Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 5. June 2011 - 20:44
e-learning centre on sustainable development


Heading: Development    Topic: Islands

Islands, as small areas of land surrounded by water, provide an excellent model of the challenges of sustainability. While the planetary limits to economic development may seem distant and abstract, the limits to an island are close and evident. Island societies have always had to live within their limited land area and resource base, and developed many traditional ways to live wisely within these limits (Dahl, 1989). Modernization has eroded many of these, and today many islands have serious environmental and social problems related to unsustainable forms of development.

The preparation and holding of the 1994 Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States in Barbados as a direct result of Agenda 21 produced a comprehensive evaluation of the special environmental problems and vulnerabilities of small islands, and a plan of action to address them (UN, 1994) [see the Islands web page at UNEP]. The economic vulnerability of small island developing States can be illustrated by the facts that 65 percent of their GDP is derived from imports and exports, over twice that of other countries, and that a single cyclone can wipe out their entire agricultural production (Briguglio, 1995).


Briguglio, Lino. 1995. Small Island Developing States and Their Economic Vulnerabilities. World Development 23(9): 1615-1632.

Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 1989. “Traditional environmental knowledge and resource management in New Caledonia”, p. 45-53 in R.E. Johannes (ed.), Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Collection of Essays, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, Gland and Cambridge.

UN. 1994. Report of the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, Barbados, 1994. A/CONF.167/9.

Article last updated 29 June 2006

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Last updated 5 June 2011