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Poorer island nations must up their science and innovation activities to protect their economic growth and move away from tourism as their main source of income, according to development experts.
A book released in advance of the UN summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this month argues that far too many small island developing states are focusing their economies on areas that will prove unprofitable in the long term, as industries such as tourism are prone to natural disasters and changes in trends. Its author is Carlisle Richardson, is an economics affairs officer at the UN.
Richardson, who grew up on St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, says more home-grown research and technological innovation can give poorer island nations a competitive advantage while also preparing them for challenges brought about by things such as climate change, demographic change and industrialisation.

“Many of the problems and their solutions — be they environmental or technology-related — may be similar to those on other islands.”

Carlisle Richardson, UN


“Many of the problems and their solutions — be they environmental or technology-related — may be similar to those on other islands,” Richardson says. “So starting at home and sharing that intelligence can be advantageous.”
Small island nations, for example, have specific problems when it comes to climate change as they are more vulnerable to rising sea levels and increasingly frequent and more powerful storms than continental countries. Ronald Jean Jumeau, ambassador to the UN for climate change and small island developing states issues for the Seychelles, says there is a global dearth of science and technology development catering to the needs of islands.
Richardson’s research, summarised as a book, started out with his wish to represent the realities of life on tropical islands and to shift the general perception of them being paradises that offer little else.
The book says small island nations have an important role to play in the SDGs, which will be finalised in New York, United States, at the end of this month. Many of the goals, such as those on poverty, food security, sustainable growth and climate change, are critical for the survival of such nations, and it is here they can contribute their unique knowledge, Richardson argues.
But Jumeau points out that, because of their size and remoteness, small island nations will have to work together to generate the necessary funds for science and private sector involvement in innovation that comes naturally to large economies. “If a special effort is not made to make science and technology island-specific, we will have to continue trying to adapt what has been developed for large markets to our limited needs,” he says.
This would include providing better tailored training for scientists and trying to attract more young people into science careers, he says.
“There is no shortage of universities, technical institutions and highly skilled human resources in the islands,” Jumeau tells SciDev.Net. “The question is whether they are suitably trained and whether we have enough of them.”


Carlisle Richardson Island journeys: the impact of the island way of life at home and abroad (Advantage Media Group, July 2015)