In March 2001, the Director of Habitat Scotland attended the UK Islands in Europe conference on Islay organised by Argyll & Bute Council at which a Scottish Islands Network (SIN) was formed. A European Small Islands Network (ESIN) was established at a subsequent conference on the Swedish island of Moja in May of that year and SIN became a constituent member. In January 2002 Habitat obtained a grant for three years from the Scottish Executive Rural Strategic Support Fund in order to appoint and manage a Project Officer for SIN. In June 2002 the Director of Habitat became the FT Executive Director for GIN, which together with SIN shared the same office building in Portree, Isle of Skye, and was also elected Secretary for ISISA being a position he held until 2018.
A website for SIN was constructed and a monthly e-newsletter quickly introduced that was freely circulated to over 1500 people throughout the Scottish islands. In addition, SIN initiated consultancy studies on the implications European Commission livestock transportation and waste management legislation would have on Scottish islands. The Project Officer also undertook consultancy work for Highland Council on the EC Leonardo da Vinci NISSOS project into successful small-scale manufacturing from islands that involved Maltese lead partners and others from Aland, Iceland and Saaremaa.
SIN was also a partner in the ESIN three year EU Interreg IIIC programme funded project to investigate why certain islands were more successful than others in maintaining viable communities with sustainable approaches and solutions to their most pressing development problems. Some 13 inter-island exchange visits were undertaken and 18 good practice case studies produced that culminated with their findings being presented at a major conference held on the Isle of Islay in 2006. ESIN then campaigned with others in getting the European Parliament to adopt a resolution proposing a European strategy for economic and social development of mountain regions, islands and sparsely populated areas. The highly influential Intergroup 174 was subsequently formed to debate and reflect on the approaches and perspectives brought by the Lisbon Treaty for specific territories.
The core activity of GIN has been managing their website with its daily news desk that has sourced and featured more than 17,000 items since it started; a links directory with over 4,000 entries; and a range of other services like an events calendar and marketplace. In 2007 GIN was invited to help set up the Small Islands Film Trust that went on to organise several annual film festivals on various Scottish islands. The same year GIN also initiated discussions and entered into negotiations that ultimately led to the Scottish Centre for Island Studies becoming established at the University of the West of Scotland where the GIN Executive Director was duly appointed an Honorary Research Fellow for three years. Investigations were undertaken and subsequent reports published on the impacts cruise ship tourism was having on islands and polar regions. A review was conducted into the effectiveness of an ever increasing number of designated large marine protected areas around the world and also a study on how successful major eradication programmes have been in removing invasive alien species from islands.
Whilst based in Scotland, GIN has since 2002 mostly concentrated on building up formal working relationships with a range of UN agencies and other international bodies as well as supporting many of their 150 partner organisations spread over 60 countries worldwide. Various GIN board members have attended important events like the Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands in Paris 2003; SIDS Barbados Programme of Action + 10 conference in Mauritius 2005; IUCN Climate Change and Biodiversity in the European Union Overseas Entities conference in Reunion 2008; UNFCCC Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009; UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro 2012; UN Conference on SIDS in Samoa 2014; and UNFCCC Climate Change Conference in Paris 2015.
GIN having helped to set up the IUCN-WCPA Task Force on Island Conservation and Protected Areas and acting as coordinator for one of their thematic working groups then went on to become an active member of the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA). Since its inception in 2005, the central goal of GLISPA has been to help implement the priority actions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Island Biodiversity Programme of Work, which was formally adopted at its 8th Conference of the Parties (COP8) meeting in Curitiba, Brazil, in March 2006. GIN attended the GLISPA High Level Event at the CBD COP9 meeting in Bonn, Germany, in May 2008 where funding from the Italian Government was officially announced for GIN and UNEP-WCMC to create a Global Island Database (GID) that was subsequently launched at UN headquarters in May 2010.
As we entered a new decade in 2011, GIN took a change of direction by moving its home office to North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. These islands are famous for their biodiverse machair habitats that support some of the most important populations of nesting wader birds in Europe and the world. Various local organisations such as the North Uist Development Company, Storas Uibhist and Sustainable Uist address a wide range of environmental issues that include responding to the impacts of climate change. Much of the problem is due to the fact these islands are deeply indented by the sea and have hundreds of low-lying freshwater lochs that are separated from the ocean only by narrow strips of land. Increased winter rainfall has made many lochs vulnerable to flooding because there is no proper drainage system. In addition, South Uist has been particularly affected with increased coastal erosion brought about by more frequent winter storm surges, leading some to fear that the island may be split in two. Local crofting communities with support from the EU funded CoastAdapt project, together with other initiatives, are starting to take direct action by using old tyres and reclaimed fishing nets to anchor sand dunes until marram grass can take hold and bind them together thus helping protect the coastline.
Anthropogenic climate change is arguably the most important and urgent issue confronting humanity, as it expresses on a global scale the convergent stresses associated with our economic activities, our local behaviours and our resource and energy use. But science alone cannot convey either the challenges presented by sea level rise or the attitudinal shifts required to mitigate and adapt to it. Cape Farewell has pioneered a cultural response to climate change by bringing together leading artists, filmmakers, musicians, singers, writers, scientists, educators and media for a series of sailing expeditions and legacy projects. GIN helped to plan their Sea Change 2010-2014 programme of research that included two voyages around the Scottish islands where they worked collaboratively to produce a wide range of creative outputs considering the relationships between people, place and resources in the context of climate change.
The Green Economy is a form of development that addresses in a holistic way the multiple economic and environmental challenges confronting the planet. This concept has been rapidly picked up by many small island communities as evidenced by 50 Green Island case studies that were compiled and presented on the GIN website in 2012 with funding from the Waterloo Foundation. These documented good practices related to renewable energy & eco housing; waste minimisation & recycling; water management & security; extensive agriculture & organic food production; transport; sustainable tourism & niche marketing; biodiversity & protected areas; integrated development planning; climate change mitigation & adaptation measures. There was a high degree of interest in these case studies with the numerous online documents associated with them averaging 1,000 downloads per month over a six year period. A subsequent major review of national, regional and international initiatives was published as the final chapter for The Routledge International Handbook of Island Studies in 2018 to further support the contention that small islands have been in the vanguard of the growing green and blue economy movements.
Green investment can contribute to lowering demand for energy, water and other raw materials thus reducing the carbon footprint of production of goods and services. But some governments, academics and civil society organisations, especially in the developing world, would argue that the green economy is turning nature into merchandise, without addressing deeper problems like poverty and social inequality. Whilst many politicians laud the green economy, there are contradictions and U-turns in policy aplenty. The global energy industry is currently rushing headlong in two different directions, delivering record levels of low carbon investment at the same time as ploughing cash into continued oil exploration, Canadian tar sands extraction and fracking for shale gas. This tension between the competing visions of a low and high-carbon future (or, to put it another way, the fight between green growth and environmental catastrophe) has been ratcheted up since 2000 and is likely to escalate under newly elected US President Trump.
Several Small Island Developing States (SIDS), notably the Seychelles, have questioned the green economy concept and its applicability to them. Instead, they recognise that the oceans have a major role to play in their future and advocated that a blue economy offers an approach to sustainable development better suited to their circumstances, constraints and challenges. The blue economy conceptualises oceans as 'development spaces' where spatial planning can somehow integrate sustainable use of biodiversity and protected areas with fisheries, oil and mineral wealth extraction, bio-prospecting, marine energy production, aquaculture, tourism and shipping. But is this merely wishful thinking? The political and industrial stampede to claim and exploit natural resources in the Arctic and Southern oceans as their ice cover retreats due to global warming, as well as the start of deep sea mining in the Pacific, would tend to suggest so.
Whilst GLISPA has undoubtedly been a catalyst in launching visionary commitments particularly amongst SIDS, there are still a great many other island communities wishing to become carbon neutral and seeking effective solutions to environmental problems that do not know how or who to approach for practical help. The Global Green Growth Institute, Green Economy Coalition, Green Growth Knowledge Platform and Partnership for Action on Green Economy all provide data and networking opportunities on an international scale but there is no dedicated body just for supporting islands. There have been several attempts to address this significant gap in provision namely the first Eco-Islands Summit held on the Isle of Wight in 2012 followed by others on Bornholm in 2013 and Okinawa in 2015. An International Green Island Forum took place on Jeju in 2014 but another planned for the following year on the Indonesian island of Lombok was cancelled when the local Rinjani volcano erupted. The 2016 Forum took place again on Jeju in conjunction with the 3rd International Electric Vehicle Expo. Whilst these different initiatives are welcome, actual events tend to be ephemeral in nature and do not necessarily address the problem of islanders' worldwide seeking answers to immediate technical questions that might arise in their respective communities on a daily basis. This could be partially addressed through using the most popular social networking sites to establish a new Green Islands Network that in turn might develop into a more permanent entity.
At a purely European level, the first Greening the Islands conference took place in 2014 on Pantelleria, an Italian island in the Strait of Sicily, followed by a second on Malta in 2015, and a third on Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, in 2016. Also in 2016, the Promoting Renewable energy sources Integration for Smart Mediterranean Islands (PRISMI) project started and the first Smart Islands Forum was hosted in Athens at the initiative of the DAFNI Network of Sustainable Aegean and Ionian Islands and Aegean Energy Agency. In January 2017 the Islands of Innovation project lead by the Dutch Province of Fryslan began and in March 2017 representatives of island local and regional authorities from 13 countries met at the European Parliament to present the Smart Islands Initiative. Building on the first Smart Islands Forum, this event communicated the need to tap the significant, yet largely unexploited potential of islands to function as living labs for technological, environmental, and social innovation. The main highlight of this event was the official signing ceremony of the Smart Islands Declaration, a manifesto to mobilize political and financial support so that European islands can transform into smart, inclusive and thriving societies. Also in April 2017, with the support of the Balearic Islands government, the first Smart Island World Congress was held on Majorca and repeated again in 2018.
Against the backdrop of the "big four" global agreements in recent years - the SAMOA Pathway, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the emerging New Urban Agenda of Habitat III - implementation of more resilient and equitable development at a local level supported by effective partnerships is critical if the 730 million plus people living on islands are to both survive and prosper. Already many SIDS are thinking differently, especially when it comes to the ocean. Their self-characterization as Large Ocean States pursuing a blue economy is more than symbolic. It is a new mindset that represents a rethink on the opportunities and challenges facing them. As large ocean states, the focus shifts to a strengths-based approach rather than a deficit model based on their constraints. From being termed the canary in the coal mine facing the combined impacts of sea level rise and resource depletion, SIDS are now seen - and increasingly see themselves - as sentinels or guardians of the oceans.