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Marshall Islands' Second National Communication

Marshall Islands' Second National Communication


The creation of a National Communication offers countries the opportunity to contribute with technically sound studies and information that can be used for designing mitigation and adaptation measures, and project proposals that can and will help increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change. Activities generally include: V&A assessments, GHG inventory preparation, Mitigation Analysis or Education, and awareness raising activities. The ultimate goal is the integration of climate change considerations into relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions.

The major impacts that climate change is projected to have in the Marshall Islands are sea level rise and associated shoreline erosion. This observation reflects the low-lying nature of the atolls the form the country; its highest point of land is found on the island of Likiep and extends 10 meters above sea level. In  its  Initial  National  Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released in 2000, the Marshall Islands identified the following sectors as being particularly vulnerable to climate change: water resources, coastal resources, agriculture resources, marine resources (including fisheries) and human health.

Project details

Overall, the most appropriate and effective adaptation measures and strategies are most likely to be those that will be beneficial even in the absence of climate and sea-level change. Such measures and strategies could be considered as “no regrets” adaptation options. Therefore, in the first instance, the capacity of the Marshall Islands to adapt to the effects of climate and sea-level change will largely be determined by its ability to address on-going environmental, social and economic problems. Adaptation includes three main types of activities. First, there are adaptive actions that include activities targeted at specific sectors where climate change effects have been identified. Second, another group of adaptive measures are equally important and include general policies and actions by government to address some of the social driving forces of environmental problems which will heighten vulnerability to climate change effects. Third, it is also important to increase the capabilities of the Marshall Islands to effectively implement adaptations.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) are located off the northeast coast of New Zealand, scattered in an archipelago consisting of two roughly parallel island chains. There are twenty nine atolls and five reefs without lagoons which are made up of about 1,225 islands and 870 reef systems. Twenty-two of the atolls and four of the islands are inhabited. The atolls extend about 700 miles (1130km) north to south, and about 800 miles (1290km) east to west. While some of the islands are several kilometers long they rarely exceed a few hundred meters in width and are often considerably narrower. Land elevations are very low, with a mean height above sea level of only two meters (7 feet). The combination of small land areas and low land elevations contributes to the ecological vulnerability in the Republic. There is concern that any change in sea-level could seriously upset the fragile balance between the land and the sea. The RMI consist of fragments of Islands or low Lying Atoll Courtesy of MIVA.  Isolated by ocean, the Republic is more than 2,000 miles (3230km) from the nearest trading centers, Honolulu and Tokyo. Geographically, the RMI’s nearest neighbors are Kiribati to the south and the Federated States of Micronesia to the west. The Republic’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) encompasses over 750,000 square miles (1.2 million sq km) of the Central Pacific.  Subsistence agriculture and fishing are the country’s main industry; the tourism industry makes a noteworthy contribution along with development funds from the United States.  

Adaptation Needs and Priorities
The major impacts that climate change is projected to have in the Marshall Islands are sea level rise and associated shoreline erosion (EPA, 2000). This observation reflects the low-lying nature of the atolls the form the country; its highest point of land is found on the island of Likiep and extends 10 meters above sea level (CIA, 2011).  In  its  Initial  National  Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released in 2000, the Marshall Islands identified the following sectors as being particularly vulnerable to climate change: water resources, coastal resources, agriculture resources, marine resources (including fisheries) and human health (EPA, 2000). To address these vulnerabilities, the Marshall Islands identified the following actions (EPA, 2000): 
  • Institutional  strengthening, such as by ensuring that governmental departments  are adequately structured and equipped with appropriate skills and tools, and are capable of delivering an integrated response to the challenges arising from climate change and accelerated sea level rise.
  • Project management and operational training for all stakeholders involved in climate change programs and the implementation of adaptation projects. 
  • Accurate documentation of baseline conditions from which to measure climate induced changes to the shorelines, reef and island ecosystem and affected settlements and communities.
  • Research capacity needs to be strengthened by ensuring adequate  support at the professional and technical levels, and by providing financial support  for baseline bio-physical and socioeconomic environmental research, monitoring changes to environmental conditions and implementing adaptation measures. 
  • Appropriate systems are needed for spatial and other data generated through vulnerability assessments, monitoring programs, 

    integrated coastal zone management planning and the implementation of adaptation projects.
  • Confidence and capacity building programs are needed for government departments, members of local councils and nongovernment organizations.
  • Community awareness and education programs.
  • Proactive participation in international forums and meetings are needed with the aim of continuing to keep the issues confronting small island states, when they are responding to climate change.
National Level Policies and Strategic Documents
The  Initial National Communication (2000) of the Marshall Islands reviews the national activities that have been taking place in the Marshall Islands, including vulnerability and adaptation case study and participation in the Pacific Islands Climate Change Assistance Program (PICCAP). There is a brief outline of the future and immediate adaptation needs of the country, followed by a possible list of policy actions that could help the Marshall Islands adapt to climate change in some key areas (EPA, 2000):
  • Land Use and Planning: amendment of land use planning policies to include adaptations to climate change.
  • Environment and Natural Resources: amendment of environmental and natural policies to include adaptations to climate change.
  • Natural Hazard Management: amendment of natural hazard management policies to include adaptations to climate change.
  • Administration and Management: initiation of administrative arrangements and management policies to deal with the core sectoral concerns in terms of water resources, coastal resources, agricultural resources, marine resources and human health.
  • Human Health: Development of a comprehensive suite of human health policies to address water borne diseases and other sicknesses that are related to climate-induced change.
  • Solid and Liquid Waste Management: Provide broad management policies for domestic solid waste and discharges of liquid effluent including consideration of a strategy to convert solid domestic and some industrial wastes to saleable energy.
  • Foreign Affairs: Enhancement of foreign policy frameworks. 
  • Center of Excellence: establish a Centre of Excellence to expand the role of the Marshall  Islands in the international as well as national issues of climate change.
  • Technology Exchange: technology exchange policies to address applied research and monitoring (information management).

More recently Marshall Islands developed the RMI Climate Change Roadmap 2010 as a national framework for their climate change and sustainable development  efforts.  With respect to  adaptation,  actions identified by  the Marshall Islands Government  included: the implementation of a Micronesia Challenge and Reimaanlok Action Plan; planning and interventions to address vulnerability in food security, public health and other social development areas; and protection and maintenance of key infrastructure and resources through planning and inter-agency coordination (FSF, 2010).  

Current Adaptation Action

As noted, the Marshall Islands previously participated in the PICCAP, which was initiated in 1995. Funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented through the United Nations Development Programme, PICCAP was executed by the Secretariat to Pacific Regional Environmental Program in 10 Pacific Island countries (Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) (Plume, 2002).
At present, the Marshall Islands appears to be participating in a low number of adaptation projects relative to other countries in the Pacific region; and all are being undertaken as part of broader, multi-country initiatives. These projects are attending needs related to agriculture, forestry, tourism, gender and policy and planning. Most projects emphasize capacity building, training and policy and planning. Funding for these projects is being provided by  the Asian Development Bank (ADB),  the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), and the governments of Canada and Germany.
Proposed Adaptation Action
Proposed adaptation actions within the Marshall Islands were not identified through this review.  


Infrastructure/Climate Change Risk Management
Level of intervention
  • National
Key collaborators
  • Country Office
  • National Governments
Primary beneficiaries:

Through improved identification of national circumstances, government agencies and other actors will increase their abilities to insulate at risk urban and rural populations from the adverse effects of climate change.

Implementing agencies and partnering organizations
  • Republic of the Marshall Islands
  • Global Environment Facility (GEF)
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Project status
Funding Source
Global Environment Facility - Trust Fund
Financing amount
Co-financing total


Key results and output

  • Sustainable development and the integration of climate change concerns into medium- and long-term planning
  • Inventories of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases
  • Measures contributing to addressing climate change
  • Research and systematic observation
  • Climate change impacts, adaptation measures and response strategies
  • Education, training and public awareness

Potential Adaptation Measures:

Agriculture and Food Security

  • Switch to different cultivars
  • Develop new crops

Water Resources

  • Increase water supply, e.g. by using groundwater, building reservoirs, improving or stabilizing watershed management, desalination
  • Decrease water demands, e.g. by increasing efficiency, reducing water losses, water recycling, changing irrigation practices

Coastal Zones and Marine Ecosystems

  • Develop planning/new investment requirements
  • Protect, including building sea walls, and beach nourishment

Reports & publications

Videos & multimedia

Monitoring & evaluation

In 1992, countries joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with whatever impacts were, by then, inevitable.

Parties to the Convention must submit national reports on implementation of the Convention to the Conference of the Parties (COP). The required contents of national communications and the timetable for their submission are different for Annex I and non-Annex I Parties. This is in accordance with the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" enshrined in the Convention.

The core elements of the national communications for both Annex I and non-Annex I Parties are information on emissions and removals of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and details of the activities a Party has undertaken to implement the Convention. National communications usually contain information on national circumstances, vulnerability assessment, financial resources and transfer of technology, and education, training and public awareness.

Since 1994, governments have invested significant time and resources in the preparation, collection and validation of data on GHG emissions, and the COP has made determined efforts to improve the quality and consistency of the data, which are ensured by established guidelines for reporting. Non-Annex I Parties receive financial and technical assistance in preparing their national communications, facilitated by the UNFCCC secretariat.