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When we talk about “climate resilience” what do we really mean?

Dominica recently announced its ambition to become the world’s first “fully climate-resilient” nation, making the island nation a cause célèbre among the international donor community.

The island has promoted itself to become a 300-square-mile laboratory for what might be the question of the century: How much can a country inoculate itselfagainst the effects of a changing climate?

Championing climate resilience is an effective strategy for aid-dependent nations looking to develop new infrastructure. Of course donors, both countries and individuals, have an agenda which may or may not line up with the recipient’s own.

These days, many donors are looking to boost their green credentials. Who is going to fund a diesel power station in 2018? For nations looking to attract these funds, bold claims about climate resilience are a good signalling strategy, even if their actual substance is less clear. In a similar way, many island countries with 100% renewable energy targets do so before a solid plan is in place, in the hope that conspicuous ambitions will lead to funds pouring in.

While diplomats and politicians at international conferences discuss “climate resilience” in abstract terms, it is worth remembering that certain disadvantaged groups are disproportionately impacted by climate change. It is often the poorest in a society that are the least able to adapt, and marginalized communities such as African-Americans in North Carolina and LGBTQ people in Fiji may face added complications when coping with natural hazards.

Islanders are naturally resilient who have dealt with natural change for generations. An added element of climate resilience is it provides an opportunity for islanders to demonstrate leadership and cast off the victim narrative. As the Pacific Climate Warriors say: “We are not drowning. We are fighting!”

Dominica’s ambitious goal to become a fully climate resilient nation may be challenging, but it presents a chance for the island to demonstrate leadership, utilize its competitive advantages and showcase Dominicans pride in their island.

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This occasional newsletter highlights events and stories about innovation in sustainable development for rural, remote and island regions. We want to change the discourse to demonstrate how islandness can be a driver for innovation.

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