In a poignant address delivered during the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), Simon Kofe, the Foreign Minister of Tuvalu, painted a grim picture of their nation's future. Facing the impending danger of rising sea levels that could submerge their country by the end of this century, Tuvalu unveiled its plan to preserve its rich cultural heritage by creating a digital replica of the island archipelago and uploading it to the Metaverse. The small Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, is just one among many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that confront heightened vulnerability to the adverse consequences of climate change.
While global warming has been perceived by many as a problem for the future, many SIDS face existential threats. In response to this imminent peril, nations across the globe have been formulating diverse strategies to prepare for the future. The Maldives, for instance, has embarked on an ambitious project to construct the world's first floating city, designed to provide refuge amidst rising sea levels and escalating global temperatures. Meanwhile, Kiribati, an island country in the central Pacific Ocean, is developing the "migrating with dignity” policy to empower its citizens with the necessary tools to legally relocate and secure employment opportunities in nations such as Australia and New Zealand.
Despite contributing to less than 1% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, these countries bear the full impact of the climate crisis and are thus often described as being on the “frontlines of climate change.”
How are SIDS impacted by climate change?
Apart from the glaring existential threat posed by climate change, its increasing economic impact on SIDS is significant and far-reaching.
Tourism generates significant revenue for many SIDS that are susceptible to climate change.
Tourism contributes more than 30% of total exports, such as in Mauritius, and over 50% in countries like the Maldives, Seychelles, and Bahamas. In countries like Saint Lucia and Palau, tourism revenues account for 98% and 88% of their total exports, respectively.
As the impacts of climate change are felt significantly in these countries, many of which are popularly referred to as “resort economies,” it has a dire impact on tourism and their economies. Extreme weather events such as hurricanes and floods, for instance, damage tourist infrastructure, such as hotels, airports, and other facilities. In addition, they reduce the attractiveness of destinations, alter the availability of outdoor activities such as diving and snorkeling, and affect ecosystems that attract tourists, such as coral reefs and national parks, all leading to a decline in tourist arrivals and revenue.
A prime example is Port Louis, Mauritius, where over the past decade (2011-2020), sea levels have risen at a rate of 8mm per year, surpassing the long-term average of 4.7 mm per year (1987-2020) and the global average of 3.3 mm per year. Alarming levels of erosion have resulted in beach widths shrinking by up to 20 meters in certain areas. This significant sea level rise poses a direct impact on the beaches that play a crucial role in supporting Mauritius' tourism industry, which accounts for over 30 percent of GDP and employs half the population. If no action is taken, the government estimates that the decline in tourism associated with beach degradation could result in a staggering annual loss of over US$100 million by 2060. Additionally, projections indicate that the combination of rising mean annual temperature extremes and ongoing beach erosion could lead to a decrease in tourist arrivals, translating to a revenue loss of up to US$50 million by 2050.
In addition, many resort economies in SIDS also depend on fossil fuels for energy. Apart from releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it makes them susceptible to operational risks by disrupting power supply in case of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts, impacting business.
Food and Agriculture:
Climate change leads to changes in precipitation patterns, temperature, and extreme weather events impacting crop yields and livestock production. This can lead to food shortages and price hikes, which can have ripple effects throughout the economy. In the case of small island countries which depend on fisheries for food and income, they are highly impacted by changes in ocean temperature, acidity, and circulation, which affects fish populations and lead to lower catches and revenues for the fishing industry.
Cabo Verde, an insular country in the Sahel zone, for instance, has been experiencing a decrease in precipitation since the 1960s, negatively affecting agriculture and water supplies. With limited access to water, unpredictable climate conditions, and the geomorphology of the islands, the country faces significant risks in its primary sector, particularly agriculture.
Speaking of the impact of climate change Dirk Snyman, Coordinator of the Climate Finance Unit at the Pacific Community (SPC) stated, “In the Pacific islands, climate change is not some predicted future scenario based on projected models; it is a daily lived reality…it is becoming more and more difficult, particularly with crops and drinking water, for people to meet the daily needs that they now rely on imported food and drinking water, which come at a high cost.”
It can also have a larger impact on the economy, as in the case of the Bahamas. The Bahamas, being highly dependent on food imports, importing about ninety percent of its consumption, faces significant vulnerability to external economic shocks, particularly when combined with projected climate extremes. While its domestic food production only meets a fraction of its annual consumption, the repercussions extend beyond the food sector, impacting other vital sectors like tourism. Given that tourism is a major contributor to the national economy, as it accounts for 50% of GDP, the Bahamas relies on food imports to cater to tourists. Therefore, any inability to meet the food demands of tourists can have a severe impact on the overall economy.
Climate change can damage infrastructure, including roads, buildings, and ports, which can be costly to repair and disrupt economic activities. Sea-level rise and storm surges can also cause coastal erosion, which can lead to the loss of land and property.
For instance, in Nuatambu in the Solomon Islands, nearly half of the houses have been lost to rising sea levels.
It also makes assets vulnerable. For instance, Port Louis harbor, the main port of Mauritius and the country's primary maritime gateway, is susceptible to several combined risks resulting from climate change, such as rising sea levels, flooding, storm surges, and powerful winds. These risks pose a severe threat to the country, considering as the port is the main link for Mauritius to the rest of the world and is highly dependent on it to secure the import and export of goods and services. As the climate crisis worsens, its impacts have been increasingly disrupting harbor activities in the country. For instance, adverse weather conditions in 2014 forced the suspension of operations at Port Louis for a period of 10 days, which resulted in a loss of USD 54 million.
Read our blog to learn more about the impact of climate change on real estate assets.
Climate change can significantly impact a country's GDP as it can cause reduced agricultural productivity, disrupt tourism, damage infrastructures, increase healthcare costs, and spur social and economic instability due to climate-induced migration, ultimately affecting a country's GDP. Various studies have produced alarming estimates of the potential losses resulting from climate change.
A study conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) reveals that Papua New Guinea (PNG) could experience the most substantial economic losses due to climate change, with a potential decline of up to 15.2% of its GDP by 2100. Timor-Leste follows with a predicted GDP drop of up to 10%, while Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Samoa face potential declines of 6.2%, 4.7%, 4.0%, and 3.8%, respectively.
Likewise, new studies are bringing to light the increasing economic vulnerability of other SIDS. According to a recent report, Singapore's GDP (though not exactly a SID) could potentially experience a loss ranging from 1% to 20.2% by the middle of the century due to the impacts of climate change. Likewise, climate change is one of the major factors which contributes to increased outmigration from Cuba, which has had a substantial economic cost, accounting for 9% of the country's GDP between 1990 and 2014.
❗ Climate change impacts all economic sectors and leaves behind destitute populations and aid-dependent countries. Experts predict that by 2050, at least 570 cities and 800 million people will be exposed to rising seas and storm surges, making these countries even more vulnerable to the ghastly effects of climate change. As the crisis is poised to worsen, building resilience and ramping up adaptation efforts is paramount.
How Climate Intelligence Powered by AI and Satellite Data Can Build Resilience
Climate intelligence is the bedrock of climate action, as it is essential to have reliable data and insights in order to comprehend climate risks and, consequently, develop strategies aimed at minimising them. Satellite data, artificial Intelligence, and advanced analytics are uniquely positioned to capture a complete view of climate risk across the globe and drive effective climate intelligence, which helps countries navigate through the complex problems posed by the changing climate. Learn more about the role of satellite data and AI in combatting climate change in this blog.
Abhilasha Purwar, CEO of Blue Sky Analytics, believes that “Satellite data has emerged at the forefront of the climate intelligence landscape because of its ability to capture huge troves of data at various resolutions at low latency, high frequency, and at an economical cost. In conjunction with the transformative power of artificial intelligence and its ability to process and analyze these large reams of data quickly and accurately, will help stakeholders make informed and data-driven decisions, which is crucial in bringing down emissions and climate-proofing our collective future.”
Satellite and AI-driven climate intelligence can be especially useful for SIDS in building resilience to the impacts of climate change. Here are some ways that it can create an impact:
- Monitor Risks:
Understanding the problem is critical to tackling it effectively. However, there is a data gap when it comes to monitoring climate risks, particularly in developing countries and regions with limited resources. As satellite data becomes increasingly affordable and accessible, it plays a key role in monitoring climate risks.
Over 50% of Essential Climate Variables, which are key indicators of the earth's changing climate, can only be tracked through satellites. Thus, by providing a wealth of information about the earth's surface, including changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, vegetation, and more, satellite data and AI can monitor these indicators and track extreme climatic events, such as floods, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves and melting of glaciers.
To learn more, read our blog “Role of Satellite Data in Monitoring Climate Change”
- Mitigate Risks:
Climate intelligence helps researchers and policymakers better understand the complex relationships between the environment and human activities. With the right insights, authorities can develop strategies that are critical in terms of adaptation and building risk mitigation strategies. This includes developing greener transportation and connectivity, ensuring food security via innovative agricultural practices, building climate-resilient infrastructures etc.
It also helps in bettering climate models and simulations. Since a significant number of variables must be taken into account for this task, AI is well-suited for it, as it has the capability to collect, process, and analyse large datasets, enabling it to handle the complexity of the modeling processes effectively. It not only increases the accuracy of the models but also helps in creating better simulations. This further helps provide a clear picture of risks and, thus, by extension, aids in developing more effective adaptation and mitigation strategies. Read our blog “The Role of Comprehensive Data in Efficient Climate Modeling” to learn more.
- Identify Opportunities
Climate intelligence can help countries identify the ecosystem services provided by their natural resources and help finds ways to develop them. For instance, it can help identify areas where carbon sequestration projects could be implemented and monitor their progress over time while supporting the design and management of these projects. Apart from providing ecological benefits, these projects can help SIDS build resilience to the impacts of climate change. For example, a study revealed that the presence of mangroves in Florida reduced damages caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017 by approximately 25% in counties where they were present.
Additionally, these projects can also generate revenue through the sale of carbon credits, which can be purchased by companies or individuals looking to offset their carbon emissions. This can provide a new source of income for SIDS and help support sustainable development.
Learn more about Blue Carbon Projects and their growing prominence in this blog.
It also helps in developing "blue economies," which focus on sustainability and economic growth while promoting responsible stewardship of ocean resources. This approach has tremendous potential, as highlighted in a recent analysis by the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy which found that each dollar invested in the sustainable ocean economy can yield an average return of five dollars. By leveraging the ocean's resources in a sustainable manner, SIDS can create new economic opportunities while ensuring the long-term health and resilience of marine ecosystems.
Many SIDS have diverse and rich ecosystems. By conserving and restoring them, these countries can enhance carbon sequestration, promote biodiversity, protect against coastal erosion, and provide additional ecosystem services. Furthermore, these projects offer opportunities for SIDS to access international funding mechanisms like carbon markets and climate finance.
To learn more, read our blog “Enabling Nature-based Solutions in Global South with AI”.
- Strengthening Infrastructure:
By monitoring changing water levels and sea level changes, it is possible to detect changes in beach size and assess the impact of climate change on the coastline. These measurements make it possible to assess the vulnerability of coastal infrastructure to climate change impacts. This information can aid in identifying areas at higher risk of erosion or inundation.
It also helps to identify trends, such as beach erosion or accretion, and evaluate the magnitude and spatial extent of these changes. This helps in designing resilient infrastructure that can withstand the impact of climate change, such as constructing protective structures as well as adjusting coastal development plans. Likewise, climate intelligence can help SIDS design and build drainage systems that are better equipped to handle extreme weather events, such as heavy rainfall or hurricanes. It can also optimize irrigation systems by providing real-time data on weather conditions and soil moisture levels. This can help farmers use water more efficiently and reduce the risk of drought-related crop failures while also promoting sustainable land use practices.
Further, climate intelligence can be used to analyze data on local weather patterns and recommend the use of climate-resilient materials in construction.
- Disaster Response:
With climate intelligence we can monitor weather patterns, sea surface temperatures, and ocean currents to provide early warning of extreme weather events such as tropical storms and hurricanes. This can facilitate small island countries to prepare and respond to such events in a timely manner, reducing potential damage to infrastructure and saving lives. Moreover, it enables emergency responders to quickly evaluate the extent of damage post-disaster, allowing them to allocate resources effectively and prioritize areas requiring aid. As a result, SIDS can recover from natural disasters more rapidly. Additionally, AI algorithms can analyze historical disaster data, including satellite data, to identify patterns and predict the likelihood and severity of future disasters. Such insights can assist authorities in developing strategies to minimize the impact of future disasters and plan their response accordingly.
Learn more about the techniques and tools for Monitoring and mitigating fire risks here.
Although satellite data plays a crucial role in climate intelligence, the terabytes of such data are of low value unless appropriate intelligent modeling is used to carve out actionable climate data sets from the mountains of raw data. Thus organisations with expertise in AI, machine learning, data analytics, and a deep understanding of the challenges posed by climate change can play a vital role in promoting climate solutions.