Barbados, a small Caribbean island at the cutting edge of the fight against climate change, will be hosting this year's World Environment Day, leading United Nations-wide efforts to draw attention to the plight of the world's small islands potentially in peril of being lost to sea-level rise.
“On World Environment Day, millions of individuals, community groups and businesses from around the world take part in local projects – from clean up campaigns to art exhibits to tree-planting drives,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day, marked every year on 5 June.
Mr. Ban was referring to activities and events taking place worldwide – ranging from a 45,000-strong clean-up campaign involving UN staff throughout Kosovo and the Baltimore Orioles baseball team raising awareness of the environment in Sarasota, Florida, to a bike ride around the lakeside in Geneva, Switzerland – all aiming to raise awareness of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the convening of a youth conference on “Eco-civilization and Green Development” in Shanghai.
In support of the UN designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States, World Environment Day will focus on those countries in the broader context of climate change as its theme. Many of the events under way will also spotlight the upcoming Third International Conference on the Small Island Developing States, set to be held in Apia, Samoa from 1 to 4 September.
“Small island nations share a common understanding that we need to set our planet on a sustainable path,” said the Secretary-General, explaining that reaching that goal demands the engagement of all sectors of society in all countries.
“This year, I urge everyone to think about the plight of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and to take inspiration from their efforts to address climate change, strengthen resilience and work for a sustainable future,” said the UN chief. “Raise your voice, not the sea level.”
Home to 62.3 million people, these island nations play a crucial role in protecting oceans while contributing little to climate change - emitting less than 1 per cent of global greenhouse gases.
But they suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change owing to their small size, remote locations, and limited economic resilience. Research shows that by 2100, global warming could lead to a sea-level rise of up to 2 meters, making many of these island States, especially in the Pacific region, uninhabitable.
Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), warned that the very existence of low-lying nations, such as Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu is threatened by climate change-induced sea level rise.
While climate change adaptation was a top priority for island nations, the lack of financial resources is an obstacle, with, for example, the capital cost of sea-level rise in the Caribbean Community countries alone estimated to reach 187 billion by 2080.
“Investing now to head off such a massive economic impact makes sound business sense,” Mr. Steiner said in his message.
A new report by UNEP says that climate change-induced sea-level rise in the world’s 52 small island nations – estimated to be up to four times the global average – continues to be the most pressing threat to their environment and socio-economic development; with annual losses at the trillions of dollars due to increased vulnerability.