Mohamed T. El-Ashry
Chief Executive
Officer and Chairman,
Global Environment Facility

The poet Robert Browning called them ‘the sprinkled isles, lily on lily, that o’erlace the sea’. From the South Seas to the Caribbean, islands are considered by outsiders as isolated, pristine places. Residents are increasingly realizing, however, that there is no escaping the problems of the global environment. Dying coral reefs; declining fisheries; degraded freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems; diminished forest cover and biodiversity; rising seas; and devastating hurricanes are all issues hitting islanders close to home.

It is no accident, then, that small island developing states (SIDS) have been at the forefront of global environmental consciousness raising and problem solving. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and its implementing agencies (the United Nations Development Programme, UNEP and the World Bank) are proud to have provided more than $55.236 million and leveraged more than $125.807 million more in funding for 57 enabling activities for capacity building and projects in SIDS across the developing world.

Climate change
The best understood consequences of global warming include a rise in sea level of about 50 centimetres by 2100. Estimates are that sea levels have already risen about 18 centimetres in the past century, primarily from the thermal expansion of the oceans and a smaller contribution from melting glaciers. The implications for islands are obvious: they include the forced relocation of millions of people and billions of dollars in damage to property.

The ability to adapt is critical to surviving these sea-level predictions. To that end, the GEF is financing two regional projects, one involving the Caribbean islands and the other island nations in the South Pacific, to determine their vulnerability to climate change and develop adaptation plans.

With increasing demand for energy, sustainable energy development is another top priority of most SIDS countries. GEF-funded initiatives in Cape Verde, Jamaica and Mauritius, among others, are promoting energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies. Their benefits are multiple: they protect forests, reduce reliance on expensive imported fuels, increase the supply of clean, locally generated power, and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.

Coastal zone management is a top challenge for most SIDS countries, with commercial shippers and developers, tour operators, fishing fleets and conservationists often at odds. A GEF-funded project in Cuba’s Sabana-Camagüey archipelago is one of a number of similar efforts designed to integrate these diverse interests in a comprehensive strategic plan.

A number of SIDS are successfully battling another common problem with GEF’s assistance: introduced species that destroy uniquely valuable biological diversity. On Aldabra Island in Seychelles, feral goats were out-competing the last remaining natural population of giant land tortoises in the Indian Ocean. More than 80 per cent of the goat population has now been removed. A GEF-funded project in Mauritius developed measures to combat a wide range of introduced species, such as the macaque monkey, which feed on plants and birds’ eggs.

GEF values the opportunity to co-sponsor with UNEP this special edition of Our Planet about issues of importance, not just to SIDS countries, but to all nations. For a detailed report on GEF’s SIDS portfolio, see GEF – helping small islands. A companion article about a GEF project in the Dominican Republic, Grassroots, highlights the most essential ingredient for success: effective community-led management of resources and alternative income efforts. That is why community-based groups and other non-governmental organizations are at the heart of GEF’s SIDS initiatives.

The upcoming United Nations General Assembly represents an important forum in which to consider the progress made by SIDS nations and to forge a stronger alliance for the future. The GEF stands ready and willing to assist in this critical effort.


Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Editorial M. T. El-Ashry | Let action... | The size of the problem | Looking good... | Vanishing islands | Whispers and waste | At a glance | Competition | Preserving paradise | Coral grief | ...biodiversity and beauty | Grassroots | GEF - helping small islands | Making a difference | UNEP - new books | Small is vulnerable | Measuring vulnerability | Exporting solutions | New friends in...