GEF: helping small island
developing states

The Global Environment Facility (GEF), an international financial entity dedicated to protecting the global environment, has initiated a diverse group of projects in over 120 countries. With its implementing agencies, the United Nations Development Programme, UNEP and the World Bank, and partners that include non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and the scientific community, the GEF funds projects that address local environmental problems with global impacts in one of four focal areas: biodiversity, climate change, international waters and ozone.
This review of GEF’s current projects in small island developing states (SIDS) illustrates the problems island nations face and the role they are playing in safeguarding the global environment.

Conserving and restoring island biodiversity
Preparing for climate change while tackling its root causes
Ensuring healthy and productive international waters
Supporting Enabling Activities in climate change and biodiversity
Making progress in global projects
Anticipating the future
GEF-funded projects in SIDS

Conserving and restoring island biodiversity. Home to remarkable numbers of endemic species, small, isolated islands are renowned for their biological wealth. Many SIDS face complex challenges in protecting their natural resources, which are the foundation for some of the world’s most unique ecosystems and habitats.

High levels of endemism in Cuba’s diverse marine and coastal ecosystems led to the Protecting Biodiversity and Establishing Sustainable Development in the Sabana-Camagüey Region project. Designed to protect areas threatened by the lack of national capacity to plan and manage tourism, the project focused on a group of 2,515 cays – low islands, reefs of sand and coral bodies – designated a high conservation priority by Cuba’s Academy of Sciences (ACC). By strengthening scientific research, strategic planning and sustainable development capabilities, the project promoted the integration of conservation and development activities. In one key example, road designs were modified to protect critical habitat.

Nearby, the Biodiversity Conservation and Management in the Coastal Zone of the Dominican Republic project engaged local stakeholders in developing and implementing a coastal zone management model. See Pride and Participation for an insider’s account.

On three island dependencies of Mauritius, recognized globally for their endemic plants, birds, reptiles and mollusks, the native species have been overexploited by humans and preyed on by invasive and exotic species. Restoring these degraded habitats is the focus of the Biodiversity Restoration project. Through an agreement with the national Government, a native NGO is overseeing the propagation and reintroduction of endemic species and helping strengthen local capacity to monitor and manage biodiversity restoration efforts. With its innovative approach and active efforts to engage the community in project design, implementation and monitoring, the project stands to become a model both for ecosystem restoration and stakeholder involvement methods.

Across the 115 islands that form Seychelles, the Biodiversity Conservation and Marine Pollution Abatement project helped protect some of the hundreds of species found nowhere else. The nation’s two main sources of income, fisheries and tourism, depend both on a healthy environment and on sustainable resource use. Turtle shell carvers helped plan a retraining programme enabling them to start new businesses. The project generated substantial momentum to protect marine turtles, resulting in a moratorium on turtle harvesting and a population monitoring programme. By controlling non-native feral goats, turtle young gained a brief but valuable reprieve, and the promotion of improved ship waste facilities reduced marine pollution.

Like its neighbours, the three islands that make up Comoros contain a wealth of marine and terrestrial biodiversity. In contrast to this rich legacy, the people of Comoros live in extreme poverty aggravated by population growth and reduced export earnings. These pressures have produced a vicious cycle of overexploited resources, degraded habitat and exacerbated poverty. The Island Biodiversity and Participatory Conservation in the Federal Islamic Republic of Comoros project involves stakeholders at every level and is establishing models for conserving biodiversity with the hope of replicating and expanding such efforts countrywide.

Thousands of miles away, 15 South Pacific countries are working to overcome similar challenges to protect their threatened biodiversity. Fourteen conservation areas have been identified, established and initiated as part of the South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Program, whose participants encompass Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Conservation area coordinating committees for each area ensure community support and participation in management through extensive local consultations. Seven ecotourism projects are under way to encourage sustainable resource use in areas that also meet subsistence needs.

The Southeast Asian island of Papua New Guinea shelters a significant portion of the world’s biodiversity in its extensive rainforests and coastal areas. The Biodiversity Conservation and Resource Management project had two goals: demonstrating integrated approaches to conservation and development and strengthening PNG’s environmental department and national conservation system. But in a country where clan groups own 97 per cent of the land and water resources, the cultural and legal barriers to conservation are substantial. Many communities regard conservation and development as mutually exclusive, and the financial incentives to allow logging on clan-held lands are powerful. Considerable resources were devoted to training community development workers, who served as conservation advocates in the field, helping to guide communities in identifying alternative development options.

Preparing for climate change while tackling its root causes. Low-lying island states threatened by the effects of climate change are responding with two strategies: while building their understanding of climate change and developing potential response strategies, they are also changing their energy consumption patterns to reduce polluting emissions.

The Pacific Islands Climate Change Assistance Program (PICCAP) encompasses the Cook Islands, Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa. Scattered across the South Pacific, these nations are engaged in a technical and policy challenge linked to their common geography. Because many are nearly at sea level and have substantial population and economic activities in coastal areas, they are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise. By participating in training, institutional strengthening and planning activities, these island nations will be able to identify their climate change adaptation options.

In Planning for Adaptation to Global Climate Change, a group of Caribbean island states are developing strategies to cope with the adverse effects of global climate change. The participating states – Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago – claim miles of fragile coastal ecosystems, which harbour not only population and economic centres, but many biologically productive and diverse habitats. This project is identifying cost-effective ways to adapt to climate change, especially sea-level rise, and training staff to analyse climate and sea-level dynamics and recommend policy options and instruments.

Nearby, the island of Jamaica is taking a preventive approach to climate change. Because its only native source of energy is firewood, Jamaica is almost entirely dependent on imported petroleum. The Demand-Side Management Demonstration project supports an ongoing effort by the Jamaican Government to increase public awareness about energy issues and promote the use of energy-efficient equipment. Aided by a popular, NGO-designed public awareness campaign, pilot projects to demonstrate how electricity use can be reduced have already achieved important energy savings.

Off Africa’s western coast, the Republic of Cape Verde mirrors Jamaica’s challenge: it is increasingly reliant on imported fuel as its forests are being depleted. The country is blessed, however, with abundant resources to support renewable energy technologies, chiefly wind and solar energy. To reduce Cape Verde’s dependence on imported oil and local wood resources, the Energy and Water Sector Reform and Development project is engaging the private sector in promoting increased wind and photovoltaic power generation and developing local capacity to supply, maintain and install photovoltaic systems.

To reduce its excessive dependence on fossil fuels, the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius is participating in the Sugar Bio-Energy Technology project. Sugar has long been the mainstay of its economy, but most sugar cane residues are simply discarded. By demonstrating the harvest and use of sugar biomass, a renewable resource, the project promoted the substitution of an environmentally superior method of energy production. Institutional strengthening measures helped the Mauritius Sugar Authority modify its regular operations to incorporate energy-producing procedures and reduce its fossil fuel imports.

Ensuring healthy and productive international waters. Surrounded by water, SIDS have an obvious interest in encouraging sustainable use of the resources that coastal and marine habitats provide. Managed properly, international waters can support a range of services from offshore fisheries to tourism.

Overexploited coastal resources, environmental degradation and land-based pollution are growing threats in the Pacific islands. Getting under way in Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, the Implementation of the Strategic Action Program (SAP) of the Pacific Small Island Developing States project seeks to conserve and protect both freshwater supplies and marine resources. The ambitious strategy to help participating nations integrate national and regional sustainable development priorities includes plans to develop environmentally sound tourism, marine protected areas and sustainable ocean fisheries.

The Western Indian Ocean Islands Oil Spill Contingency Planning project was implemented after a study identified marine oil pollution from tanker traffic as one of the most serious coastal management issues for the participating islands of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles. These nations have joined forces to develop national and regional capacity to respond to nearby oil spill emergencies. Project participants hope to create legislation, procure essential equipment, and establish regional cooperative arrangements to enable more effective responses to oil spills and greater protection of the area’s biologically rich coastal and marine ecosystems.

With the Caribbean’s high volume of marine traffic, pollution from the discharge of ship-generated solid wastes was threatening regional tourism. In the Ship-Generated Waste Management project, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis cooperated to improve the collection, treatment and disposal of wastes. Each nation established port-waste reception facilities and collaborated in drafting a common legal framework for regional ship waste management.

The related Wider Caribbean Initiative for Ship-Generated Waste project encompassed all of the developing countries of the wider Caribbean region. To help these nations prepare to ratify and implement the International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution (MARPOL), the project provided technical assistance for studies leading to a regional implementation strategy, assessments of existing waste management systems and proposed alternatives, and programmes to raise public awareness.

Supporting Enabling Activities in climate change and biodiversity. In nearly all of the SIDS, GEF’s Enabling Activities Program funds projects that support national obligations related to both the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Participating SIDS have either completed or are completing their national reports for the CBD and national communications for the FCCC, thus developing their capacity to continue such communications efforts.

Making progress in global projects. The GEF also funds several projects that include SIDS among a global cast of characters. Mauritius, for example, is participating in a project to combat alien species that threaten global biodiversity, while Antigua and Barbuda is one of four nations preparing country case studies in a project to assess climate change impacts and adaptations.

Anticipating the future. SIDS are seizing opportunities to prepare for a future focused on sustainable development. While recognizing the importance of the global environment, SIDS are taking the initiative to manage sustainably the resources on which their people depend. With GEF funding and assistance, they are that much closer to their goal.

GEF-funded projects in SIDS
Total financing
($ million)
Asia/Pacific (1) South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Program
Asia/Pacific (2) Pacific Islands Climate Change Assistance Program (PICCAP)
Latin America/
Caribbean (3)
CARICOM: Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change
Bahamas Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Bahrain Enabling Activity (BD)
Barbados Enabling Activities (BD&CC)
Cape Verde Enabling Activities (BD&CC)
Energy and Water Sector Reform and Development
Enabling Activities (BD&CC)
Island Biodiversity and Participatory Conservation

Cuba Enabling Activities (BD&CC)
Protecting Biodiversity and Establishing Sustainable Development in the Sabana-Camagüey Region
Dominica Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Dominican Republic Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Biodiversity Conservation and Management in the Coastal Zone
Fiji Enabling Activity (BD*)
Grenada Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Haiti Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Jamaica Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Demand-Side Management Demonstration
Kiribati Enabling Activity (BD)
Maldives Enabling Activities (BD&CC)
Marshall Islands Enabling Activity (BD)
Mauritius Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Biodiversity Restoration
Sugar Bio-Energy Technology
Niue Enabling Activity (BD)
Papua New Guinea Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Biodiversity Conservation and Resource Management
Samoa Enabling Activity (BD)
Seychelles Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Biodiversity Conservation and Marine Pollution Abatement
Solomon Islands Enabling Activity (BD*)
St. Kitts and Nevis Enabling Activity (BD)
St. Lucia Enabling Activities (BD*&CC)
Trinidad and Tobago Enabling Activities (BD&CC)
Vanuatu Enabling Activity (BD*)
Total financing (comprises $55.236 m in GEF funding and $125.807 m in co-financing from various sources)

(1) Includes Cook Islands, F.S. Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.
(2) Includes Cook Islands, F.S. Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Western Samoa.
(3) Includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago.
BD = Biodiversity
CC = Climate change
* Includes add-on Clearing-House Mechanism

Elizabeth Mook, Assistant Editor, GEF.

PHOTOGRAPH: Topham Picturepoint

This issue:
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...

Complementary article in other issues:
Elizabeth Khaka: Small islands Big problems (Freshwater) 1998