Climate Change Adaptation Limits in Small Island Developing States

Small island developing states (SIDS) are 58 countries located in three main geographic regions—the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea, the Caribbean, and the Pacific—that are among the most vulnerable to climate change and required to adapt to its impacts. The small islands chapter in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that more can be learnt about adaptation drivers, barriers and limits in these countries. This study helps to fill the gap in relation to adaptation limits. It has one primary aim—to identify and discuss the nature and potential range of adaptation limits in SIDS. Limits are identified from countries’ National Communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Using a sample of 19 SIDS, it finds that countries most commonly reported being limited by finance/budgetary restrictions/income, natural resources/features and data/records. Countries’ own inaction, culture, perceptions and the social acceptability of adaptation strategies and measures are among the least commonly reported limits. It further finds that 39% of reported limits can be categorised as institutional, 28% as physical and ecological, 16% as economic, 14% as social and 3% as technological. These findings are important for adaptation planning and decision-making at the local, national, regional and international levels. An understanding of climate change adaptation limits in SIDS can help actors working at different scales to (1) determine which adaptation actions are likely to be feasible, cost-effective and/or sustainable, (2) prioritise adaptation actions in the interest of sustainable development, (3) better design adaptation interventions, making the best possible use of scarce resources, and (4) identify and seize opportunities to increase the adaptive capacities of these countries.


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