Small island states: adaptive capacity, vulnerability and key concerns

  • Adaptive capacity of human systems is generally low in small island states, and vulnerability high; small island states are likely to be among the countries most seriously impacted by climate change.
  • The projected sea-level rise of 5 mm yr-1 for the next 100 years would cause enhanced coastal erosion, loss of land and property, dislocation of people, increased risk from storm surges, reduced resilience of coastal ecosystems, saltwater intrusion into freshwater resources, and high resource costs to respond to and adapt to these changes.
  • Islands with very limited water supplies are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on the water balance.
  • Coral reefs would be negatively affected by bleaching and by reduced calcification rates due to higher CO2 levels; mangrove, sea grass bed, and other coastal ecosystems and the associated biodiversity would be adversely affected by rising temperatures and accelerated sea-level rise.
  • Declines in coastal ecosystems would negatively impact reef fish and threaten reef fisheries, those who earn their livelihoods from reef fisheries, and those who rely on the fisheries as a significant food source.
  • Limited arable land and soil salinization makes agriculture of small island states, both for domestic food production and cash crop exports, highly vulnerable to climate change.
  • Tourism, an important source of income and foreign exchange for many islands, would face severe disruption from climate change and sea-level rise.

Extracted from the Policymakers Summary of the latest Working Group II report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, available online at Further technical information is available.