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Preparing islands to effectively deal with climate impacts

Researchers in the EU have developed a deeper understanding of how climate change will impact the economy and biodiversity of islands. Results from climate modelling and various socioeconomic analyses will be made available on a dedicated platform, helping policy-makers to make informed decisions for the future.

Climate Change and Environment

The EU project SOCLIMPACT was launched in December 2017 to study the impact of climate change on EU islands. Four important blue economy sectors were prioritised: coastal and maritime tourism; aquaculture; energy; and maritime transport. The project builds on a network of 12 EU islands located in different regions of the world. “Islands are an exceptional laboratory for measuring the impacts caused by climate change and testing policies for adaptation and mitigation,” explains SOCLIMPACT project coordinator Carmelo León from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain. “Our aim was to build strong links between the scientific, business and policy-making communities in each region, and across the EU.”

Fragile way of life

Some 15 million people live on more than 2 000 islands in the EU, which are especially vulnerable to climate change. Climatic modelling is often not available at the scale of islands, and resource limitations mean that island economies are often impacted disproportionately by climate change. In sea level rise scenarios, countries will need to focus on protecting islands in order to safeguard their unique, valuable and fragile natural assets, on which socioeconomic activities, such as tourism, depend. Islands are already experiencing the dramatic impacts of rising sea levels for instance, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. Islands can also find it difficult moving to renewable energy alternatives because of their modest size. They do not have the economies of scale for large infrastructure. There is therefore a need to develop efficient micro-generation alternatives to renewable energy.

Addressing climate change

León and his team saw that there was a real need to define and evaluate the impacts and challenges likely to occur under different climate change scenarios in islands. “Island vulnerability is continuously increasing,” he says. “More detailed modelling and projection tools related to the potential consequences of climate change were needed, which take into account climate tipping points and low probability, high impact events.” To address these challenges, the SOCLIMPACT project brought business stakeholders and policy-makers together, and carried out various evaluations. The socioeconomic values of climate change impacts were explored based on literature reviews as well as fieldwork in sectors such as island tourism. In order to integrate all project stakeholders, local working groups were established in each of the partner islands or archipelagos. An average of 15 to 20 stakeholders per island were involved, including public authorities and private sector representatives. From this work, climate change impact chains in the four blue economy sectors were identified. Integrated socioeconomic assessments of expected climate change impacts on island communities were developed. “A total of 17 impact chains have been defined for the four economic sectors we looked at,” says León. “There are, for example, nine specifically for tourism.” Understanding the unique challenges faced by islands is one step along the path to ensuring that communities are able to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. The next step is ensuring that this knowledge is disseminated to those that need it, such as policy-makers, and that the tools to deliver meaningful change are made available. This is where the SOCLIMPACT project hopes to make a critical contribution. “This is an ambitious, innovative project and our success will depend on the progress we make and on how well we can engage decision-makers,” concludes León.


SOCLIMPACT, climate, islands, blue economy, coastal, maritime, tourism, aquaculture, energy, biodiversity

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