The United Nations recognizes 51 Small Island Developing States. They are generally grouped by geographic region as shown below:
Not all the SIDS are islands: Belize, Guyana, and Suriname are also included. Singapore seems incongruous, given that it is definitely not a developing country. However, the republic includes several dozen smaller islands that are vulnerable to climate change impacts and this presumably explains its inclusion in the group.
It is a diverse group–ranging from countries larger than Germany : Papua New Guinea has an area of 462,840 km2, down to tiny coral islands like Tuvalu which are smaller than an average European airport.
The wealthiest island States, using per capita GNP per capita as the metric, are Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, and New Caledonia—all with per capita GNP over $30,000. The poorest are Haiti, Guinea-Bissau and Comoros—with per capita GNP less than $1000. Although the SIDS countries are characterized as ‘developing’, only nine of them are in fact classified as LDCs under the UN system: Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Timor-Leste, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Haiti.
Unsurprisingly, the country with the highest population density is Singapore which has almost 8000 people per km2. The Maldives is in second place with 1233 people/km2 followed by Barbados and Mauritius with levels of 663 and 649 persons/km2 respectively.
Mitigation or adaptation?
In terms of emissions of carbon dioxide, the small island countries emitting more than 30 million tonnes a year are Bahrain, Cuba, Singapore, and Trinidad and Tobago—all countries with petroleum refineries and natural gas distribution systems. At the other end of the scale are island states that emit almost negligible quantities of CO2: more than half the islands emit less than 1 million tonnes annually–which is just 0.003 percent of global emissions.
But even taken together as a group, the total emissions of all these small islands is minimal–less than 1 percent of the global total.
What is clear is that small island states should focus on preparing for the extreme weather and the potentially dangerous and life-threatening impacts of the changing climate; in other words strengthening their resilience and their abililty to cope with hurricanes, cyclones, storm surge and drought. Reducing their already miniscule emissions of greenhouse gases–mitigation–is simply a costly waste of time and resources.
And time is a luxury the small island developing states do not have.