They may be small, but they could become an example for all of Italy to follow in the race for renewables. On the frontline against climate change, small islands hold a pivotal role in environmental sustainability, which for them represents the future. It is for exactly this reason that it was chosen as the theme for the first small islands summit: Greening the Islands Italy, taking place at La Maddalena this 27-28 May. Already launched at an international level, it is an initiative that starts this year in Sardegna, with the first all Italian edition, organised in collaboration with the Associazione Nazionale dei Comuni delle Isole Minori (ANCIM).
"Islands are fragile ecosystems," explains Gianni Chianetta, director and scientific coordinator of Greening the Islands, "so they find themselves having to manage complex and expensive energy supply models, as well as being the first to suffer the effects of climate change." As well as being affected by rising sea levels, island territories are also subject to more unstable weather. To take but one example, in the Pacific, extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones have increased by 60% from 1990 to 2010. "Due to their vulnerability, islands are the first to want to launch new schemes that are more sustainable both economically, but also environmentally."
Amongst the key objectives of the two days in La Maddalena is a strengthening of dialogue with the government on the topics of energy, water, and mobility on the small islands. All this with a particular focus on the development of water and energy autonomy, through the adoption of renewable sources. "These islands cannot rely on fossil fuels," says Gianni Chianetta, "because it would mean being solely dependent on a supply from the sea route. In the case of adverse weather conditions, this entails the risk of the island being left completely cut off, and isolated. The adoption of new energy and water models powered by renewables could finally present the possibility of autonomy and stability for the islands."
In Italy, the small islands consist of 36 municipalities with just over 200,000 residents. However, in the summer season, resident numbers rise exponentially and become millions. In addition to this, the small islands also find themselves at the centre of another key story: the migrant crisis. In 2015 alone, Lampedusa welcomed over 19,000 people. At the "Small Italian Islands Summit”, this will also be discussed. "We will talk about the need to offer adequate reception that takes into account the availability of water and energy, as well as ensuring proper waste management and a good quality of life to the island inhabitants."
The conference takes place as a part of the preparatory process of "Greening the Islands", which happens for the third time this October in Lemnos, Greece. Just ahead of the meeting in the Aegean, Greening the Islands and ANCIM have launched a data collection initiative on the smaller Italian islands, for a study that aims towards identifying the key interventions for environmental sustainability that need to be made a priority in the next decade. This survey has already been conducted in 2015, for the islands of Sicily. In the case of Sicily, the study was carried out for the occasion of the first international conference of Greening the Islands - held in Pantelleria in 2014 - and which led to the mapping of priority actions for the energy independence and environmental sustainability of the Sicilian islands, with investments of around € 230 million euro in the energy, water, waste and electric mobility sectors. Amongst the identified priority investments for the Sicilian islands, 55% were in the water sector (desalination, improving distribution networks etc.), 24% went towards the energy sector (hybridization of renewable and conventional systems, public lighting etc.), 11% were in the waste sector, and the remaining 10% went into sustainable mobility.
Photo Credits: Getty Images
Translated by Kimberley Evans