As recognized in the Barbados Plan of Action, Small Island Developing States are particularly vulnerable to global climate change, climate variability and sea-level rise. Indeed, the issues of climate change and sea-level rise were major driving forces leading to the convening of the Barbados Conference in April-May 1994. With populations, agricultural lands and infrastructures tending to be concentrated in the coastal zone, any rise in sea-level will have significant and profound effects on settlements, living conditions and island economies. The very survival of certain low-lying countries is threatened.
Since the Barbados Conference, the mechanisms by which SIDS will be affected by climate change has been further elucidated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Countries such as the Maldives have drawn up plans for adapting to sea-level rise, including measures related to coastal protection, and have enumerated needs in terms of resources, training and financial support. The Johannesburg Summit has emphasized the importance of mobilizing adequate resources and partnerships for the adaptation needs of SIDS, consistent with commitments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Within UNESCO and its Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), the principal contribution to issues related to rising sea levels is through such initiatives as the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and the Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS), as well as the multi-organizational Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts and Islands.
See also UNESCO's Past activities on Climate Change and sea level rise