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Small Island Developing States at existential risk need reliable international partners: will the UK step up?

1 May 2024

International Development Committee says new Loss and Damage funding should be disbursed as grants, not more debt.

Small Island Developing States are among the world’s most vulnerable countries. They are particularly exposed to the impacts of climate change – including intensifying tropical cyclones, sea level rise and the destruction of the coral reefs upon which their wider ocean ecosystems and economies depend.

If global temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Earth will lose 70% of its coral reefs. At 2 degrees increase, we will lose 99% of global coral reefs, with devastating consequences to the SIDS communities dependent on them. The UK’s Climate Change Committee reports that temperatures are already more than 1 degree above pre-industrial levels; NASA puts it at 1.36 degrees. There is a very real risk that rising sea levels will cause some SIDS to disappear underwater by the end of this century.

Small Island Developing States are taking ambitious steps to address these challenges, but they need committed international partners to support them.

Report conclusions and recommendations

The Committee calls out the domestic environmental policies it says are threatening the UK’s reputation as a serious partner to the SIDS. The UK is not on track to meet its own net zero targets, and the UK SIDS Strategy lacks concrete commitments or measurable objectives.

The UK should use its senior roles and influence in global development finance institutions – including its current co-chairship of the Green Climate Fund with the Dominican Republic - to improve SIDS access to climate finance, and to push for money from the new Loss and Damage Fund to be disbursed as grants, not loans. SIDS are already heavily indebted and the impact on them of external shocks – whether extreme weather events, pandemics, or global economic volatility - is larger and the recovery process slower. In 2017, Hurricane Maria wiped out the equivalent of 226% of Dominica’s GDP overnight. It is yet to fully recover.

Despite being so vulnerable to the effects of climate change, to which they have contributed so little, some SIDS are classified as too high-income to access Official Development Assistance. Applications for climate finance are prohibitively lengthy and onerous for small states with limited administrative capacity and can consume up to 5% of the total value of a project before it is even implemented.

The existential risk posed by rising and warming waters also extends to the legal existence and citizenship of SIDS. The Committee calls for the Government to explore ways of protecting the legal statehood and maritime boundaries of SIDS to ensure their peoples do not become stateless even as they are forced to displace to other lands.

Chair's comment

International Development Committee Chair, Sarah Champion MP, said:

“Time is running out. Rich countries need to wake up to the urgent need for long-term action to address the crises facing Small Island Developing States and the oceans they - and we all - depend on for continued survival

“SIDS are the canary in the mine of global climate change: a dire warning of the potential fate of coastal regions and peoples the world over, within this century. We must listen and act now.

“But the last thing these vulnerable small states need is more national debt. The new Loss and Damage Fund must be disbursed as grants, not loans. The UK’s SIDS Strategy is a step in the right direction but it suffers from the same lack of measurable commitments that plagues so much of our domestic policy. The UK is not on track to meet its own climate targets and that badly undermines our global leadership role.

“Meeting our climate commitments – including a dependable long-term commitment to SIDS – is not a ‘nice to have’ that can be dropped as multiplying global crises heat up. The UK must step up to this global challenge with firm long-term commitments, backed by proven progress against immovable targets. Governments worldwide, including the UK, first need to actually meet the climate finance commitments they have made – though only a tiny fraction of that is reaching SIDS - but also need to vastly increase the amount of climate finance and funding pledged. We are only at the start of the race to beat climate change and all the signs are that we - and especially SIDS - are already in serious danger of losing.”

Further information

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