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In November 2021, the UK is due to host the COP 26 Climate Change Conference. 196 countries and parties are expected to attend, including the 54 members of the Commonwealth.

This briefing provides a brief profile of Commonwealth small island developing states (SIDS), the threats they might face from climate change and a short background on the work of the Commonwealth on climate change. It also looks at debates around what support SIDS need to help them adapt to, and mitigate, changes in the climate.

Small island developing states

While there is no single set of criteria for defining SIDS, the UN recognises 38 UN-member states as SIDS. 25 of these (66%) are members of the Commonwealth.

As SIDS, these Commonwealth members are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These include countries such as the Bahamas, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, and Mauritius. In addition, three Commonwealth SIDS are defined by the UN as Least-Developed Countries. These are Kiribati, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Vulnerability of SIDS to climate change

SIDS are recognised by the UN as being highly vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change and experiencing significant restraints on their development (eg., challenges in accessing aid and being remote from trade and markets).

In August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its most recent assessment on the physical science of climate change, including its potential effects on all small islands (not solely SIDS).

The panel noted that constructing climate information for small islands is “challenging”, due to observational and capacity issues and determining how far changes in their climate are due to human or natural influences. It concluded it “very likely” that most small island regions have warmed since the 1960s and that sea level rises will continue in all small island regions and result in increased coastal flooding.

The Commonwealth and COP26

The UK Government says it is meeting with different regions of the Commonwealth in the lead up to COP26 in November 2021.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland, will lead a delegation to COP 26. In September 2021, she said the organisation would seek “decisive action” to mobilise financial support for vulnerable states.

Many SIDS are middle-income economies, which means they are less able to access concessional finance (that below market rates) and likely to receive less official development assistance (ODA) than lower-income states. ODA is aid intended to promote the economic development of developing countries. Such assistance must meet Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development criteria and be reportable to them. Neither is ODA often targeted at ocean sustainability, a major concern of SIDS. From 2013 to 2018, 0.8% of global ODA targeted the sustainable ocean economy. However, the amount of ODA to SIDS relating to the environment has risen, from US$ 760 million in 2011/12 to US$ 1,152 million in 2017/18 (34% of bilateral ODA to the SIDS).

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