To be a small island or low-lying coastal State is to be vulnerable to a host of challenges –environmental, geopolitical and social – which have only grown more severe over time. Many of these nations walk a tightrope, developing new strengths and marshalling existing ones to help them reach the seemingly unattainable goal of sustainable development.

Island and low-lying countries were among the first to grapple with global warming nearly 30 years ago, as they began to experience its alarming impacts first hand. Living at and below sea level, they faced worsening storms and floods, the loss of vibrant fisheries, and the intrusion of saltwater into land used to grow food.

As small, developing economies on the margins of globalization, few had sufficient resources to defend against these impacts. Due to their small sizes in comparison to powerful developed and emerging nations, the interests of these States were often marginalized in major international geopolitical fora. To make their voices heard, these States decided to band together in 1990, forming the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). Since then, AOSIS has worked to give voice to the vulnerable, drawing attention to the moral imperative of climate action to meet the needs of not only the most powerful, but of all people, and particularly those at the greatest risk.

Today, the moral imperative to act depends on enhanced climate ambition consistent with the 1.5°C temperature goal in the Paris Agreement. AOSIS has been the foremost champion of this departure point, which is decisively supported by the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. This alarming report highlights how readily societies across the Caribbean and the Pacific could be rendered uninsurable, and life irrevocably altered. Current and projected impacts have long made clear the existential risks islands face, and compelled their governments to act as far as means allow. At the global level, AOSIS members have been leaders in demonstrating climate action and ambition, despite their small carbon footprints, as well as the inherent challenges and constraints they face.

From the AOSIS perspective, steps must be even bolder in the future, because of global inaction, the impacts SIDS contend with daily, and lingering risks. AOSIS has taken the unprecedented step of crafting a package of critical climate change initiatives to safeguard small island societies. The ‘SIDS Package,’ which will be publicly presented during the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, is a set of cross-cutting initiatives and partnerships that spans the Summit’s nine action areas. Each initiative is SIDS-focused and SIDS-defined, and all are dynamic, scalable, replicable and transformative – and urgently needed to secure a sustainable future for our countries.

The SIDS Package underscores SIDS’ commitment to doing their part in bringing about the needed systemic transitions. We recognize that building resilience to climate change and committing to low-emission development pathways provide a firm basis for continued growth and sustainable development. So, the SIDS Package sends a clear signal of island States’ collective determination to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. It includes a commitment to new, updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in 2020, comprehensive plans and strategies for low-greenhouse gas (GHG) emission development relevant to island contexts, and a collective commitment to pursue energy transformation and boost adaptive capacity. As an Alliance fuelled by partnerships and mindful of the capacity constraints of its membership, AOSIS has emphasized partnerships in this set of climate change actions.

While SIDS-focused, this set of actions is also globally significant. SIDS represent approximately one-third of all developing countries and close to a quarter of the membership of the UN, and stand on the frontlines of climate change. SIDS’ experience as “first responders” can help guide collective action at the global level. Through this SIDS Package, small island States are presenting an opportunity to leverage SIDS ambition to scale up global ambition and, through their actions, to demonstrate what the world can achieve and how it can be achieved.

Emblematically, the AOSIS initiative to foster resilience multidimensionally, through the piloting of replicable low-carbon, climate-resilient urbanization by 2030, and creating climate-smart resilient islands, will offer lessons for coastal conurbations around the world. More broadly, by aligning our package with global initiatives (namely, the Early Action Partnership, the DRR CCA Coherence Initiative, and the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment) which aim to integrate climate and disaster risk considerations across sectors and at multiple levels, from disaster risk and adaptation planning to investment decision making, we can demonstrate through a SIDS proof-of-concept approach how more effective global solutions can be achieved.

The SIDS Package shows that island countries may be small but not insignificant, vulnerable but not powerless, and constrained but not uncommitted. Yet, we are mindful that action depends on partnerships, and encourage our long-standing partners to act.

The author of this guest article, Dr. Tyrone Hall, is the Knowledge Management and Communications Advisor at the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).