UNESCO: Islands of the Future – Building resilience in a changing world

Submitted by Caroline Lumosi | published 21st Mar 2014 | last updated 28th Feb 2022

The ‘Islands of the Future – Building resilience in a changing world’ booklet highlights UNESCO activities in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), covering the period from 2006-2013.

Contributing towards a new vision and commitment for small islands, UNESCO action in support of its 47 Member States and Associate Members is anchored in its mandated fields of education, basic and natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, communication and information. 

The overriding goals are to build capacities and networks; promote problem-solving actions; mobilize key actors and constituencies; and generate momentum and impact that are culturally sensitive and scientifically-sound. Addressing this challenge calls for meaningful collaboration between societal and institutional sectors (intersectoral collaboration), among islands and regions (intra- and inter regional cooperation) and across generations (intergenerational solidarity).

Together with governments, civil society, regional bodies and other international actors, UNESCO continues its efforts to ensure the effective implementation of the BPoA and the Mauritius Strategy in a multidisciplinary and participatory manner. The Organization will actively engage in follow-up to the Third International Conference on SIDS in Samoa in 2014, while contributing to the elaboration of the post-2015 Goals.

Building on the achievements of its dedicated SIDS intersectoral platform, UNESCO will keep SIDS at the center of its agenda in the forthcoming Medium-term Strategy for the period 2014 to 2021, as one of the Organization’s Overarching Objectives (alongside Youth, Least Developed Countries, Countries in Transition and Indigenous Peoples).

The Islands of the future; building resilience in a changing world highlights six main areas of UNESCO's work in small island states.

Promoting quality education in islands- With many SIDS having achieved the Education for All goals, UNESCO Member States are increasingly concerned with the quality of education. More and more countries, as well as development partners, have started to focus on the idea of Learning for All, as opposed to Education for All. In addition to promoting quality teaching at all levels of education, UNESCO is assisting countries in building their capacities for education, policy-making, planning, monitoring and evaluation.

Building island resistance- Surrounded by ocean, SIDS are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters of both hydro-meteorological and geological origin. Global climate change is expected to exacerbate natural disasters of hydro-meteorological origin, such as hurricanes, floods and drought. Rainfall within a 100 km radius of the eye of a cyclone, for example, is projected to increase globally by about 20%. In addition to climate change, population growth and urban development are increasing the vulnerability of SIDS to natural disasters, particularly in urban and coastal areas. While geological hazards are unrelated to climate change and less frequent than hurricanes, floods or droughts, they nonetheless exact a terrible toll. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 and in the earthquake which devastated Haiti in 2010.

Valuing and sharing island heritage and identities-UNESCO supports SIDS in designing and implementing innovative cultural policies to strengthen heritage and creativity. This involves protecting and safeguarding tangible and intangible heritage, promoting responsible tourism, boosting creative industries and transmitting traditional knowledge through cultural institutions such as museums, archives and cultural centres, with a special focus on indigenous and local communities and youth.

The safeguarding of the historical environment in SIDS enhances the resilience of communities to threats resulting from uncontrolled globalization, natural disasters and climate change. When peoples and communities are affected by disasters or challenged by rapid change, cultural programmes that support the rehabilitation of heritage, traditions and institutions can help restore a sense of continuity, self-esteem and confidence in the future. Consideration for culture should therefore be integrated into disaster-risk reduction and climate-change mitigation, as well as adaptation plans and policies (see p.15 – Building Island Resilience).

Building knowledge societies in islands- UNESCO contributes to Chapter XVIII of the Mauritius Strategy on Knowledge Management and Information for Decision-making by applying an interdisciplinary approach. In order to build inclusive knowledge societies, UNESCO fosters media pluralism and the freedom of the press, the preservation of documentary heritage, universal access to information in the public domain and a broader access to knowledge.

UNESCO assists SIDS in developing policies and cooperation mechanisms for the adoption of open education resources, open access, free and open-source software. It also promotes policies related to information and communication technologies (ICTs) that are both gender-sensitive and gender-inclusive.

Boosting science capacities and social well-being- At a time when SIDS are confronted with global phenomena that include climate change and social challenges such as migration and high youth unemployment rates, UNESCO has been supporting the design of public policies in the Pacific and Caribbean. These policies are grounded in evidence-based analyses and shaped by participatory approaches. 

Managing natural resources for a sustainable future- Island nations have a lot in common. They are endowed with both land-based and ocean resources and, thanks to their isolation, host biodiversity that tends to be both endemic and unique. They also face environmental challenges. Low-lying atolls in the Pacific are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise, for instance, and Caribbean islands are experiencing more frequent hurricanes. Most island nations are experiencing increasingly erratic rainfall, even as their populations are growing.

How can island nations best manage their natural resources in order to sustain life and livelihoods? Making the right decision requires good governance. Good governance springs from rational management practices which in turn rely on sound knowledge of the state of natural resources and the ability to predict future trends. UNESCO is helping SIDS to assess their natural resources, manage them sustainably and put good governance practices in place. It is also encouraging SIDS to cooperate with one another. As they often face similar environmental challenges, it makes sense for them to share solutions.

Suggested citation

UNESCO 2013. Islands of the Future – Building Resilience in a Changing World. UNESCO, Paris. 40pp.

Further resources

Suggested citation

UNESCO 2013. Islands of the Future – Building Resilience in a Changing World. UNESCO, Paris. 40pp.