IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

16.4.7 Infrastructure and transportation

Like settlements and industry, the infrastructural base that supports the vital socio-economic sectors of island economies tends to occupy coastal locations. Hay et al. (2003) have identified several challenges that will confront the transportation sector in Pacific island countries as a result of climate variability and change. These include closure of roads, airports and bridges due to flooding and landslides, and damage to port facilities. The resulting disruption would not be confined to the transportation sector alone, but would impact other key dependent sectors and services including tourism, agriculture, the delivery of health care, clean water, food security and market supplies.

In most small islands, energy is primarily from non-renewable sources, mainly from imported fossil fuels. In the context of climate change, the main contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is from energy use. The need to introduce and expand renewable energy technologies in small islands has been recognised for many years although progress in implementation has been slow. Often, the advice that small islands receive on options for economic growth is based on the strategies adopted in larger countries, where resources are much greater and alternatives significantly less costly. It has been argued by Roper (2005) that small island states could set an example on green energy use, thereby contributing to local reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and costly imports. Indeed, some have already begun to become ‘renewable energy islands’. La Desirade (Caribbean), Fiji, Samsoe (Denmark), Pellworm (Germany) and La Réunion (Indian Ocean) are cited as presently generating more than 50% of their electricity from renewable energy sources (Jensen, 2000).

Almost without exception, international airports on small islands are sited on or within a few kilometres of the coast, and on tiny coral islands. Likewise, the main (and often only) road network runs along the coast (Walker and Barrie, 2006). In the South Pacific region of small islands, Lal (2004) estimates that, since 1950, mean sea level has risen at a rate of approximately 3.5 mm/yr, and he projects a rise of 25 to 58 cm by the middle of this century. Under these conditions, much of the infrastructure in these countries would be at serious risk from inundation, flooding and physical damage associated with coastal land loss. While the risk will vary from country to country, the small islands of the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean – countries such as Malta and Singapore and mid-latitude islands such as the Îles-de-la-Madeleine in the Gulf of St. Lawrence – may be confronted by similar threats. Raksakulthai (2003) has shown that climate change would also increase the risk to critical facilities on the island of Phuket, a premier tourism island in South-East Asia.

The threat from sea-level rise to infrastructure on small islands could be amplified considerably by the passage of tropical cyclones (hurricanes). It has been shown, for instance, that port facilities at Suva, Fiji, and Apia, Samoa, would experience overtopping, damage to wharves, and flooding of the hinterland if there were a 0.5 m rise in sea level combined with waves associated with a 1-in-50 year cyclone (Hay et al., 2003). In the Caribbean, the damage to coastal infrastructure from storm surge alone has been severe. In November 1999, surge damage in St. Lucia associated with Hurricane Lenny was in excess of US$6 million, even though the storm was centred many kilometres offshore.