SIDS and SLCPs: The disproportionate climate risk faced by Small Island Developing States

by CCAC secretariat - 10 April, 2023
Sea-level rise and increased storm intensity threaten states who have done little to cause climate change.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are a group of over fifty states throughout the Caribbean, the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, and South China Sea. Despite representing less than 1% of the world's population and less than 1% of total greenhouse gas emissions, SIDS are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 
SIDS’ climate change vulnerability comes from their geographic exposure to sea-level rise, warming oceans, and increased storm activity, as well as their economic vulnerability and limited technical capacity to fight climate change. So far only US$ 1,28 billion has been mobilised to support SIDS against climate change, and only 20% of that amount designated for mitigation. The imbalance in responsibility for climate change and its potentially existential threat for SIDS has elevated the need for fast action on climate change as a matter of international climate justice.  

As President of Palau Surangel Whipps Jr. stated at COP26, “We [SIDS] see the scorching sun is giving us intolerable heat, the warming sea is invading us, the strong winds are blowing us every which way, our resources are disappearing before our eyes and our future is being robbed from us.”
While commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions made through the Paris Agreement are gradually taking shape, CO2 emissions already in the atmosphere will continue to warm the atmosphere for decades before any decline in concentrations materialises. The impacts of more extreme weather events and rising sea levels are already being seen in SIDS however, and the window of opportunity to slow the progression of global warming is running out. The IPCC now states that only way to slow warming in the near term and achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C, is to take action on short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), which clear from the atmosphere in periods ranging from several days to 15 years.  Cutting short-lived climate pollutants has the potential to avoid up to 0.6°C of global warming by 2050. For SIDS this means the crucial potential to slow the rate of sea-level rise by about 20% in the first half of this century and 50% by 2100, giving SIDS more time to adapt.  

Cutting short-lived climate pollutants in areas such as waste management, transport, and cooling also promises localized advantages for SIDS by reducing black carbon, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons, which damage local agricultural production and public health. In SIDS the consumption of these SLCPs is driven by essential industries such as tourism and fishing, so finding sustainable alternatives is essential.
Black carbon is also produced in the agricultural sector by open burning of agricultural residue, which reduces crop yields and disrupts rainfall patterns. For example, in Fiji rice cultivation has been set as a domestic priority. Growers have moved away from traditional growing methods to climate-smart rice production which employs alternate-wetting and drying cycles, and can drastically increase crop yields whilst also reducing methane emissions from rice production by up to 80%.  

Black carbon’s effect of accelerating snow and ice melt is of particular concern for SIDS. It does this by attracting more heat to otherwise reflective surfaces and increasing polar and mountainous melting and thus sea-level rise. Black carbon is deposited on snow and ice by regional air currents carrying particles from combustion sources such as household cooking, heating, and lighting, agricultural burning, and the diesel emissions of ships passing through the Arctic. The melting of the polar ice caps presents a significant risk of pushing warming over dangerous tipping points from which it will be difficult to return. 
The plight of SIDs in the race against climate change reminds us that cutting SLPCs is essential to keeping us on the path to 1.5˚C.  The air quality and ecosystem benefits of taking action extend beyond global warming however and support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and better human and planetary outcomes for all.