The Whole of Islands Approach

Governments of Australia and New Zealand connect with UNDP and Small Island Developing States to build next-generation climate resilience projects

By Pradeep Kurukulasuriya

Einstein pointed out that “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” When sea-levels rise, resources run thin and politics enters the conversation, however, our comprehension of the universe can become overly complex. 

This is especially true when addressing climate change impacts on the world’s Small Island Developing States.

Traditional thinking would tell us that if seas rise, you have two basic solutions to choose from: migrate or adapt.

Migration has a host of unpleasant consequences: cultures lost, families separated, economies disrupted, and conflict fomented. This is not a viable large-scale or long-term option. To be sure, in some specific areas, communities may need to migrate, but generally speaking it’s too costly, too dangerous, and too disruptive to be sustainable.

So we are left with adaptation. Nature adapts all the time, and so can we.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: how should we adapt? And how can we better support vulnerable Small Island Developing States – whose people have contributed very little to climate change, but will bear the brunt of its impact – in building better climate change resilience projects?

Don’t be fooled by the headlines; this is not simply a matter of rising seas.

Climate change in Small Island Developing States means salinated fields, bleached reefs, eroded coastlines, degraded ecosystems, disrupted economies, destroyed infrastructure, poverty traps, lost lives, endangered livelihoods, and weak institutional mechanisms for responding to risk.

Addressing these myriad hazards requires not only building bespoke approaches that are customized to local economies, cultures, contexts, and capacity, but also creating holistically modeled systems that bring ecosystems, reefs, weather, climate, and people into the equation.

To be blunt, sea walls aren’t enough. The world’s Small Island Developing States require a “whole of island approach.”

This means building resilience to climate change and natural hazards through all sectors of social and economic life, and building a stronger ecosystem-based approach that uses cutting-edge techniques, technologies, and know-how to protect our environment and support a healthier planet.

We are starting to see more and more of these types of project coming online across the world. They are part of our global compromise to reach Nationally Determined Contributions as outlined by the Paris Agreement and also build more climate-resilient lives for the millions of people facing ever-increasing risks from climate change impacts.

As you can imagine, this Whole of Islands approach requires reaching experts in nearly every sector of civil society, industry, science, technology, finance, and governance.

One strong example comes from a partnership between the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, and UNDP to deploy highly qualified technical specialists with expertise in hydrology, flood management, and civil engineering to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Tonga, to support formulation missions for new climate projects.

Through this coalition, UNDP has been able to fast track support for Small Island Developing States in protecting their shores from rising sea levels, building ecosystem-based approaches that benefit local communities and local economies, and supporting a larger holistic approach to tackling the challenges of climate change in the Pacific.

With funding from the GCF, a new generation of climate resilience projects are already underway in the Pacific – with more to come. These next-generation projects will support the Government of the Maldives in providing safe and reliable water to over 30 percent of its citizens, ensure integrated flood management in Samoa, and improved coastal adaptation in Tuvalu.

Einstein was right: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Humans can facilitate solutions that Mother Nature intended: a whole of islands approach for a whole of islands problem.

Originally published on the UNDP Blog.

About the author

Pradeep Kurukulasuriya heads the Climate Change Adaptation team in the Global Environmental Finance Unit at UNDP.  Follow Pradeep on Twitter: @pradeepk333. UNDP will present a number of interesting side events on climate change adaptation at this year’s Climate Talks. Read More

UNDP Climate Change Adaptation Impact
Across the world, UNDP-supported projects are generating positive impacts for the millions of people whose lives and livelihoods are at risk from the effects of climate change. Farmers are gaining access to new technologies and resources that help promote a better standard of living for their families. Communities are strengthening their resilience to floods, droughts, pests and other climate-related shocks with improved disaster management systems, and smarter ways of doing business. Women, who are disproportionately affected by climate shocks, are now benefiting from gender-sensitive approaches to adaptation assistance. Dialogue and capacity-building contribute to improved strategies and policies that are helping to build the climate-smart nations of the 21st Century. Read More


Last Updated: 6 Jun 2018