Greening the Islands Foundation

Sailing through the storm: how to build up resilience on vulnerable islands

Extreme weather events are increasingly frequent and disruptive, as was – once again – evident in the first month of 2024 when islands have experienced harsh effects.

 

The island of Roi-Namur, in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Central Pacific Ocean), faced heavy waves evidencing the dramatic impact of climate change and rising sea levels on the islands.

 

Similarly, Cyclone Belal devastated Mauritius and La Reunion (South-Western Indian Ocean) reaching the equivalent of a category-2 hurricane with sustained winds of at least 160-170 km/h, underlining the urgent need for solutions to safeguard human life, infrastructure, and freshwater resources in island regions.

In Mauritius, strong winds and heavy rain led to floods in the capital, Port Louis, resulting in damage to about 100 vehicles. La Reunion, one of the islands engaged within the MAESHA project (a Horizon EU program focused on smart grids development that involves Greening the Islands as a partner), experienced power outages for a quarter of households, loss of internet and phone services, and water disruptions for tens of thousands of homes.

 

Both islands issued high-level storm alerts, with two reported deaths – one in each location. Fortunately, Rodrigues, a small island belonging to the Republic of Mauritius but located around 600 km away from it, member of the GTI Observatory and frontrunner island in the 100% RES Islands Initiative, was not directly affected by the cyclone.

 

Extreme weather events, made more intense and more frequent by human-caused climate change, have finally gathered significant attention at recent COPs. At COP 27, the Loss and Damage Fund was established to assist countries disproportionately affected by climate change. In addition, the Sharm-El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda (SAA) was introduced, outlining 30 global adaptation goals by 2030 to improve the resilience of 4 billion people through various impact systems.

These targets cover critical areas such as food and agriculture, water and wildlife, coastal and ocean ecosystems, human settlements, and infrastructure, to accelerate transformation and enable effective planning and financing solutions.

 

Furthermore, the COP 28 Global Stocktake emphasised the need for greater coordination in disaster risk reduction, humanitarian aid and recovery efforts to effectively mitigate loss and damage from climate change impacts, including slow-onset events.The vulnerability of islands around the world, which lies in their unique geographical characteristics and heavy reliance on imports, is further exacerbated by outdated infrastructure. Where infrastructure exists, it often proves inadequate, leaving the inhabitants struggling with the challenges raised by extreme weather phenomena. This contributes to increasing island communities’ loss and damage.

 

The presence of cyclones in the Indian Ocean from January to March is a recurring threat due to warmer seas. Human-caused climate change amplifies the frequency and severity of these storms, with rising global temperatures contributing to more frequent and severe cyclones.

 

To address these challenges adapting to and mitigating the effects of extreme events, a robust and up-to-date disaster risk management plan is essential. The Sendai Framework 2015-2030, developed by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), emerges as a key tool for taking measures in this regard.

 

This framework emphasizes the adoption of measures across three dimensions of disaster risk (hazard exposure, vulnerability, and hazard capacity/characteristics). It aims to prevent the creation of new hazards, reduce existing ones, and enhance resilience. By encouraging the prevention of new risks and the reduction of existing ones, it forms a comprehensive strategy for disaster risk reduction.

 

At Greening the Islands, we are conscious of the complexities related to the impact of extreme weather conditions on islands, and the importance of tailor-made solutions. We engage with a wide range of islands, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS), as well as smaller and larger islands and archipelagos. This inclusive approach ensures that identified solutions are not only adaptable but also scalable.

 

However, islands do not have to start from scratch; they can learn from each other sharing experience, knowledge, and best practices. That’s why a continuously growing global network of diverse stakeholders – from innovative solution providers and clean industry leaders to scientific institutions, civil society, and governments – committed to protecting islands and empowering them as laboratories to lead the green transition is so crucial to develop successful strategies toward a sustainable future. This is a key pillar within the GTI Observatory.

 

One of the keys to advancing islands’ sustainability and self-sufficiency is the independence of energy and water production. The widespread adoption of renewable energy, desalination and wastewater treatment systems, and electric vehicles must be accompanied by dedicated policies and incentives. Yet this alone is not enough. The modernisation of the electricity grid from a centralised to a decentralised structure is imperative.

 

Decentralised power generation is a critical factor in improving disaster resilience, particularly in developing island contexts. In a centralised system, energy flows unidirectionally from generation to consumption. When a disruption occurs, there is a generalised power failure downstream of the damaged point which affects the subsequent power lines and loads. Decentralisation, on the other hand, ensures that the entire grid is not damaged when a weak point fails. For example, a grid-connected mini-grid can disconnect and operate without any problems. Similarly, at the household level, a home solar PV system coupled with a storage unit ensures self-reliance during grid restoration.

 

The concept of disaster resilience also includes speed of recovery. Decentralised power generation allows reconstruction efforts to prioritise critical areas, such as the quick recovery of a hospital’s mini-grid.  Decentralisation offers a modular and rapid approach, whereas centralisation involves large-scale and time-intensive processes. Innovative technologies we are exploring with partners, such as airborne wind energy systems, further facilitate the restoration of power supplies due to their ease of deployment and transportability.

 

Embracing circular economy solutions is also crucial as it allows moving away from linear models to minimise waste and maximise resource efficiency. Enhancing the integration of renewable energy with other sectors, including agriculture, water and transportation, stands as a critical endeavour. Renewable energies not only reduce emissions but also increase resilience and efficiency in various sectors. By recognising and leveraging this nexus, solutions can promote environmental protection, economic prosperity and social equity globally.

 

In conclusion, the comprehensive approach outlined in the Sendai Framework alongside multilateral efforts focused on enabling and accelerating the sustainable transition on islands, pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable future for them and us all, since islands are ideal laboratories for replicable solutions. The imperative is clear: it is time to act collectively, involving all spheres of society to build a future where islands can prosper despite adversity.

Andrea Morabito

Andrea Morabito

On Key

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