Climate change: thinking small islands beyond Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

Sea level rise and extreme weather events threaten the livelihoods and possibly the long-term existence of whole island nations. While the media, policy, and often scientific arenas essentially focus their attention on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are widely recognised as hotspots of global climate change, the situation of the numerous other vulnerable island territories has been relatively neglected. As a result, the focus on SIDS has paved the way for mainstream adaptation research and, in turn, for biases in the interpretation of climate change vulnerability and risks of small islands in general. Here, we argue that such an overly narrow scope severely limits our understanding of island-specific issues that influence island societies’ adaptability to on-going and future climate change. This article reviews the current perspective on challenges and opportunities for climate change adaptation on SIDS and compares it with other types of island territories, especially dependent islands of continental states and semi-autonomous sub-national island jurisdictions (SNIJ). This comparison reveals that despite critical socio-political differences between the respective island types, more general lessons can be learned as island territories at large face similar issues both regarding the drivers of vulnerability and exposure and the adaptation measures needed. We propose an analytical framework for looking ‘beyond SIDS’ that includes the recognition of critical issues (asymmetrical governance structures, archipelagic constellations, inter-island connections) that shape island societies’ vulnerability and leeway for adaptation to climate-related hazards.