Agenda 21, Chapter 17


G. Sustainable development of small islands

Basis for action

17.123. Small island developing States, and islands supporting small communities are a special case both for environment and development. They are ecologically fragile and vulnerable. Their small size, limited resources, geographic dispersion and isolation from markets, place them at a disadvantage economically and prevent economies of scale. For small island developing States the ocean and coastal environment is of strategic importance and constitutes a valuable development resource.

17.124. Their geographic isolation has resulted in their habitation of a comparatively large number of unique species of flora and fauna, giving them a very high share of global biodiversity. They also have rich and diverse cultures with special adaptations to island environments and knowledge of the sound management of island resources.

17.125. Small island developing States have all the environmental problems and challenges of the coastal zone concentrated in a limited land area. They are considered extremely vulnerable to global warming and sealevel rise, with certain small low-lying islands facing the increasing threat of the loss of their entire national territories. Most tropical islands are also now experiencing the more immediate impacts of increasing frequency of cyclones, storms and hurricanes associated with climate change. These are causing major set-backs to their socio-economic development.

17.126. Because small island development options are limited, there are special challenges to planning for and implementing sustainable development. Small island developing States will be constrained in meeting these challenges without the cooperation and assistance of the international community.


17.127. States commit themselves to addressing the problems of sustainable development of small island developing States. To this end, it is necessary:

(a) To adopt and implement plans and programmes to support the sustainable development and utilization of their marine and coastal resources, including meeting essential human needs, maintaining biodiversity and improving the quality of life for island people;

(b) To adopt measures which will enable small island developing States to cope effectively, creatively and sustainably with environmental change and to mitigate impacts and reduce the threats posed to marine and coastal resources.


(a) Management-related activities

17.128. Small island developing States, with the assistance as appropriate of the international community and on the basis of existing work of national and international organizations, should:

(a) Study the special environmental and developmental characteristics of small islands, producing an environmental profile and inventory of their natural resources, critical marine habitats and biodiversity;

(b) Develop techniques for determining and monitoring the carrying capacity of small islands under different development assumptions and resource constraints;

(c) Prepare medium- and long-term plans for sustainable development that emphasize multiple use of resources, integrate environmental considerations with economic and sectoral planning and policies, define measures for maintaining cultural and biological diversity and conserve endangered species and critical marine habitats;

(d) Adapt coastal area management techniques, such as planning, siting and environmental impact assessments, using Geographical Information Systems (GIS), suitable to the special characteristics of small islands, taking into account the traditional and cultural values of indigenous people of island countries;

(e) Review the existing institutional arrangements and identify and undertake appropriate institutional reforms essential to the effective implementation of sustainable development plans, including intersectoral coordination and community participation in the planning process;

(f) Implement sustainable development plans, including the review and modification of existing unsustainable policies and practices;

(g) Based on precautionary and anticipatory approaches, design and implement rational response strategies to address the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change and sealevel rise, and prepare appropriate contingency plans;

(h) Promote environmentally sound technology for sustainable development within small island developing States and identify technologies that should be excluded because of their threats to essential island ecosystems.

(b) Data and information

17.129. Additional information on the geographic, environmental, cultural and socio-economic characteristics of islands should be compiled and assessed to assist in the planning process. Existing island databases should be expanded and geographic information systems developed and adapted to suit the special characteristics of islands.

(c) International and regional cooperation and coordination

17.130. Small island developing States, with the support, as appropriate, of international organizations, whether subregional, regional or global, should develop and strengthen inter-island, regional and interregional cooperation and information exchange, including periodic regional and global meetings on sustainable development of small island developing States with the first global conference on the sustainable development of small island developing States, to be held in 1993.

17.131. International organizations, whether subregional, regional or global, must recognize the special development requirements of small island developing States and give adequate priority in the provision of assistance, particularly with respect to the development and implementation of sustainable development plans.

Means of implementation

(a) Financing and cost evaluation

17.132. The Conference secretariat has estimated the average total annual cost (1993-2000) of implementing the activities of this programme to be about $130 million including about $50 million from the international community on grant or concessional terms. These are indicative and order of magnitude estimates only and have not been reviewed by governments. Actual costs and financial terms, including any that are non-concessional, will depend upon, inter alia, the specific strategies and programmes governments decide upon for implementation.

(b) Scientific and technical means

17.133. Centres for the development and diffusion of scientific information and advice on technical means and technologies appropriate to small island developing States, especially with reference to the management of the coastal zone, the exclusive economic zone and marine resources, should be established or strengthened, as appropriate, on a regional basis.

(c) Human resource development

17.134. Since populations of small island developing States cannot maintain all necessary specializations, training for integrated coastal management and development should aim to produce cadres of managers or scientists, engineers and coastal planners able to integrate the many factors that need to be considered in integrated coastal management. Resource users should be prepared to execute both management and protection functions and to apply the polluter pays principle and support the training of their personnel. Educational systems should be modified to meet these needs and special training programmes developed in integrated island management and development. Local planning should be integrated in educational curricula of all levels and public awareness campaigns developed with the assistance of non-governmental organizations and indigenous coastal populations.

(d) Capacity-building

17.135. The total capacity of small island developing States will always be limited. Existing capacity must therefore be restructured to meet efficiently the immediate needs for sustainable development and integrated management. At the same time, adequate and appropriate assistance from the international community must be directed at strengthening the full range of human resources needed on a continuous basis to implement sustainable development plans.

17.136. New technologies that can increase the output and range of capability of the limited human resources should be employed to increase the capacity of very small populations to meet their needs. The development and application of traditional knowledge to improve the capacity of countries to implement sustainable development should be fostered.

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Updated 25 February 1998