Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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17.3.4. Adaptation and Adaptive Capacity

As Campbell (1996) notes, a key misconception is that adaptation is a task carried out by governments. Insofar as governments have property and are responsible for carrying out a variety of activities, they will be required to take adaptive action. Most adaptation, however, will be carried out by individual stakeholders and communities, urban or rural, that inhabit island countries. Therefore, the government's primary role is to facilitate and steer this process—ideally in a manner that benefits the wider community.

Small island states often are susceptible to the impacts of a wide range of natural hazards, including climatic extremes. In the south Pacific region alone, island states suffered a total of 79 tropical cyclones, 95 storm surges, 12 floods, 31 droughts, four earthquakes, five landslides, two tsunamis, and four volcanic eruptions during the 1990s (Burns, 2000; Gillespie and Burns, 2000; Hay, 2000). The World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction and the Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island States noted several issues that influence adaptation to such impacts. These issues include the limited capacity of developing small island states to respond to and recover from natural and environmental disasters, owing to their narrow resource base and small size. Another issue is the decline in traditional coping mechanisms employed by island states, such as food preservation and storage techniques and disaster-resistant housing designs.

Given their high vulnerability, it is generally accepted that a proactive approach to adaptation planning would be especially beneficial to small islands, to minimize the adverse effects of climate change and sea-level rise (Campbell and de Wet, 2000). One essential prerequisite for implementing adaptive measures is support from policymakers and the general public. Thus, raising public awareness and understanding about the threats of climate change and sea-level rise and the need for appropriate adaptation require urgent and consistent attention. Because strong social and kinship ties exist in many small island states—for example, in the Pacific—a community-based approach to adaptation could be vital if adaptation policies and options are to be successfully pursued.

It also should be noted that small island states have faced many hazards in the past; as a consequence, their inhabitants have developed some capacity to cope by resorting to a combination of strategies, including application of traditional knowledge, locally appropriate technology (e.g., construction on stilts in flood-prone areas), use of indigenous materials, and other customary practices. Thus, for these states, it would be mandatory for any climate change adaptation policy and implementation plan to incorporate these traditional coping skills.

One of the obstacles to implementation of adaptation strategies stems from the uncertainties associated with the projection of future climate change and its impacts, at scales appropriate to small islands. Therefore, better guidance is needed for policy development in the face of uncertainties, together with more reliable climate projections at a scale that is relevant to the small island states (Edwards, 2000).

Many island states confront a range of pressing socioeconomic concerns (e.g., poverty alleviation, unemployment, health, and education), and climate change tends to be assigned a low priority on most national agendas. Thus, given the long lead time for implementing and assesing adaptation (as much as 50-100 years), progress in realizing its goals almost certainly will require integration of adaptation strategies with other sectoral and national policies, such as economic development, disaster prevention and management, integrated coastal management, and sustainable development frameworks.

Box 17-3. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Small Island States in the Pacific

Based on application of the IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, Pacific island countries are responsible for a per capita equivalent emission of approximately 0.96 t of CO2 yr-1. Hence, the total Pacific island population of 7.1 million in 22 countries produces 6.816 Mt of CO2 yr-1. In contrast, based on International Energy Agency data for 1996, global CO2 emissions arising from fossil fuel combustion alone are 22,620.46 Mt of CO2 yr-1, or 4.02 t of CO2 yr-1 per capita. Thus, on average, Pacific islanders produce approximately one-quarter of the CO2 emissions attributable to the average person worldwide. Expressed another way, the Pacific islands region as a whole accounts for 0.03% of the global emissions of CO2 from fuel combustion despite having approximately 0.12% of the world's population.

Source: Hay and Sem, 1999.

Box 17-4. Renewable Energy Use in Small Island States: A "Win-Win" Strategy

Most small islands are heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels for the majority of their energy requirements, particularly transport and electricity production. This is clearly demonstrated in the case of the Caribbean and Pacific islands, where petroleum imports are responsible for more than 75 and 88%, respectively, of primary energy demand. The cost of fossil fuel imports also places a considerable economic burden on small island states, accounting on average for almost 15% of all imports in these countries. In addition, the cost of electricity production (US$0.10-0.15 and 0.20 kWh-1 for the Caribbean and the Pacific, respectively) can be as much as three to four times higher than in developed countries.

In many islands, the high unit cost of conventional power production versus the increasingly competitive cost of renewable energy technologies (especially solar and wind), make the latter economically viable and environmentally friendly options. For these reasons, several small island states are making a significant contribution to global utilization of renewable energy resources. These include, inter alia, the following countries:

  • Barbados, where approximately 33% of all households use solar water heaters
  • La Desirade, Guadeloupe, where more than 75% of all electricity is generated from wind power
  • Fiji and Dominica, where hydropower accounts for more than 30% of electricity production
  • Tuvalu, where photovoltaics supply 45% of the electricity
  • Reunion, where almost 20% of the electricity is biomass-generated (from bagasse, a by-product of sugarcane); bagasse also is becoming increasingly important as an energy source in Jamaica and Fiji.

Sources: Jensen, 1999; Ellis and Fifita, 1999.

17.3.5. Regional and External Factors

Small island states account for a small percentage of world energy consumption and extremely low levels of global HG emissions and on balance are likely to be severely impacted by the effects of climate change (Yu et al., 1997; see Box 17-3). In most states, the bulk of the energy requirements are met from imported fossil fuels, which places a heavy burden on island economies (Yu et al., 1997). Adaptation and mitigation strategies in these countries, as elsewhere, will necessitate more economic and efficient energy use and greater emphasis on development of renewable energy sources (see Box 17-4).

To implement these strategies, many small islands, will require external technical, financial, and other assistance (Rijsberman, 1996). Given these states' size and limited individual capacities, pooling of resources through regional cooperation has been proposed as an effective means of designing and implementing some adaptation measures (Nicholls and Mimura, 1998). Some island groupings already have begun to implement regional projects aimed at building capacity to respond to climate change. Two projects—Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change (CPACC), which is being implemented by 12 Caribbean states, and Pacific Islands Climate Change Assistance Program (PICCAP), which is being executed by SPREP for 10 Pacific island countries—are outstanding models of regional cooperation.

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