Thursday, June 5, marks the 41st celebration of World Environment Day (WED). It was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 and first celebrated the next year. The UN General Assembly declared 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), therefore, WED is being marked under the theme ‘Small Island Developing States and Climate Change,’ with the slogan ‘Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level.’
According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the goal of the theme and slogan is to raise awareness of the unique development challenges faced by SIDS in areas such as climate change, waste management, unsustainable consumption, degradation of natural resources, and extreme natural disasters. Success stories will also be highlighted to show how some of these countries have been able to manage and mitigate the effects of these challenges. The UN hopes “to help build momentum towards the Third International Conference on SIDS in September and encourage a greater understanding of the importance of SIDS and of the urgency to help protect the islands in the face of growing risks and vulnerabilities, particularly as a result of climate change.”
Of particular interest to us here in the Caribbean is the fact that Barbados has been selected as the official WED host – the first SIDS to do so. Barbados is highlighted on the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Green Economy website as one of its success stories for the extensive work that country has done in recent years to cut its dependence on fossil fuels. For instance, it is noted that in 2002, Barbados was able to cut 15,000 metric tonnes of carbon emission and save more than US$100 million from the 35,000 solar hot water systems that had been installed at the time.
It is important that all countries in the region, specifically the islands, participate in WED activities and, more importantly, work to help the environment all year round. Due to their comparatively small sizes and isolation, SIDS are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The UNEP states, “SIDS contribute little to climate change – emitting less than one per cent of global greenhouse gases. However, they suffer disproportionately from its effects due to their small size, remote locations and low economic resilience. Research shows that by 2100, global warming could lead to a sea-level rise of up to two meters, making many SIDS, including the Maldives, Kiribati and Tuvalu uninhabitable.”
The Small Island Developing States Network (SIDSnet) adds,
Small island developing States are particularly vulnerable to climate change, climate variability and sea-level rise. As their population, agricultural land and infrastructure tend to be concentrated in the coastal zone, any rise in sea-level will have significant and profound effects on their economies and living conditions. For some low-lying SIDS, their very survival is threatened. Global climate change may damage coral reefs, alter the distribution of zones of upwelling and affect both subsistence and commercial fisheries production. Furthermore, it may affect vegetation, saline intrusion and may adversely affect freshwater resources. The increased frequency and intensity of the storm events that may result from climate change will also have profound effects on both the economies and the environments of Small Island Developing States.
Week-long WED celebrations kicked off in Barbados with a religious service at the Cathedral of St Michael and All Angels in Bridgetown, in observance of WED and in recognition of the 20th Anniversary of the First Conference of Small Island Development States.
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