New UN climate change report identifies urgent need for capacity building and adaptation strategies in small islands.

by April 14, 2022

In February, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest global report. Better known as the Sixth Assessment Report of Working Group II (AR6-WG2), it reveals the impacts, vulnerabilities and risks of climate change, and focuses—more than previous reports—on adaptation solutions for human societies.

Among the 270 authors selected from 1037 top climate scientists around the globe nominated to contribute to the AR6-WG2 Report, three were experts from The University of the West Indies (The UWI).

Professor Michelle Mycoo, an urban and regional planner and Professor in the Department of Geomatics Engineering and Land Management at The UWI St Augustine, was one of two Coordinating Lead Authors on Chapter 15, and a Coordinating Lead Author on the Technical Summary and Summary for Policymakers. Dr Donovan Campbell, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Geography and Geology at The UWI Mona Campus, served as a Lead Author of Chapter 15, and Dr Aidan Farrell, Senior Lecturer in Plant Physiology in the Department of Life Sciences at the St Augustine Campus, served as Lead Author for Chapter 5, which addresses the impacts and risks of food, fibre, and other ecosystem products.

Chapter 15 covers observed and projected impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change of small islands in the Caribbean, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. It details that a sense of urgency is prevalent among small islands in the combating of climate change and in adherence to the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The executive summary of the chapter states: “Small islands present the most urgent need for investment in capacity building and adaptation strategies”.

The Report details high projected risks for terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems including coral reefs, water, food, cities and settlements and migration, stating, “Small islands are increasingly affected by increases in temperature, a larger proportion of the most intense tropical cyclones, storm surges, droughts, changing precipitation patterns, sea-level rise, coral bleaching and invasive species, all of which are already detectable across both natural and human systems”.

Some of the projected risks for small islands will likely include large population reductions with an extinction risk of 100% for endemic species within insular biodiversity hotspots here in the Caribbean. Above 1.5°C globally can result in further loss of 70-90% of reef-building coral, with 99% of corals being lost under warming of 2°C or more above the pre-industrial period. The vulnerability of communities in small islands, especially those relying on coral reef systems for livelihoods, may exceed adaptation limits well before 2100 even for a low greenhouse gas emission pathway. Further, a 1°C increase in temperature (from 1.7°C to 2.7°C) could result in a 60% increase in the number of people projected to experience severe water resources stress from 2043-2071. Food insecurities, climate-related migration; threats to settlements and infrastructure, health and well-being; economies and culture were also named among the projected risks. The effect of climate change on cities and settlements is a major concern for small islands given that a high percentage of their population, infrastructure and economic assets are located in the low elevation coastal zone of below 10 metres elevation. The problems of increasing exposure and vulnerability are most clearly seen in atoll islands. In the Caribbean, atoll islands will likely face high projected risks.

While the Report acknowledges some progress and benefits of adaptation planning and implementation across all sectors and regions, it says that large gaps exist between ongoing efforts, and the adaptation needed to cope with current levels of global warming.

The constraints faced by small islands were also clearly acknowledged. The Report identifies that governance and legal reforms, improved access to financial resources, initiatives to build resource capacity, awareness programmes, downscaled climate data and maximizing indigenous knowledge and local knowledge are needed to help mitigate the barriers to adaptation.

The AR6-WG2 Report also highlights the importance of simultaneously pursuing fundamental societal changes together with the conservation, restoration and safeguarding of nature if we are to overcome the limits to adaptation, build resilience, reduce climate risks and guarantee inclusive, equitable and just development to meet the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “The strong and interdependent relationships between climate, nature and people are fundamental to reaching these goals” the IPCC report said; a point of emphasis that is more present in the current IPCC report than in previous assessments.