Throughout 2020 global islands have persevered through both new and old issues to build stronger communities and provide solutions for key development goals. A highly anticipated 2021 promises several major events and projects set to involve islands around the world. With an outlook towards improving on the previous year and building a platform for a better future, here are some of the key events to look forward to this year.

Travel Advisory

The return of international travel could provide much-needed financial support for islands that rely on tourism as a part of their economy. Travel bubbles and various regulations have restricted the flow of international travel throughout 2020, and with the roll-out of vaccinations worldwide there is hope that airlines may begin to ramp up their activities in 2021. However, how will international travel fit with the ‘new normal’ that has been touted by global governments?

Regulations are expected to stay in place in order to mitigate the spread of the virus, with mandatory testing before departure and after arrival expected to become commonplace. A quarantine period may continue to be enforced until the receiving nation is satisfied that travellers are not infected, and proof of vaccination against coronavirus could also become a standard. While this may seem like more hassle than previous iterations of air travel, the aim is to both contain the spread of the virus, while also protecting areas that have had very few cases or lack the infrastructure to deal with a health crisis. Globally, islands have dealt with a loss of tourism revenue that has led them to adapt and plan for a more resilient, self-reliant future less dependent on international travel. 

From advertising themselves as remote digital workplaces to investing in local infrastructure, islands have used 2020’s lack of tourism to try and diversify their economies, but the return of international travel in whatever form it may be will still be a boost for these communities. July 2021 has been earmarked as an expected restart for air travel, with airlines, tourists and governments all looking forward to a return to relative normality. This, along with the socio-economic potential behind investing in digital nomads will be discussed in detail in our upcoming Remote Work webinar: “Adapting Tourist Destinations for Remote Workers and Digital Nomads in 2021.” 

Ratchet Mechanism 

After being cancelled due to COVID-19, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) will be taking place a year later than planned in Glasgow. The conference is set to be the third assembly of the parties involved at the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement which led to global commitments towards mitigating climate change. Expected to be both an opportunity for countries to reflect on their progress and to ratchet up their goals, policymakers will be under greater pressure to take more drastic action against environmental degradation.

In the lead up to COP26, several nations have already announced new targets and reported on their progress in implementing sustainable development goals. With a global aim of keeping temperatures from rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius, a range of projects and developments are being put into place around the world, with islands leading the way. COP26 President Alok Sharma has met with representatives from Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and has committed to finding funding for a transition towards zero-carbon economies and the development of sustainable solutions.

Using the nation’s presidencies of COP26 and G7, the United Kingdom has pledged to highlight the work being done by SIDS and work with them to find solutions that benefit them and the world at large. Highlighted by the projects underway in UK islands and overseas territories like Scilly and Bermuda, SIDS should be encouraged by the host nation’s willingness to develop new ideas. Islands have long been at the forefront of innovations in the fields of sustainability and are aiming to become more vocal on a global platform. With COP26 starting in November 2021, the stage will be set for new policies and climate targets to be discussed and enacted with global islands at the helm. 

Island Projects

Highlighting the developments being made by islands across the globe in terms of innovation, here are some interesting projects set to take place throughout the coming year.

  • Sustainable Small Islands – Set up to help small islands develop their technical and financial capabilities as they seek to implement their sustainability goals, eighteen islands across the world are part of the 2017-2021 development phase. The progress made by these islands will help provide blueprints in governance, biodiversity protection, and self-reliance for other communities seeking to become more sustainable.
  • Island Finance Forum – Taking place in April, this online event will bring together senior financiers, development partners and regulators to share their expertise on inclusive and sustainable financial structures for island communities. The Forum will be accessible to attendees from across the globe in a variety of interactive sessions, including networking opportunities to meet and exchange ideas face to face or in small groups.
  • Urban Eco-Islands – Two islands, Vasikkasaari (Finland) and Aegna (Estonia), are the focus of a pilot programme committed to combining ecotourism and digital media. As part of the two-year project ending in 2021, these islands have seen the refurbishment of their tourism facilities with an emphasis on implementing sustainable features meant to educate the public through a smart digital infrastructure.
  • Fiji Solar Project – Energy Fiji Limited (EFL) has reached an agreement with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to fund a 15MW solar power project that will help the Pacific nation reach its 2030 goal of 100% renewable energy generation. EFL and the IFC are searching for a private-sector partner to help bring the project to fruition. Both organizations hope that this solar project will serve as a case study for other island nations and outside investors on the opportunities available in renewable energy and global islands.

A New Year

As the year begins, there looms a range of possibilities for growth after what was a difficult 2020. Global islands proved once again their ability to adapt and innovate to respond to external shocks throughout last year and are set to capitalize on the developments and projects being undertaken in 2021. From new renewable energy projects to the potential to make the most of remote work, and the opportunity for continued international collaborations, the new year promises to deliver a swathe of benefits. While 2021 will undoubtedly still pose new challenges, island communities will no doubt rise to overcome them.

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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.