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Small Islands Big Picture episode 4: Can we find solutions to climate change-induced sea-level rise?

Written by Emily Wilkinson, Michelle Scobie, Matthew Bishop

For low-lying small islands, the problem of sea-level rise is already becoming a critical threat. Physically, the challenge requires expensive investment in sea defences. Politically, socially and legally, the global community must develop imaginative responses that respect island cultures and the right to dignified life.

This episode of "Small Islands Big Picture" Emily and Matt discuss the problem of sea-level rise, the challenges it poses to sustainable development – especially for low-lying island nations – what might be done about the issue, and the thorny practical and moral questions this raises. “Can we build our way out of sea-level rise through physical engineering, or do we need human solutions, too?” “What are some of the international legal ramifications for statehood and sovereignty when islands may literally be sinking?

Ian Fry explains why sea-level rise is such a multifaceted problem, and in the "Island Voices" section of the episode, Dr Michelle Scobie talks about the critical role of environmental governance. In “The Big Picture”, Dr Tammy Tabe and Professor Jon Barnett talk us through why conventional responses to sea-level rise – such as resettling people – often ignore the desires and adaptation plans of island communities. In "No Stupid Questions", Matt and Emily ask "How might the world better cope with climate-induced migration?".


  • Emily Wilkinson (host) | RESI Director and Senior Research Fellow at ODI
  • Matthew Bishop (host) | RESI Director and Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield
  • Dr Michelle Scobie | RESI Co-Director, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Global Environmental Governance at the University of the West Indies, and Advisor at the Commonwealth Secretariat
  • Ian Fry | UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Climate Change
  • Dr Tammy Tabe | Oceania Research Fellow at the East-West Center
  • Professor Jon Barnett | Professor and Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow at the School of Geography, Melbourne University


Listen and subscribe to Small Islands Big Picture on: Acast, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts and Spotify