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Climate change: thinking small islands beyond Small Island Developing States (SIDS)


Sea level rise and extreme weather events threaten the livelihoods and possibly the long-term existence of whole island nations. While the media, policy, and often scientific arenas essentially focus their attention on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are widely recognised as hotspots of global climate change, the situation of the numerous other vulnerable island territories has been relatively neglected. As a result, the focus on SIDS has paved the way for mainstream adaptation research and, in turn, for biases in the interpretation of climate change vulnerability and risks of small islands in general. Here, we argue that such an overly narrow scope severely limits our understanding of island-specific issues that influence island societies’ adaptability to on-going and future climate change. This article reviews the current perspective on challenges and opportunities for climate change adaptation on SIDS and compares it with other types of island territories, especially dependent islands of continental states and semi-autonomous sub-national island jurisdictions (SNIJ). This comparison reveals that despite critical socio-political differences between the respective island types, more general lessons can be learned as island territories at large face similar issues both regarding the drivers of vulnerability and exposure and the adaptation measures needed. We propose an analytical framework for looking ‘beyond SIDS’ that includes the recognition of critical issues (asymmetrical governance structures, archipelagic constellations, inter-island connections) that shape island societies’ vulnerability and leeway for adaptation to climate-related hazards.

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  1. Therefore, a certain overlap in the analysis of Sections 3.1 and 3.3 cannot be avoided. However, this does not influence our aim to highlight commonalities and differences for climate change adaptation, and we reflect ambiguous cases in the analysis.

  2. We here follow the categorisation of SNIJs by Watts (2009) as ‘islands or sets of islands [that] are involved in some combination of autonomous self-government combined with formal collaboration in a wider political partnership’.

  3. For more detail on the MACC project, see (accessed 17 November 2018)



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A previous draft of this paper was presented at the International Small Islands Studies Association (ISISA) XVI ‘Islands of the World’ conference 2018, in Leeuwarden and Terschelling, The Netherlands.

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Correspondence to Jan Petzold.

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Petzold, J., Magnan, A.K. Climate change: thinking small islands beyond Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Climatic Change 152, 145–165 (2019).

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