Changing tides in African small islands: the case of Cabo Verde and Guinea Bissau

Apia, Samoa, 2 September 2014 (ECA) - Amidst all the hustle and bustle of the UN Small Island Developing States conference on 1st and 4th of September, the efforts by African SIDS to address climate change can serve as good examples not just for other African SIDS, but also for other developing countries facing similar climate change challenges.  Cabo Verde for instance, is one of the African SIDS making great strides in both economic development and in addressing climate change.  It graduated from the category of least developed countries (LDCs) in 1997, owing in part to the transformation of its tourist industry. Recently, Cabo Verde has developed a plan to further enhance its development with the establishment of an economic transformation strategy. 

In spite of these efforts, climate change has the potential to slow development processes in Cabo Verde unless it is mainstreamed into national policies and plans.  The country is vulnerable to a range of climate impacts such as changes in rainfall patterns that results in increase in both floods and drought affecting the provision and quality of water for both household and agricultural use. With insufficient freshwater supply, water is desalinated and supplied for domestic, industrial and agricultural use, which  requires a significant amount of energy derived mostly from imported fossil fuels.  In response to this challenge, Cabo Verde has developed an ambitious renewable energy strategy, aiming to derive 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. 

Not too far away sits Guinea-Bissau, which shares many characteristics with Cabo Verde. However, Guinea-Bissau is attempting to punch its way out of the Least Development Countries category.. Though situated on the continent, Guinea-Bissau has many islands and islets off its coast that puts it in the category of SIDS.  Like Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau is also highly vulnerable to floods, drought and sea level rise.  However, salinization is perhaps the biggest concern for the country as it has significant impacts on agriculture, a source of livelihood for over half the population and a significant contributor to GDP.  

A greater understanding is still needed of the extent of salinization and how it will impact key economic sectors, especially agriculture, which employs a significant proportion of the population and is an important contributor to the GDP. This is crucial in inform policymaking processes.  Amidst the significant development needs of Guinea-Bissau following its recovery from a recent period of instability, there is significant political will in addressing climate change and several key individuals driving the climate change agenda are highly committed to this agenda. 

 Though they are at different stages in the development process both Cabo Verde and Guinea Bissau are addressing climate change impacts in their own way while continuing to promote sustainable development.  The experience of Cabo Verde offers lessons for countries like Guinea-Bissau and other SIDS and LDCs striving to develop in the face of climate change impacts. 

It is clear that African SIDS have to claim their space within the global compact, and project the spotlight on their unique circumstances. The SIDS conference is essentially about elongating the solution space to enable all SIDS to identify solutions that will enable their people to race towards prosperity, and thus reduce the current limitations imposed by climate change. The mantra of the SIDS conference in Samoa is rightly titled as: Global choices and island voices”. African SIDS have to reaffirm their right to development, and their voices will count in the global fight against climate change. This is why the Economic Commission for Africa is keen to support African SIDS through research and capacity development in identifying sustainable development choices that will help them keep afloat and take the “current” where it serves in bringing to realization aspirations of blue and green economies.

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