Re-framing island nations as champions of resilience in the face of climate change and disaster risk

Roger-Mark De Souza, Sarah Henly-Shepard, Karen McNamara, Nishara Fernando
United Nations University Institute of Environment and Human Security
Type of Publication: 
Language of Publication: 
Year of Publication: 

Access the publication

As a home to important flora and fauna, with rich cultural roots and heritage, island communities are often characterized by their deep social ties with the natural environment. However, due to environmental degradation, impacts from climate change including slow (e.g. sea level rise) and sudden (e.g. hurricanes) onset events and the associated changes to livelihood structures and opportunities, islands throughout the world face increasing threats.In order to understand and appropriately address livelihood risks in these communities and to identify opportunities for resilience-building, there is an urgent need to shed light on the historical and cultural context of island societies and ecosystems. These approaches should build upon local and traditional knowledge and be grounded in established practices developed by island communities over centuries which continue to be heavily impacted by current political and economic trends.

This article presents several multi-scale case studies from islands around the world to offer a historically informed review of the cultural, environmental, political and economic systems and influences on island resilience. The discussion then shifts to the current state of vulnerable island populations, ecosystems and livelihoods, and opportunities for restoring and enhancing resilience through traditional and local knowledge and institutionalizing a longterm agenda to rebuild social and environmental justice. In doing so, this article demonstrates how small island communities can become inspiring champions of livelihood resilience to global environmental change. Our conclusions highlight best practices at the local, national and regional scales for addressing these challenges through education, women’s empowerment, health, intergenerational knowledge sharing, food security and innovative livelihood strategies such as varied mobility tactics. These practices ultimately serve as catalysts to reduce livelihood vulnerabilities and contribute to national and community level adaptive capacity to climate change, by helping forge a stronger sense of global community between small islands and non-small islands across the world.

Series title: Livelihood Resilience in the Face of Global Environmental Change
UNU-EHS Working Paper Series No. 9.
United Nations University Institute of Environment and Human Security, Bonn