United Nations System-Wide


Caribbean Environment Outlook
Pacific Islands Environment Outlook
Western Indian Ocean Environment Outlook

Following the pattern of the UNEP Global Environment Outlook (GEO) reports, UNEP has produced environmental outlooks for the island countries of the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the South Pacific to address the specific priorities and needs of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in GEO. These three joint State of the Environment (SOE) assessment reports, in the mould of GEO, identify regional environmental concerns, priorities and policies, particularly addressing policy issues of relevance to the Lomé 2000 negotiations. The preliminary results were incorporated in the GEO 2000 report which was launched on 15 September 1999. The three sub-regional SIDS reports were launched in New York on 28 September 1999 during the UN General Assembly Special Session on small island developing States.

Funding was provided by the European Commission (EC)/DG VIII for the project. While the EC is particularly interested in the Lomé countries, the SIDS assessments covered the whole of the three subregions, with an emphasis on the Lomé countries.

Contents of the Reports

In accordance with the GEO 2000 guidelines, the following are the main chapters covered in each of the three sub-regional SIDS reports:
1) State of the Environment;
2) Review of Current Policy Responses;
3) Future perspectives including, for the Pacific Islands, Alternative Policy Options and Emerging Environmental Issues.

While the reports note the ecological fragility and economic vulnerability typical of most SIDS, they also cite examples of successful trends and of sound governmental policies. Such policies include efforts to increase public concern over environmental issues (including a more central role for environmental education), to enhance collaboration between governments and regional associations and to support the significant global role being played by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The reports mention the signing and ratification by SIDS of relevant multilateral environmental agreements, particularly marine-oriented and climate-change-related conventions, as well as enactment of associated national legislation.

However, despite those efforts by the island States themselves, progress on the environment has fallen far short of what had been hoped for at the 1994 Barbados Conference. Overall, the three regions are on an unsustainable course. Environmental degradation threatens their very foundations, and in a number of ways. Many island populations are on the rapid increase. In the Pacific islands, the population has almost tripled since 1950, jumping from 2.6 to 7.5 million. These population changes, coupled with changing patterns of production and consumption and heavy reliance on an often-limited national resource capital, are imposing heavy pressures on the environment. For example, per-capita waste production has doubled in the last two or two-and-a-half decades. Nor is it merely a question of quantity, for the nature of the waste (linked to changing consumption patterns) is less and less degradable. Growing tourism adds to the pressures, making it imperative to integrate tourism within the social and environmental picture as soon as possible.

Land degradation, waste management, freshwater supply and quality are major concerns for many islands in all three areas. Sea-level rise, associated with climate change, is expected to further bedevil the situation. A serious problem is the severe depletion of forest and fishery resources by over-harvesting. The unique marine and terrestrial biodiversity of many of the islands is severely threatened by a higher proportion of species on the endangered list than in larger land masses. About one third of the coral reefs in the Caribbean and Pacific are at high risk due to a combination of near shore pollution and offshore over-harvesting. Coral bleaching has also destroyed large stretches of reef.

Furthermore, the majority of the islands' capital cities and settlements are susceptible to sea-level rise, putting 22 per cent of the population of the Indian Ocean's small islands alone at risk. And, given the likelihood that the frequency and intensity of weather extremes -- hurricanes, cyclones, floods and storm-surge -- will increase, the ability of SIDS to develop a strong productive base for sustainable development is increasingly jeopardized.


Following the pattern of the participatory GEO assessment process, the SIDS reports incorporated regional views and perspectives and built consensus on priority issues and actions through dialogue among policy-makers and scientists at the regional and global levels.

This participatory approach operated through two channels: the direct involvement of the Collaborating Centres, and sub-regional consultations held in each of the sub-regions with the participation of all stake-holders such as the NGO and the business communities, in addition to policy makers.

Three Collaborating Centres helped to prepare the reports: University of the West Indies (UWI), Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). These collaborating centres networked widely with other national and regional institutions as well as with scientists/experts and policy makers in their respective regions.

The SIDS report process has also provided a forum for the promotion of the issues of priority importance to the SIDS in the Lomé 2000 negotiations. For the European Union and the SIDS, the project provided an opportunity to look at the Lomé agreement from an environmental perspective and to assess some of its current environmental impacts and potentials for the future.

Launching September 1999

At a press briefing at UN Headquarters on 28 September 1999, Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), unveiled these reports on environmental conditions in the three major small island developing States (SIDS) regions -- the Caribbean, the Western Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean. Mr. Toepfer said the reports,
released to coincide with the two-day special session of the General Assembly on the sustainable development of SIDS, were the joint contribution of UNEP and the European Union to the special session. Mr. Toepfer's remarks were followed by brief statements from Ambassador Neroni Slade (Samoa), Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS); from Gerald Miles, of the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP); and from Franklin McDonald, Acting Director of the Nature Resource Conservation Authority of Jamaica.

The three reports were an integral part of UNEP's activities undertaken within the framework of the Global Environmental Outlook, GEO-2000. UNEP relied on a regional participatory approach in preparing the reports, drawing on input from the three regions involved and in partnership with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the University of the West Indies Centre and the Indian Ocean Commission.

Indeed, said Mr. Toepfer, SIDS could be said to be in the lead in ratifying and implementing  multilateral environmental agreements. Hopefully, that would send a solid signal to other countries to join and make best use of those global, legally binding conventions and protocols. Another positive sign was the successful evolution of the Kyoto Climate Change Protocol, which was, of course, of utmost importance for SIDS. The international community had to prepare itself for climate change, first of all through mitigation -- for example, by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions -- but also by filling the knowledge gap.

While he did not want to present a negative overall picture, said Mr. Toepfer, it was important to create a very honest, clear informational basis for decision-makers in the drive for sustainable development. The world must be better informed, with the most up-to-date facts on developments in SIDS. The international community had to concentrate its efforts on tackling root causes, particularly poverty, unsustainable consumption, and population growth.

There must be an integrated approach to environment management in relation to economic needs and development potentials. For example,  in order to integrate tourism within the social and environmental picture as soon as possible, UNEP had launched an initiative directed at tour operators. It hoped to distribute copies of a special islands issue of UNEP's house publication, Our Planet, to airlines travelling to SIDS in order to raise tourist awareness of the beautiful but fragile and vulnerable environment of those regions. UNEP was also backing the coral reef initiative decided upon in Barbados, which it believed to be of the highest importance for the overall stability of the ecosystem. Finally, it must do everything in its power to mobilize further action, with the help of the collaboration centres, the governments of the three regions, and the European Commission. He said that in preparing the reports, UNEP had taken a very small, but necessary step, and much remained to be done. He hoped the special session of the Assembly would be a success in backing implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action.

Mr. Slade said that the reports, coming as they did on the fifth anniversary of the Barbados Conference, were timely and most welcome. All he had to add in the way of comment was that the reports not only summarized the status of the SIDS, but identified responses to the critical issues. They, therefore, embodied much sense and practicality, setting out possible -- but workable -- strategies for the future. Moreover the reports, compiled with the active cooperation of the
regions in question and interested scientific experts, had been objectively peer-reviewed. The reports were, therefore, not only as accurate as they could possibly be, but they had been independently assessed. But they left the world under no illusions. Indeed, they largely confirmed what was already known -- namely, that the island regions would continue to face serious but steady decline. Taken together, the problems outlined by Mr. Toepfer added up to bad habits. "I think we have to own up to our own lifestyle in the islands", he said. Already, for example, island roads were clogged with motor vehicles: it was time for SIDS to respond and make a meaningful contribution to cleaning up the global environment. By their combined power, human beings had altered and continued to alter the global environment. What was not yet known was how to respond sensibly, and in unison, to the health problems of the global environment. The reports clearly illustrated that islands provide a vital litmus measure for the environment. The ultimate value of the role SIDS could perform was their own conduct, their own acceptance of solutions and their own implementation of what they could manage to do with the help of the international community.

Asked whether there had been any measurable sea-level rise in the five years since the Barbados Conference, Mr. Slade replied that it was impossible to measure sea-level rises in the short term by country or by region. But it was known in specific communities that there had been significant salt-water seepage into drinking-water reserves. The phenomenon was widespread, he added.

A correspondent asked, in view of "lack of progress" since the Barbados Conference, why the panel felt that it could do much more now to deflect SIDS from what Mr. Toepfer had characterized as an unsustainable course. Mr. Toepfer said that he had already identified increased awareness of the problems -- both in SIDS and at the global level -- as a positive sign. The process of consciousness-raising must go on, first of all through education. He acknowledged, however, citing the scanty information surrounding such questions as coral bleaching and reef-depletion, that there was no easy answer. He could only reiterate what had already been said -- namely, that the reports should not be viewed as a nightmare scenario. Such scenarios were always linked in people's minds to alibis for inaction. On the contrary, they should be viewed as honest statements of position. They made clear that action both at the SIDS level and at the global level could indeed lead to clear solution of the problems. Not on a short time scale, of course. He truly believed that if blue-eyed optimism was neither called for nor possible, resignation was not possible or necessary either. As the regional experts had said, the reports were indeed living documents. They were not blueprints for implementation. They should be viewed as stimulants for further action, and hopefully as sources of better information for the future. A correspondent asked to what extent alternative government policies were contributing to the solution of SIDS problems. Mr. Miles said that alternative policy options to promote sustainable development could, in fact, add to the problems. In general, the major drawback was that such policies tended to be applied piecemeal. But there were encouraging policies at community level -- for example, programmes to link tourist penetration of conservation areas with the preservation of rare fauna, or the imposition of excise levies on such environmentally undesirable articles as plastic bags.

Mr. McDonald offered a Caribbean perspective on the question, pointing out that, for the past five years, the region had tried systematically to tackle the issues raised. First, by seeing to what extent it could meet the requirements of international environmental conventions. But capacity problems were a serious challenge. It was not easy to establish inventories, reports, and environmental assessments overnight. But secretariats and national governments had been working towards solutions to problems.  Not all environmental conventions had funding mechanisms, but he understood that UNEP was re-examining the extent to which secretariats could better harmonize and rationalize their work. At a regional level, governments were seeking to put in place national sustainable development strategies. In Jamaica, sustainable tourism strategies which had emerged from the tourist industry itself were being actively examined. Jamaica was also actively promoting an environmental education action plan. He added that not many countries of the developed world were walking the path to sustainability. While the problems enumerated today might be more urgent for the SIDS, those same problems had not yet been overcome in the developed world.

Reports on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) from the
Global Environment Outlook (GEO) programme of UNEP.
United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, 1999.

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