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COP27 and cautious optimism for islands

November 21, 2022

Every day, island communities around the globe feel the effects of the climate crisis. Rising seas flood their homes and ruin their wells and croplands with saltwater. Typhoons get more dangerous every year. The fish they depend on die off as coral reefs and mangroves disappear.

This month, world leaders met in Egypt to create new climate policies at the 27th Climate Conference, or COP27. While many experts justifiably criticize the outcomes as insufficient, some actions may help island nations and communities face these urgent challenges.

More than 200 nations, including the largest historic and current polluters, pledged to establish a “loss and damage” fund to help poor countries recover from climate-related disasters. Many of the countries that would benefit from the fund are island states. It will be a while before any money actually goes to those countries, but this kind of help is something developing countries–which pollute very little and did not cause the crisis they find themselves facing–have long advocated for.

Protecting and restoring “blue carbon” ecosystems like mangroves and seagrass (along with other warming-fighting vegetation), which absorb vast amounts of carbon, was also front and center at the conference. The final agreement preserved a pledge from last year’s conference to double a $20 billion fund that includes money for blue carbon projects. A new international partnership among India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and other countries was launched to protect their mangroves. 

Some small island states are protecting their blue carbon and other marine ecosystems without outside help. In a surprise announcement at the conference, the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, pledged to protect all of its mangrove forests and seagrass meadows. In the South Pacific, the nation of Niue followed in the footsteps of its neighboring Cook Islands to declare its entire exclusive economic zone a marine reserve. Its leaders hope this will ensure sustainable fisheries.

At Seacology, we’re helping island communities become more resilient in the face of existential threats from climate change. Dozens of projects, including our nationwide initiative in the Dominican Republic, are helping islanders protect mangroves and seagrass. Seacology-funded infrastructure upgrades in Palau and storm shelters in Fiji help villages cope with rising seas and punishing cyclones. Progress on the international stage is frustratingly slow, but in the meantime, these tangible results can make all the difference for people living on the front lines.