Four A’s for Small Islands: Adaptation, Abilities, Alliances and Action

A child on the Marshall Islands carries a box of IOM-donated foodstuffs ashore during last year’s relief operation. © Joe Lowry/IOM 2014

By Dina Ionesco

The slogan of this year Environment Day is “Raise your voice, not the sea level” and we are very pleased that our Newsletter offers a space for raising many different voices. Through these voices we want to highlight a diversity of visions, perspectives and opinions expressed by high level policy makers, researchers, lawyers, anthropologists, cultural activists, representatives of non-governmental organizations, IOM experts and even children. In response we are focussing on four key words in this issue:  adaptation, abilities, alliances and action.


It is increasingly acknowledged that all countries are being or will be affected by climate change (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). However, the case of Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) presents unique challenges and opportunities.

These islands share a number of common characteristics in their diversity. Pristine and idyllic from the outside, yet threatened by rising sea levels and temperatures, cyclones and changing precipitation patterns; some are even at risk of disappearing completely. They are also home to rich cultures that are being endangered by the adverse impacts of climate change.

The linkages between climate, development and migration are clearly evidenced in the SIDS. Environmental factors have always impacted migration and the effects of climate change are expected to intensify this influence. This brings to the forefront the first “A” that stands for “adaptation”: giving preeminence to the questions of disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and resilience, as well as the potential implications for population displacement.


Due to worsening environmental conditions, inhabitants of the most threatened islands face the prospect of permanent displacement and uprooting.  At the same time, migration in the SIDS can also be considered as an effective and positive form of climate change adaptation. Well-planned migration can actually decrease potential humanitarian emergencies and provide opportunities for livelihood diversification.  Hence, the second “A”, referring to “abilities” and calling attention to the capacities needed at policy and community levels to respond to issues associated with human mobility in the context of climate change.


The United Nations had, as early as 1992, recognized the SIDS as a distinct group of developing countries. As a result, the UN General Assembly resolution 47/189 established the UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of SIDS. The first conference took place in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1994 and saw the adoption of the “Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS”. The second SIDS Conference was held in Mauritius in 2005, resulting in the development of the “Mauritius Strategy”. 2014 has been chosen as the “International Year of Small Island Developing States” by the United Nations.

The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States will be held from 1 to 4 September 2014 in Apia, Samoa. The aim is to continue raising global awareness about the distinctive challenges faced by small islands and to focus on the role played by partnerships. This brings the third “A” to the forefront, to highlight the significance of “alliances”. Partnership and collaboration among SIDS, sending and receiving countries as well as across policy areas and stakeholders can ensure that a diversity of policy options is developed. 


The SIDS conference provides an important opportunity to reflect on human mobility challenges and to identify new, innovative and practical recommendations that can inform the global debate on human mobility in the context of climate and environmental change. This brings us to the fourth and last “A”: “action”. The focus we have this year on the SIDS context is an opportunity to highlight actions already being taken and to launch new ones.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has decided to dedicate this Newsletter to various aspects of the mobility debate in the SIDS to illustrate these four “A’s”. The articles that are featured in this issue offer a good mix of thematic views on the meaning of migration and adaptation to climate change; insights on abilities at policy, project and community levels; the large variety of alliances existing and under development; and examples of actions that are being taken or planned.


Dina Ionesco is Policy Officer at the International Organization for Migration