Press releases

Tuesday 28 Sep 1999

UNEP reports assess environment conditions in small island states

New York/Nairobi, 28 September 1999 - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union are pleased to launch today, on the occasion of the UN General Assembly Special Session on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a series of reports on the environmental conditions in three major SIDS regions of the world -- namely the Caribbean, the Western Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. These publications are companion volumes to UNEP's recently released Global Environment Outlook 2000 (GEO-2000).

The reports provide an overview of the state of the islands' environment from a regional perspective, they evaluate policy responses and highlight the priority issues that the international community should address. They thus provide a timely contribution to this week's assessment by the UN General Assembly of the progress made since the 1994 Barbados Conference.

"The concerns -- environmental and economic -- of this particularly vulnerable group of States are a microcosm of the challenges facing all nations," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director, as he launched the reports. "Their sustainable development and ultimate survival is of global importance and requires the forging of effective partnerships between peoples and Governments and between developed and developing countries, as exemplified by the generous financial and political support to this project provided by the European Community."

"The EU is pleased to help island Governments and communities develop their own capacity to assess and manage their environmental problems," said Mr. Francisco Granell, Principal Adviser of the European Commission's Directorate General for Development. "UNEP's Island Environment Outlook process has helped to improve policy dialogue and mutual understanding of sustainable development planning. More defined priority setting and the identification of emerging issues will provide useful guidance to both the Commission and its partners in their future programming initiatives."

Similar to the participatory process employed for GEO-2000, the reports' production involved three regional collaborating centres -- the University of the West Indies Centre for Environment and Development, the Indian Ocean Commission and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). Extensive consultations were also held over the past 18 months with Governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, and the scientific and academic community in these regions.

The overall evaluation reported in the three Island Environment Outlook reports indicate that, since the adoption of the Barbados Programme of Action, progress has not been as much as hoped for. Notwithstanding important improvements, the overall environmental conditions in SIDS is still a major concern.

The pressures faced by the Caribbean, Pacific Islands and Western Indian Ocean regions are all too familiar: increasing populations coupled with limited land area and a fragile resource base, the real and potential impacts of climate change and natural disasters, increasing urbanization, changing patterns of production and consumption and the associated increases in the amount and type of waste, coupled with increasing poverty. In addition, tourism, which is fast becoming the most important industry for SIDS, has contributed to pressure on land and water resources, and the increase in high per capita generation of waste, which has doubled in some countries in the last 30 years.

The report cites examples of successful policy responses in all three regions. One of the most significant achievements has been increased public concern over environmental issues, with the active involvement of community-based organizations, NGOs, academia, the private sector and the general public in shaping the environmental agenda. There is also increasing collaboration between national Governments, including the members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and regional organizations such as SPREP and the Indian Ocean Commission, among others, to promote sustainable development.

The SIDS have also often taken the lead in signing and ratifying relevant multilateral environmental agreements, particularly those related to marine protection and climate change. Mauritius and Seychelles were the first two countries to ratify the UN Climate Change Convention and the success of the Kyoto Protocol and associated steps to combat global climate change are in no small part due to the motivation and pressure of island States, who have a lot to lose from inaction.

The recommendations coming from the Island Environment Outlooks echo most of those found in GEO-2000 and focus on five areas:

  • Root causes, such as poverty, population growth and unsustainable consumption patterns, must be tackled;
  • Environmental management must be an integral part of the social, economic and institutional fabric of island life;
  • The islands must prepare for climate change and sea level rise; early warning systems must be put in place and mitigating strategies for sea-level rise developed as a matter of urgency;
  • Reliable data and information on the state of the environment is urgently needed;
  • the Island Environment Outlook process is but a first step; and
  • Solutions to environmental problems must come from cooperative action between all those involved.

"The production of the Island Environment Outlooks is a step to mobilize action," said Mr. Toepfer. "Much remains to be done. The urgency and energy that they have brought to the environmental debate in the process of producing these three reports must be taken up by us all if we are to keep the environment back on a sustainable path."

Other Highlights from the Reports:

  • The extremely limited and vulnerable land resource base means that land degradation and food production are major concerns for many islands.
  • The destruction of lowland forested areas on most islands has created small "islets" of upland forest which may not be sufficiently large to withstand major stresses such as hurricanes and accidental fires.
  • There is a growing water shortage in many islands. During the first half of 1998, Seychelles faced one of the most severe water stress situations in the last 20 years. Mauritius also faced a severe drought in early 1999. Barbados faced severe droughts in 1993 and 1994 and is classified as one of the 10 most arid countries in the world. Increasing consumption due to population growth and rising standards of living, as well as deforestation and climatic changes, are also thought to be contributing factors.
  • While the coastal zones of SIDS, especially the coral reefs, are extremely well endowed with biodiversity, they are increasingly threatened by bleaching due to high temperatures, pollution and over exploitation. World-wide, the largest number of documented extinctions have occurred on islands of Oceania. In addition, some one third of the coral reefs in the Caribbean and the Pacific are at high risk due to a combination of near-shore pollution and off-shore over-harvesting.
  • SIDS are at high risk from the effects of global climate change and its associated impacts, especially coastal urbanized areas. Islands are very vulnerable to extreme weather events such as hurricanes, cyclones, floods, storm surges and droughts. The increasing frequency of such events is a cause for much concern due to the high toll on populations and infrastructure. Hurricane Mitch alone is estimated to have caused some 11,000 deaths in the Caribbean.
  • The small size, remoteness, physical structure and rapid urbanization of many islands have exacerbated their waste disposal and pollution control problems. Many islands lack land suitable for waste disposal sites. Untreated solid wastes and sewage introduced into watercourses significantly impacts critical marine environments such as coral reefs.

The "Caribbean Environment Outlook," the "Pacific Island Environment Outlook" and the "Western Indian Ocean Environment Outlook" are available from the UNEP Publications Distribution Service at
SMI Limited,
England,
tel: 44-1438-748111, fax: 44-1438-748844,
e-mail: Enquire@smibooks.com,
Internet: http://www.earthprint.com

For more information, please contact:
Mr. Kaveh Zahedi,
UNEP Project Manager,
UNEP Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC),
Mexico City,
tel: +52-5-202-4841, Fax: +52-5-202-0950,
e-mail: kzahedi@rolac.unep.mx;
Marion Cheatle,
Officer-in-Charge,
State of the Environment Assessment Unit,
Division of Environmental Information, Assessment & Early Warning (DEIA&EW),
UNEP, Nairobi,
Tel.: (254-2) 62-3520, Fax: (254-2) 62-3944;
E-mail: geo@unep.org;

In New York, contact:
Jim Sniffen,
UNEP Information Officer,
New York,
Tel: (1-212) 963-8094; Fax: 963-7341,
E-mail: uneprona@un.org.

UNEP News Release 1999/111

Tuesday 28 Sep 1999
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