UN SYSTEM-WIDE EARTHWATCH Web Site
UNEP ISLANDS Web Site
FOR THE ISLAND COUNTRIES OF THE
CARIBBEAN, INDIAN OCEAN AND SOUTH PACIFIC
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
CARIBBEAN ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
- 1999 74 p.
PACIFIC ISLANDS ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
- 1999 65 p.
WESTERN INDIAN OCEAN ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
- 1999 79 p.
Reports on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) from the
Global Environment Outlook (GEO) programme of UNEP.
United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, 1999.