A beach on the Comoros Islands. Via UN Environmental Office Flickr, license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In the face of the ongoing climate crisis, Small Island Developing Nations (SIDs) have emerged as some of the most vulnerable and affected regions in the world. These nations are being confronted with escalating environmental challenges that threaten their very existence. Studies by the UN have shown that many island nations have witnessed an alarming increase in the frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires, unpredictable superstorms, and more. Though most of the climate-related problems have been exacerbated by larger, more affluent countries, in the face of these challenges, many SID nations are being forced to adopt innovative strategies for adaptation and resilience.

The SID islands, officially comprised of a group of 39 nations and 18 associate member states scattered throughout the Caribbean, Pacific Ocean, Bay of Guinea, and Indian Ocean, are particularly vulnerable to climate crisis due to their small size, geographical makeup, and historical sociopolitical factors. Rising sea levels, extreme weather events, the deterioration of marine ecosystems, and changing precipitation patterns have converged to push these nations to the brink. For instance, in 2020, Cyclone Harold battered the island nation of Vanuatu, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake and over 87,000 people displaced. And a report by UNICEF found that an estimated 761,000 children were displaced by storms in the Caribbean between 2014–2018 alone. These disasters not only cause immediate devastation but also disrupt critical infrastructure, leading to prolonged recovery periods.

In addition to extreme weather, one of the most pressing challenges SIDS face is rising sea levels. As global temperatures climb, polar ice caps melt, causing sea levels to surge. This phenomenon has resulted in devastating coastal erosion and inundation in many SIDs. For instance, the Carteret Islands community in Papua New Guinea were forced to abandon their homes altogether and relocate due to rising sea levels. Last year, during the international COP27 conferences, Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe famously delivered a rousing speech on the unique challenges SID nations face while standing in ocean water up to his knees, marking a spot that was once pristine beachfront just a few years ago.

And the consequences could be complex. According to a 2022 World Bank report on the impact of the climate crisis on SIDs, “Along with the loss of homes, roads and other infrastructure, rising seas pose serious legal implications for small island states — including imperilling their territorial rights, access to resources, and raising questions about internal and external migration as residents seek higher ground.”

Additionally, ocean acidification, a direct result of increased carbon dioxide emissions, and pollution, pose a threat to SIDs, which typically rely heavily on marine resources. The decline in coral reefs and fish populations undermines food security and economic stability in these nations.

To combat these challenges, environmental activists in SID nations across the world are pushing for recognition, funding, and strategies for resilience and adaptation. They are investing in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Furthermore, they are implementing sustainable land-use practices and promoting ecosystem conservation to protect against erosion and maintain vital habitats.

The climate crisis is pushing Small Island Developing Nations to the brink, with rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and the deterioration of marine ecosystems posing existential threats. Recent disasters serve as grim reminders of the urgent need for collective action to combat climate change and support these vulnerable nations. As SIDs persevere in their efforts to adapt and build resilience, the world must stand together to ensure their survival in an increasingly uncertain climate. Find a series of stories discussing the unique challenges SID states face, plus the work different communities are putting in to save them, below.

Stories about SIDS nations grapple with the climate crisis