Small island communities contribute less than one per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions but suffer disproportionally from climate change effects and are struggling to adapt to the crisis. Their experiences underscore a critical need for solutions that cut across sectors to help address social inequities and enable a more climate-resilient future for everyone.  

University of Waterloo researchers, in partnership with universities and key stakeholders in Mauritius, Maldives and Fiji, are co-creators of the Resilience to Climate Vulnerability and Environmental Risk (RECOVER) project. Together, they will identify each island’s exposure and risk to climate change and determine scalable strategies to address challenges that impede the availability of resources, materials and critical services, such as food, water, energy and health care. 

Simron Singh

Dr. Simron Singh
Professor, Faculty of Environment
> Waterloo Climate Institute

“Working with vulnerable communities is not a right, but a privilege,” says Dr. Simron Singh, RECOVER project lead, professor in the Faculty of Environment and member of the Waterloo Climate Institute. “Witnessing firsthand the devastation experienced by a remote island community from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, profoundly impacted me, both personally and professionally. This event steered my career towards dedicating my research to the world's most vulnerable areas threatened by climate change.” 

Through the universities of Waterloo, Maldives, Mauritius and Fiji, RECOVER will create hubs of innovation — testing grounds to localize research efforts and further deepen the ability of small island communities to adapt to climate change through nature-based solutions and withstand climate-induced shocks. 

“Project RECOVER is expected to significantly contribute to the enduring water security of Male' City, the densely populated capital island of the Maldives, where more than 40 per cent of the population resides,” says Dr. Shazla Mohamed, lead researcher at The Maldives National University. “Through detailed insights into ground water resources and co-development of adaptation solutions, we envision a reliable and climate-resilient water supply for the community.” 

“To address the loss of livelihoods, especially for those relying on coastal biodiversity, the project aims to alleviate socioeconomic and mental health pressures,” adds Dr. Shawkat Ali, professor and lead researcher at The University of Fiji. “By enhancing community engagement and building strong partnerships, we will bolster resilience and adaptation efforts, focusing on coastal and water management.” 

Using the analogy that islands function like living organisms, the RECOVER team will analyze how island economies metabolize materials, energy, water and infrastructure for societal needs and wellbeing. Problematic “island metabolism” — such as coastal squeeze, high import dependency, and centralized energy systems — magnify islands climate vulnerability. The project will seek transformative pathways on how island economies can modify their metabolic pathways to transition to a more sustainable and equitable circular resource-use model with nature-based solutions. 

The RECOVER project began in September 2023 under the UK-Canada Climate Adaption and Resilience research framework programme. The project began in Spring 2024 and was awarded $1.2 million in funding from the International Development Research Centre and the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to complete this work. 

“Ultimately, the project will design interventions to reduce infrastructure vulnerability, offer essential recovery recommendations, and support the development of sustainable water and infrastructure solutions,” Ali says. “Through capacity building and knowledge sharing, we aim to foster lasting partnerships across Fiji and Oceania, ensuring long-term sustainable development.” 

CLARE is a £110m, UK-Canada framework research programme on Climate Adaptation and Resilience, primarily funded by UK aid from the UK government (through FCDO), along with the International Development Research Centre, Canada (IDRC). CLARE aims to enable socially inclusive and sustainable action to build resilience to climate change by supporting governments, communities, and the private sector to drive long-term solutions whilst strengthening capacity of both those carrying out the research and those using the resulting evidence. For more information please visit: