Brendan Guy, Global Fellow, Global Strategy & Advocacy Program, New York City

Small islands countries like Jamaica and Seychelles are known for their beautiful beaches and idyllic charm, but they are also increasingly regarded as innovative leaders in the fight against climate change and to secure sustainability. As some of the most vulnerable countries to global risks like rising seas, many small islands are taking matters into their own hands by forging action-oriented partnerships to safeguard their shores.

This past Monday marked the global launch of the international year of Small Island Developing States. SIDS, as they are known to the international community, are the first group of countries to have a specific year designated by the United Nations. And though the 52 SIDS around the world are commemorating this momentous occasion, they are also busy building the platform to make 2014 a year of tangible actions and lasting partnerships.

Many small island nations, while coveted as tourism destinations, find their survival threatened by climate change and rising sea levels. The President of Nauru, an island country in the South Pacific, reminded attendees of the launch event that the international year of SIDS is celebrated with the somber knowledge that “unless action is taken soon, some islands will not make it to the end of the century.”

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Fortunately, island countries are pioneering an innovative model for the transformative actions needed to ensure their sustainability. At an international conference to be held this September in Samoa, island countries have determined that vague global agreements won’t be enough to secure their future - concrete commitments to action at all levels of society will be necessary.

The Samoa conference will host partnership dialogues and announce new and scaled up partnerships and initiatives as part of its primary objective, rather than as a sideshow. Conference organizers have created a Partnership Platform to encourage all stakeholders to announce partnerships, suggest ideas for needed partnerships, and visualize and track their progress.

Small islands have long been leading by example rather than talking endlessly about the problems. Caribbean island nations, assisted in partnership with Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, are swapping dirty diesel fuel for renewable energy sources. The Indian Ocean island of Seychelles has pioneered a partnership with The Nature Conservancy where part of the nation’s foreign debt is forgiven in exchange for local investments in environmental conservation and adaptation. The Global Islands Partnership (GLISPA) provides a platform for all islands regardless of political status to catalyze commitments to advance sustainable livelihoods. Many of these commitments to action by small island nations and their partners are aggregated and monitored on NRDC’s Cloud of Commitments website.

The world can learn from small island leadership. Out of necessity, small islands are pioneering collaborative solutions and taking decisive actions on some of the world’s most pressing problems. The international year of SIDS and Samoa conference mutually reinforce the strong leadership of small island nations and the imperative to work with all stakeholders to leave a lasting legacy of sustainability. And others might take heed of their bold leadership, for in the words of the UN Secretary-General, “planet earth is our shared island.”