29 | 04 | 2017


12 December 2015 – Italian Environment Minister Galletti at COP21: smaller islands as laboratory of climate change.

Schermata 2015-12-27 alle 11.14.23


(This document was drawn up during the proceedings of the Greening the Islands Conference 2015 in Malta and subsequently amended by Marevivo based on its 30 years of experience with Italy’s minor islands. It is presented to the Italian Government in the person of the Undersecretary with responsibility for these issues at the Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea so it can be communicated to the COP21 conference in Paris.)

Islands are essential for confronting world trends on climate change, security of supply, and threats to the environment. Many of them must act urgently and – in general – they cannot afford to rely on mainland governments to protect their environment and the quality of the life of their inhabitants. Here is why islands are on the frontline of those challenges.

a) Their limited surface makes island environments more fragile than continental areas. Forests, water sources, fish stocks and biodiversity are among the natural resources that are being depleted more rapidly. Not only is this process more rapid on islands but the consequences of such depletion can be more severe and irreversible than on the mainland.

b) Islands have long faced security of supply issues. Supply limitations concern drinkable water, water for agriculture, power and fuels. In many cases, power production depends on diesel supply, which is often problematic and always expensive. Water scarcity is an increasing emergency globally. Water scarcity already affects more than 40% of people around the world, according to the Millennium Development Goals Report of the United Nations (2015). This percentage is forecast to increase further and reflects a dramatic situation in certain areas.

c) The smaller size of islands also exposes them more to the difficulties of absorbing waste and pollution of all kinds, especially from transportation. Proper management of water and waste is essential for islands.

d) Islands are more likely to be exposed to the direct effects of climate change. Their territory is obviously impacted by rises in sea levels but also affected by increased weather instability. Extreme weather events, such as tropical cyclones, increased up to 60% in the Pacific Ocean from 1990 to 2010. From 1990 global emissions of carbon dioxide worldwide have increased 50%. This is a threat to the environmental sustainability goal of the UN. Furthermore, extreme weather events as well as higher concentrations of CO2 in oceans and the intrusion of saline water caused by increased sea levels might lead to contamination of inner water sources for drinking or irrigation purposes, resulting in health hazards and higher food production costs .

e) Islands are also exposed to migrations flows, induced either by war or climate changes. The Millennium Development Goals Report of the United Nations of 2015 provides us a sobering picture. In 2010 there were some 11,000 people displaced daily and compelled to seek protection from conflicts. In 2014, this number increased to 42,000 people a day. In 2015 the situation has undeniably worsened, and Mediterranean islands are at the centre of the storm.

For all the above reasons, islands are on the frontline of humanity’s effort to cope with climate change and
environmental threats. At the same time, they represent an opportunity for the rest of the world. The
pressure they face is a powerful catalyst for innovative and economically efficient solutions.
Being small in size, island locations are more suited to integrated solutions, in which power generation through renewables and energy efficiency are combined together with electrical mobility, or desalination. For example, investment in desalination stimulates water saving through improvements in water distribution networks and efficient management of water resources. For islands, shifting road transport in particular to electromobility is a more manageable challenge due to smaller distances while offering even larger advantages in terms of protection of a vulnerable environments and saving of fuel costs. The benefits are higher when this process combined with a transition to renewable power generation.

In this perspective, islands are unique life-size laboratories, capable of demonstrating in the short term the benefits of a transition to electrified transport and renewable power generation. There is a great need to test this kind of integration on a small scale with a view to implementation more broadly, showing the useful role islands could play.

Part of these aspects have been incorporated in the new Sustainable Development Goals for the post-2015 global development agenda, focusing for the first time on the challenges faced by island territories. In particular, Goal 13b points to the promotion of “mechanisms for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States”.

The unique historical and archaeological heritage of our islands must be preserved and spared from the destructive trends of unsustainable development processes. Already today, many islands are testing different “ways of life”, focused on sustainability and quality, that offer enormous value to the global tourism market. Representing the ideal border between land the sea, islands are a test case in searching solutions to the problem of a proper management of the sea and its related activities.

a) The efforts that islands are making to preserve their fragile environments deserve to be encouraged and financially supported by investment programs of national governments and supranational organizations.

b) National governments should reduce administrative hurdles to investing in sustainability on islands and introduce tax incentives on such investments. As we face an increasing emergency on CO2 emissions and other environmental threats, the world needs to accelerate on research and on the propagation of successful sustainability solutions.

c) Solutions that have been successfully implemented on islands deserve visibility because they can be replicated on other islands or in remote locations with fragile environments (oases, forested areas, areas with wildlife resources, etc.). Furthermore, particularly successfully innovative solutions could later be replicated on a larger scale on the mainland. Cultural exchanges and the transfer of experiences between island communities must be intensified as a way of contributing, especially in some areas, to the maintenance of political stability and in encouraging sustainable development.

d) Cultural change needs to be supported to address the challenges of climate change through awareness raising and environmental education activities, aimed at increasing the collective consciousness, sense of citizenship and sense of belonging.

For the reasons outlined above, we would like the 2015 Paris Climate Conference COP21:
•    To acknowledge the role of islands as laboratories for solutions for confronting climate change;
•    To issue recommendations to governments and intergovernmental organizations to support and ease investment in sustainability on islands.


Press office:

Greening the Islands: Cecilia Bergamasco – mob.3479306784 – press@greeningtheislands.com
Marevivo: Carmela Cioffi – mob.3381090669 – ufficiostampa@marevivo.it


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