Against the tide: how islands are pioneering climate action globally

The Climate Group

Climate change is not a future possibility; it’s a present reality, and islands across the globe are the front-line witnesses. Given their unique geographical attributes, islands bear the brunt of climate change more acutely than larger continental landmasses. But they are not passive observers. Many islands are becoming global flag bearers for climate action, rallying their communities and the world at large to take effective measures. Their story is one of vulnerability and resilience, a testament to the human spirit’s ability to adapt and innovate.

Vulnerability of islands to climate change

Rising sea levels, at an average rate of 3.3 mm/year over the past two decades, have brought the stark reality of climate change right to the doorsteps of many islands. With increased coastal erosion, flooding, and saltwater intrusion, islands bear the brunt of these changes. This vulnerability translates into real-life challenges for island inhabitants. For instance, Kiribati, home to around 110,000 people, has had to consider the drastic measure of relocating its citizens to Fiji due to the rising sea threat.

For instance, the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean with an average ground level of 1.5 meters above sea level, is perilously close to becoming uninhabitable. Meanwhile, Pacific islands like Kiribati and Tuvalu are already experiencing the direct impacts of sea level rise, with frequent inundations threatening their communities.

The consequences for the population are manifold: from loss of livelihoods primarily based on fisheries and tourism to the very real possibility of becoming climate refugees. The cultural and societal implications of such shifts can’t be overstated. Displacement, loss of cultural heritage, and changes in traditional ways of life loom large.

Sea level rise

Under2 Coalition: islands taking the lead

Despite their vulnerabilities, islands are pivotal in global climate action initiatives. Their direct experiences serve as both a warning and a guiding light for the rest of the world. The Under2 Coalition is central to these efforts, bringing together subnational regions including many island jurisdictions. It forms the largest network of subnational entities focused on ambitious climate targets, aiming to reach net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

Islands including various provinces of Indonesia, the Isle of Man, La Réunion, Sardinia, Azores and Madeira, as part of this coalition, benefit from shared best practices, resources, and collaboration opportunities. Some of the positive initiatives being developed by these islands include:

Indonesia: This vast archipelago, comprising over 17,000 islands, grapples with significant climate threats. Yet, Indonesia is proactive in initiatives like forest conservation, mangrove restoration, and a shift towards renewable energy sources. Indonesia’s commitment can be further explored through resources from the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Isle of Man: A self-governing British Crown dependency, the Isle of Man showcases its commitment by focusing on reducing its carbon footprint and bolstering its natural habitats as carbon sinks.

Madeira: The Autonomous Region of Madeira allocates nearly 40% of its annual budget to environmental and climate change issues, and has implemented a Regional Adaptation Strategy named CLIMA-Madeira to address climate impacts on sectors such as agriculture and forests, biodiversity, energy, water resources, hydrogeomorphology, human health and tourism.

Virtual Island Summit: the premier event on island sustainability

The Virtual Island Summit stands as a testament to the collaborative spirit of island communities worldwide. This unique online event gathers representatives from islands across the globe to exchange ideas, share best practices, and discuss solutions tailored to their unique challenges.

Virtual Islands Summit

By harnessing digital platforms, the summit transcends geographical boundaries, allowing for a diverse range of voices to be heard. Topics span from sustainable development and renewable energy strategies to innovative economic models and conservation techniques. The Virtual Island Summit not only amplifies the voices of island communities but also serves as a beacon of collective knowledge and shared vision for a resilient and sustainable future.

The event will take place from the 25th to the 29th of September and is celebrating its 5th anniversary. Registrations have always been and will continue to be free. You can join the Virtual Island Summit at


Islands, despite their vulnerabilities, have emerged as hubs of climate action, innovation, and advocacy. Their unique challenges have made them more attuned to the realities of climate change. As they lead from the front, their experiences serve as a reminder to the global community: the consequences of inaction are dire, but united, we have the power to chart a sustainable course for the planet.

About Island Innovation

Island Innovation is a social enterprise that brings together the private sector, government, utilities, NGOs, and universities to advance innovation for sustainability and prosperity in islands worldwide. Through its multifaceted approach, including expert consultancy and the renowned Virtual Island Summit, the organization spotlights the unique challenges islands face and the innovative solutions they offer.

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