equity and justice at stake. This is an issue not of our making. Yet we are the first and the most severely at risk.”

Further information

For more information about the activities undertaken by the Alliance of Small Island States and its position at the climate negotiations, contact the office of Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Permanent Mission of Samoa to the UN, 800 Second Avenue, Suite 400D, New York 10017, New York, USA. Fax: +1-212-5990797. Email:

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