The challenges of turning climate rhetoric into reality at the 3rd Small Island Developing States conference

تم النشر: 5 سبتمبر 2014 14:51 CET

By Rebecca McNaught

A week of discussion, debate and hard science at the Small Island Developing States Conference (SIDS) in Samoa this week left little doubt that climate change is the most pressing issue threatening the sustainable development of fragile island nations around the world. The unique context and vulnerabilities of SIDS means that they face similar challenges. Despite cultural, geographical and political diversity, this conference has been a fantastic opportunity, enabling politicians, academics, NGO’s and civil society to confront these challenges at the same table.

For 20 years, SIDS have been calling for urgent action on climate change. Speaking at the conference, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation on Climate Justice, made a passionate speech, stressing that climate change was making old problems re-appear by putting development into reverse. She sent a strong message to the international community: “Global political will is lacking to build the future we want.”

The science is clear. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), SIDS are likely to experience increased coastal flooding linked with sea level rise, more intense cyclones, increases in the strength and number of extreme rainfall events and further shifts to rainfall patterns. Translation of the science into action is incredibly important.

So what were Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies from the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean doing at this conference? They came to share their experience of working on the frontlines of climate change adaptation – speaking on the need to build the climate resilience of vulnerable communities.

At a side event organised by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, which summarized the IPCC’s latest SIDS related science (, Eva Tu’holoaki, of the Tonga Red Cross Society, presented a compelling case for investing in local organisations such as the Red Cross who are working with hazard prone communities, providing education about climate change, improving early warning systems and helping them to be better prepared for natural disasters such as tropical storms, coastal flooding and droughts.

She shared how the Red Cross in the Pacific has been making and translating climate cartoons in local languages to make climate science clearer and actionable. This approach to helping Pacific islanders adapt to climate change clearly demonstrates what can be done to implement the global commitment to increase understanding of climate change under Article 6 of the UNFCCC.

But, despite the science being clear, there was still a sense from participants that much remains to be done if the worst affects of climate change are to be reduced.  

The theme of the SIDS conference has been about achieving sustainable development through long-term, durable partnerships that address climate change at the global and local level. Evidence of this was an agreement signed between the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). This regional agreement will translate into partnerships between the National Meteorological Services, disaster management offices and 10 National Red Cross Societies in the Pacific who will work with communities to improve the way in which weather and climate information is delivered, understood and acted on by people living with the everyday consequences of climate change. It is a wonderful illustration of how the strengths of each organization can be brought together to deliver real impact at the community level. The project has already been initiated in Tuvalu and the Cook Islands where consultations and training in understanding weather and climate patterns have taken place and communities have identified their priority early warning needs and created their own action plans to reduce the risks they face.

The IPCC’s report highlighted how SIDS stand to benefit from further integrating of climate adaptation, mitigation and development approaches, but it also stressed that the economic cost of adaptation to climate change is high in SIDS relative to the size of their economies. Climate financing for SIDS is not always simple to secure and the World Bank’s Rachel Kyte stressed the need make funding easier to access. She also delivered a clear message on the need to invest in risk reduction, saying that $1 invested in early warning saves $30 in emergency relief and reconstruction when disasters strike.

Human mobility linked with disasters and climate change was also a hot topic at this conference with the President of Kiribati sharing approaches to longer term mobility such as the ‘migration with dignity’ programme. In the experience of Red Cross societies in the Pacific region, we most typically see that displacement is short term, and happens within a country following a disaster event. A recent example were the devastating floods experienced earlier in the year in the Solomon Islands. Unfortunately such events are set to become more commonplace with extreme rainfall predicted to become more frequent and intense across the Pacific region.


Rebecca McNaught is a Senior Climate Advisor at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre