The State of Climate Ambition: Snapshots for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

The State of Climate Ambition: Snapshots for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) provide analysis for these groups of Climate Promise-supported countries surrounding their NDC status and implementation readiness. The Snapshots build upon, and update information, from UNDP’s The State of Climate Ambition published in 2022. Each Snapshot explores NDC submission, ambition and quality status while assessing progress on key systems and architecture for NDC implementation. They also look at areas of past and future Climate Promise support and showcase champion countries.


Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are a group of low-lying island nations that are home to approximately 65 million people and extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – despite being responsible for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability confirmed that SIDS are increasingly affected by tropical cyclones, storm surges, droughts, changing precipitation patterns, coral bleaching and invasive species. From 1970 to 2020, SIDS lost USD$ 153 billion due to weather-, climate- and water-related hazards -- a significant amount given that the average GDP for SIDS is USD 13.7 billion (WMO, 2020). For those SIDS whose land lies only five meters or less above sea level, projected sea-level rise represents a direct threat to their existence.

Internationally, SIDS are identified as comprising 38 UN Member States and 20 non-UN Members/ Associate Members of United Nations’ regional commissions and are typically grouped into three regions: the Caribbean, the Pacific, and the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, and South China Seas (AIMS). Of these, 40 countries are Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and are the focus of this snapshot.

These island nations are diverse in many ways: level of economic development, governance systems, territorial area, geographical features, and language.

For instance, 11 SIDS are considered high-income, more than half are classified as middle-income, yet eight nations are Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Despite differences, SIDS face unique environmental, economic, and social challenges.

Common characteristics that contribute to these challenges include: small populations, a narrow resource base, economies heavily dependent on the natural environment, remoteness from international markets, reliance on fossil fuel imports, and limited economies of scale. Such factors affect the adaptive capacity and resilience of SIDS and make them particularly vulnerable to biodiversity loss and climate change.

In response, SIDS created the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in 1990 which has played a strong leadership role in international climate negotiations.

The group campaigned to ensure 1.5°C was part of the global temperature goal of the Paris Agreement in 2015. More recently in August 2022, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, as the current Chair of AOSIS, convened the “Wadadli Action Platform” and called on the international community to take urgent and concrete action to fulfill commitments to strengthen resilience in SIDS. Together with LDCs, SIDS have been steadfast in advocating that loss and damages be addressed in climate negotiations, which contributed to the topic’s prominence at COP27 and the agreement made in Egypt to establish a new loss and damage fund.

SIDS have also brokered other strategic partnerships and alliances, such as the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) formed by the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 2015 that is a political-level coalition of progressive countries on climate change who played a pivotal role in brokering the Paris Agreement. Walking the talk, the Marshall Islands was also the first country in the world to submit an enhanced NDC in November 2018. Some SIDS are also members of the Adaptation Action Coalition, which aims to accelerate global action on adaptation to achieve a climate resilient world by 2030.

The analysis below provides insights on climate ambition in SIDS that builds upon, and updates the information, from UNDP’s NDC Global Outlook Report 2021: The State of Global Ambition, published in October 2021.

Least developed countries (LDCs)

Least developed countries (LDCs) are low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development. They are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and can have limited levels of human assets.

Globally there are currently 46 countries1 recognized as part of the LDC group – 30 in Africa, four in the Arab States, 11 in Asia and the Pacific, and one in the Caribbean region – collectively constituting around 880 million people, or 12 percent of the world population.

Eight are Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Despite only accounting for 3.3 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,2 LDCs face some of the greatest impacts from climate change. This is reflected in the fact that over the past half-century, more than two-thirds of deaths worldwide caused by climate-related disasters occurred in LDCs (IIED, 2021).

LDCs are particularly vulnerable to climate change by nature of their geographic location, economic structure and labor market composition, and limited adaptive capacity (ILO, 2022). Many LDC’s economic activity is based in primary sectors, such as agriculture, making them particularly dependent on stable climate conditions. A changing and unreliable climate coupled with a lack of production and export diversification increases LDC’s vulnerability to external shocks, trade imbalances, and the accumulation of external debt (ILO, 2022). Notably, almost half of LDCs have active conflicts, underscoring the interconnectedness of peace, social justice, and the environment (ILO, 2022).

This complex context means LDCs have challenges accessing dedicated international support measures such as preferential market access and development finance instruments, limiting their ability to effectively mitigate and adapt to climate change (UN-OHRLLS, 2021).

SIDS that are LDCs face particular challenges, battling more frequent and intense extreme weather events but also slow onset impacts because of sea level rise.

Recognizing the risks, LDCs and SIDS are working together to prioritize climate action and advocate on the world stage for common challenges, such as their heightened vulnerability to climate change impacts.

Relative to their size and number, their influence is considerable. The UN Secretary General’s recent call for financing Loss and Damage (L&D), at the 2022 Petersburg Climate Conference in Germany, was a significant success by the LDC group together with SIDS.

In the lead-up to COP27, the LDC group developed the Dakar LDC Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change. This declaration reiterates common and agreed positions of LDCs on a variety of climate related themes including adaptation, L&D, finance, capacity building needs, and gender.

At COP27, as a direct result of SIDS’ and LDCs’ efforts to continuously advocate for action and funding to address L&D, a new L&D fund was established, as part of new and/or strengthened funding arrangements for L&D. Recommendations for operationalization of the new fund will be submitted by a Transitional Committee by COP28.

Highlighting the importance of adaptation in LDCs, some countries have joined the global Adaptation Action Coalition, which aims to accelerate action to achieve a climate-resilient world by 2030.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen LDCs are represented in the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action – showing high-level leadership and commitment to promote national climate action through fiscal policy and financing solutions.

The Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG), established in 2001, provides technical guidance and support to LDCs on the formulation and implementation of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), and the implementation of the LDC Work Programme.

Many LDCs have set ambitious emissions-reduction targets in their NDCs. However, limited capacity and constrained resources present challenges to ensuring a just and sustainable transition and to building resilience to their disproportionate exposure to climate change impacts.

Source: UN Development Programme