Posted by: islandsfirst | April 15, 2008

The Islands First

Hardly a day goes by without the release of new evidence confirming what serious scientists have known for years: that the earth is warming and the oceans are dying. Thanks to the work of motivated individuals, non-governmental organizations, and scores of vocal scientists from around the world, these findings are now featured prominently on the front page of major international publications. Television networks like CNN and the BBC nightly broadcast the same tragic conclusions: too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing the earth to warm, sea levels to rise, coral reefs to bleach, species to become extinct, and natural disasters to become more frequent and severe. Destructive fishing practices and careless stewardship of ocean resources are causing fisheries to collapse and coral reefs to crumble. Once considered the purview of elite discourse, these environmental issues are now discussed in barrooms and boardrooms alike. The lexicon of climate change has unquestionably entered into mainstream parlance.

Yet there remains a profound disconnect between the heightened awareness of these issues and the timely implementation of policies to address them. There is now incontrovertible proof of the terrifying pace of climate change, yet countries have been unable to convert this mountain of data into binding international commitments. School children around the world can recite the causes of global warming, yet few nations have harnessed this unprecedented level of public interest to build a movement for real international policy change. While switching to compact-florescent light bulbs and passing on the Chilean sea bass at dinner are laudable acts and have their place in any conservation plan, the enormity of the task ahead requires coordinated government action at the international level. To compound matters, the traditional strategies of environmental NGOs have run into new obstacles when confronting the complex and global nature of these problems. Shouting from outside the halls of power does not always work without allies on the inside willing to listen.

Fortunately, those allies do exist in the small island states of the world. They are numerous, they are committed, and with the assistance of Islands First, they can overcome the systemic obstacles that have thus far prevented them from becoming a sustained political force for policy change. The small island states stand at the front lines of the current environmental crisis. The people who live in these countries have been, and will continue to be, the first to suffer the negative consequences of climate change and industrial fishing practices, even though they have done the least to contribute to the problems. They have already begun to witness the environmental catastrophe that awaits the rest of the planet. Fisherman find it increasingly difficult to fill their nets as coral reefs waste away, farmers grow more desperate for freshwater untainted by the rising tides, and all island residents are vulnerable to more extreme weather patterns, such as typhoons, flooding, and drought. If rapid remedial action is not taken, the livelihoods, and potentially the very existence, of these small island states remain in doubt.

Islands First will work in close cooperation with the small island states to increase their ability to influence the international policy agenda and advocate for measures that address the environmental challenges now facing the planet.


  1. The Fourth Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands, entitled “Advancing Ecosystem Management and Integrated Coastal and Ocean Management by 2010 in the Context of Climate Change,” was hosted by the Government of Viet Nam from 8-11 April 2008. This conference was organized by the Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands, which serves as a platform for networking, information sharing, and dialogue among individuals, governments, non-governmental organizations, and intergovernmental organizations concerning issues affecting oceans, coasts, and islands, with the goal of achieving sustainable development in these areas. This past conference brought together over 430 participants from 71 countries. The following link leads to a 15-page summary of the Conference:

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