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 processideally 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 statesfor example, in the Pacifica 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.
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 projectsCaribbean 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 countriesare outstanding models of regional cooperation.
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