Explained | Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

Biodiversity is an important issue for the livelihood of many SIDS, as industries like tourism and fisheries can constitute over half of the GDP of small island economies. Photo: AFP

The fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) will be held from May 27 to 30 in St John’s, Antigua and Barbuda. 

Under the overarching theme of ‘Charting the course toward resilient prosperity’, the Conference will aim at assessing the ability of SIDS to achieve sustainable development, including the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.

Small Island Developing States

• Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are a distinct group of 39 States and 18 Associate Members of United Nations regional commissions that face unique social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities.

• The three geographical regions in which SIDS are located are: the Caribbean, the Pacific, and the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. 

• They are some of the most beautiful places on Earth, with atolls of white sand beaches, mountain ranges covered in cloud forest, historic ports and towns, and agricultural landscapes.

• SIDS were recognised as a special case both for their environment and development at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

• The aggregate population of all the SIDS is 65 million. This group faces unique social, economic, and environmental challenges. 

• SIDS face a host of challenges including for many, their remote geography. As a result, many SIDS face high import and export costs for goods as well as irregular international traffic volumes. Yet, they must rely on external markets for many goods due to the narrow resource base.

• For SIDS, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) — the ocean under their control — is, on average, 28 times the country’s land mass. Thus, for many SIDS the majority of the natural resources they have access to comes from the ocean.

• Factors like small population size, remoteness from international markets, high transportation costs, vulnerability to exogenous economic shocks and fragile land and marine ecosystems make SIDS particularly vulnerable to biodiversity loss and climate change because they lack economic alternatives.

• Climate change has a very tangible impact on SIDS. 

• Hurricanes destroy communications, energy and transport infrastructure, homes, health facilities and schools. 

• Slow onset events such as sea level rise pose an existential threat to small island communities, requiring drastic measures such as relocation of populations, and the related challenges this poses. 

• These challenges are compounded by limited institutional capacity, scarce financial resources and a high degree of vulnerability to systemic shocks.

• The pandemic hugely impacted all island nations, especially those dependent on tourism. Global lockdowns left large holes in islands’ coffers and severely set back efforts to invest in the Sustainable Development Goals.

• Biodiversity is an important issue for the livelihood of many SIDS, as industries like tourism and fisheries can constitute over half of the GDP of small island economies. 

• However, the importance of these natural resources extends beyond the economy. Biodiversity holds aesthetic and spiritual value for many island communities. For centuries, these communities have drawn benefits from biodiversity in the form of food supply, clean water, reduced beach erosion, soil and sand formation, and protection from storm surges.

• Strong biodiversity not only generates revenue through industries for SIDS, it also helps prevent the incurrence of additional costs that can result from climate change, soil erosion, pollution, floods, natural disasters, and other destructive phenomena.

• At the regional level, SIDS are also supported by inter-governmental organisations, primarily the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC).

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