The Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS, is an international coalition of small-island and coastal countries that work together to solve collective development challenges and environmental concerns. The forty-four member states of AOSIS form an informal, ad hoc lobby at the United Nations, and work together to combat the most prevalent issues faced by their governments considering the increasing threat posed by global climate change.
For the past twenty years, countries like the Solomon Islands have been experiencing annual sea level rises of around 10 mm, nearly three times the global average of 3 mm (as reported by multiple nonpartisan studies since 1997). As the greenhouse effect warms the planet, polar ice sheets melt into the oceans—and numerous reports project sea levels will rise as much to four feet by the end of the century.
The human cost of rising sea levels is of paramount importance in the coming years. Few countries in the AOSIS have the abilities or infrastructure to protect their land (and vicariously, citizens) from rising sea levels. In 2016, at least five reef islands in the Solomon Islands have been completely submerged due to rising sea levels—the rest of the islands are next. The displacement of persons due to sea-level rise will no doubt become a major humanitarian crisis if unchecked, and as such, must be addressed sooner rather than later. Rising sea levels are already disrupting daily life for millions: sewage-filled tides washing into homes, saltwater penetrating underground freshwater supplies, airports and roads being closed due to flooding.
It is worth considering that sea-level displacement has already spawned the first wave of islander “climate refugees”—nearly 7,000 Marshallese people have already settled in northern Arkansas. Part of an agreement signed in 1986 allows citizens of the Marshall Islands to stay indefinitely in the United States visa-free; perhaps similar agreements are needed to protect citizens of other nations as sea levels continue to rise.
More info on the U.S. Compact of Free Association: http://www.uscompact.org/
Coral Bleaching and Reef Death
Many members of the AOSIS have territory that overlaps with tropical coral reefs. Reefs are, in many cases, the biological backbone for many different underwater ecosystems—hosting a wide variety of flora and fauna that form an integral part of the underwater food chain.
Coral “bleaching” refers to a reef’s loss of pigmentation due to the departure of different microbes from the coral’s tissue due to environmental changes. Changing water temperature, pollution, and ocean acidification are major driver of coral bleaching, “stressing” out protozoans and algae living inside coral—causing them to flee the coral, leaving it both bleached and more vulnerable to disease.
The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and dissolves it into the water below, but human carbon dioxide production has forced the ocean to take in far more CO2 than it is intended to. As a result, ocean pH becomes more and more acidic, keeping coral from absorbing the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) it needs to support its stony skeletons. Continued human CO2 production at current rates will be enough to lower ocean surface pH enough to literally cause coral skeletons and reefs to fall apart—devastating vital marine habitats and threatening both our nations’ food supplies as well as the greater health of our planet.
Please note that this information is not comprehensive by any means—coral bleaching is an extremely complex topic that merits far more research than just reading this primer brief.
Rising Sea-Surface Temperatures and their Effects on Global Fish Availability
Many island nations rely heavily on the ocean’s bounty for their food supply, and many residents rely on fishing as not only a source of food but also a source of income. However, rising surface sea temperature (SST) threaten to dramatically alter the different marine ecosystems that support fish populations, potentially leading to declines in fish populations—hurting those that rely on fish for food or jobs.
“Sea surface temperature has been consistently higher during the past three decades than at any other time since reliable observations began in 1880”.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirm that the average surface temperature of the world’s oceans is on the rise.
Rising water temperatures can affect fish populations by reducing the available supply of dissolved oxygen, disrupting fish metabolic and immune systems, and disrupting the amount of food available for many species.
Many tropical saltwater fish, like clownfish, angelfish, and groupers, require the higher levels of dissolved oxygen that are prevalent surrounding coral reefs. Even bottom-dwelling crustaceans like crabs and lobsters require minimum levels of dissolved oxygen. It is a standard principle of physics that the solubility of oxygen decreases as water temperature rises—and as such, increased surface sea temperature can have devastating effects on the complex web of biological organisms that inhabit the coral reefs that our countries claim.
Questions to Consider
- What are the primary climate change-associated threats facing my nation and others like it?
- What is the most pressing environmental threat for my nation as well as the international community as a whole?
- How can these threats be combatted through both bilateral negotiations and more internationally-focused policymaking through an organization like the United Nations?
- What are the policy goals and foci of a unified AOSIS bloc in an international forum like the UN or WTO? What compromises must be made to come up with a unified agenda?
- What solutions can nations take on an individual level to combat the effects of climate change? What are the major obstacles to these solutions?
- Are there feasible solutions to the problems facing AOSIS nations? At what point will we pass the “point of no return” on environmental issues?
- At what point will larger contingency plans for national survival become necessary?
|Antigua and Barbuda|
|Federated States of Micronesia|
|Papua New Guinea|
|Sao Tome and Principe|
|St. Kitts and Nevis|
|Trinidad and Tobago|
The goal of this committee is to simulate a summit meeting between the member states of the Alliance of Small Island States with the intention of strengthening, unifying, and codifying its aims in the United Nations system and in the broader international community.
The summit will produce two documents. The first is a public list of goals, similar to the Millennium Development Goals, which will form a blueprint for all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions to aspire to. The second document will be an internal document the AOSIS will use to guide its lobbying effort within the UN System. This document should address each subsidiary body of the UN and international community AOSIS wishes to lobby in line with its publicly stated goal.