Small island states and islands: economies, ecosystems, change and migration




Connell, J. C.


Small island states and islands: economies, ecosystems, change and migration




Government Office for Science UK


Small islands and small island states (SISI) are particularly disadvantaged in achieving economic development and managing environmental change. Data on environmental changes are limited, rarely comparable across countries and regions, and sometimes inaccurate. SISI are mostly tropical and vulnerable to extreme events, which are a critical influence on environmental change. A significant proportion of SISI, especially in the Pacific, are coral atolls, where environmental change is particularly challenging, islands are less hazard resistant, coasts are ubiquitous and economic development is unusually limited. Biodiversity has declined significantly in the past two decades. Climate change, especially the predicted increase in storms, is argued to exacerbate present vulnerability. Water stress will increase. Measures of sea level rise (SLR) in some areas dominated by SISI are higher than previous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predictions. Resettlement for economic and environmental reasons poses challenges relating to financial resources, management, land tenure and social tensions. Populations have become increasingly urban and coastal. The coasts are most prone to human modification, notably the degradation of coastal ecosystems (including over-fishing), and to extreme events. Urbanisation has increased, resulting in a new generation of urban environmental problems, centred on water supply and waste disposal. Urban economic, environmental and health issues, often involving land issues, would be exacerbated by a rise in temperature. Governments and economies are weak, the private sector is poorly developed and most SISI, especially small islands, experience significant urban unemployment and considerable emigration. Migration, inherently multi-causal, is primarily a function of regional and international uneven social and economic development, but may be accentuated and instigated by environmental change. In most SISI, the demographic balance has gradually shifted overseas. A long history of labour migration and of seeking overseas migration opportunities at a state and household level has taken on a new international thrust, despite a desire to ‘hold on to home’. Remittances have become increasingly important components of national and household incomes. Environmental changes have had the greatest impact on the poor, who cannot easily respond, and that impact has become more severe with increased inequality, poverty and coastal population concentration. Contemporary economic and environmental challenges are greatest in the independent atoll states, and especially Kiribati. Diversity of economic, political and environmental status reduces the possibility of prediction and generalisation over future change in most SISI, all of which – but especially overseas territories – are highly dependent on decisions taken beyond their borders.

The primary focus is on the following small island developing states (SIDS). The United Nations (UN) identifies 52 SIDS and most of these are reviewed here. Particular attention is given, where relevant and where data exist, to those underlined below, which are UK overseas territories (UKOTs).
Atlantic and Caribbean: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Ascension, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Bonaire, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, Curaçao, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, Saba Saint Kitts and Nevis, St Helena, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Sao Tome, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, US Virgin Islands (USVI).
Pacific: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Northern Marianas, Palau, Pitcairn, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna.
Indian Ocean: British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), Coco-Keeling, Christmas Island, Comoros, Maldives, Mayotte, Seychelles.


Connell, J. C. (2011). Small island states and islands: economies, ecosystems, change and migration. London : Government Office for Science UK.

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