16.5.4 Adaptation: constraints and opportunities
There are several constraints to adaptation that are inherent in the very nature of many small islands, including small size, limited natural resources, and relative isolation, and it is because of these characteristics that some autonomous small islands have been recognised in the United Nations process as either Least Developed Countries (LDCs) or SIDS. Not all small islands satisfy these criteria, notably those linked closely with global finance or trade, as well as the non-autonomous islands within larger countries. While these two groups of islands will share some of the constraints of small island states, they are not emphasised in this section.
188.8.131.52 Lack of adaptive capacity
The main determinants of a country’s adaptive capacity to climate change are: economic wealth, technology, information and skills, infrastructure, institutions and equity (WHO, 2003b). A common constraint confronting most small island states is the lack of in-country adaptive capacity, or the ease with which they are able to cope with climate change. In many autonomous small islands the cost of adopting and implementing adaptation options is likely to be prohibitive, and a significant proportion of a country’s economic wealth. Financial resources that are generally not available to island governments would need to come from outside (Rasmussen, 2004). This need for international support to assist with the adaptation process in vulnerable, developing countries is also strongly emphasised by Stern (2007). Similarly, there are often inadequate human resources available to accommodate, cope with, or benefit from the effects of climate change; a situation that may be compounded by the out-migration of skilled workers (Voigt-Graf, 2003). To overcome this deficiency, the adaptive capacity of small island states will need to be built up in several important areas including human resource development, institutional strengthening, technology and infrastructure, and public awareness and education.
An extreme example of these deficiencies is the recently independent state of Timor Leste (East Timor). Timor Leste is vulnerable to climate change, as evidenced by existing sensitivities to climate events, for example drought and food shortages in the western highlands, and floods in Suai. Barnett et al. (2003) note that relevant planning would address the present problems as well as future climate risks, and conclude that activities that promote sustainable development, human health, food security, and renewable energy can reduce the risk of future damages caused by climate change as well as improving living standards. In short, “change in climate is a long-term problem for Timor Leste, but climate change policies can be positive opportunities” (Barnett et al., 2003).