Expand the concept of "just transitions" to better account for the unique needs of small island developing states, argues new British Academy report

10 Nov 2021

The concept of a "just transition" must be expanded to better account for the unique transitional needs of small island developing states responding to the climate crisis, argues a new report published by the British Academy.

"Just Transitions in Small Island Developing States (SIDS)" – by Matthew Bishop, Cristina Argudin, Rachid Bouhia, George Carter, Jack Corbett, Courtney Lindsay, Michelle Scobie and Emily Wilkson – examines the notion of just transitions from the perspective of small island developing states in the African, Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

The report highlights that the current concept of "just transitions" does not adequately account for the distinct characteristics of these states, which face unique economic, political and environmental challenges linked to their small size.

The authors argue that:

  • Small island developing states make negligible contributions to global emissions, so adapting to the effects of accelerating climate change, rather than mitigation, should be an urgent priority;
  • Small island states generally do not have conventional extractive sectors to decarbonise, and the sunk costs and technological risks implied in greening their economies in a context of huge indebtedness may outweigh the benefits of doing so;
  • The just transitions concept, which is distilled largely from the experience of developed countries with substantial polluting sectors, emphasises greater localisation, yet small island developing states have fixed constraints on domestic capacity and therefore require the scaling-up of initiatives, rather than scaling down and targeting self-sufficiency.

Professor Simon Goldhill FBA, Foreign Secretary of the British Academy, said:

“Small island developing states have unique characteristics which mean that climate change will affect them more rapidly and more intensively than other types of states. For instance, low-level Pacific states face urgent sea-level rises that are already causing saltwater intrusion and drowning entire territories. This vital report highlights the challenges faced by small island developing states and discusses potential solutions, starting with an expansion of what it means to undergo a just transition. To help safeguard the human wellbeing, climate and biodiversity in these states, the concept of a just transition must respond to their distinctive transitional needs. To overlook these needs and continue to develop transitional strategies according to the current concept of a just transition, would have devastating consequences.”

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