An island country, island state, or island nation is a country whose primary territory consists of one or more islands or parts of islands. Approximately 25% of all independent countries are island countries. Island countries are historically more stable than many continental states but are vulnerable to conquest by naval superpowers. Indonesia is the largest and most populated island country in the world, while the United Kingdom is the most populous island country outside of Asia.
There are great variations between island country economies: they may rely mainly on extractive industries, such as mining, fishing and agriculture, and/or on services such as transit hubs, tourism, and financial services. Many islands have low-lying geographies and their economies and population centers develop along coast plains and ports; such states may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially sea level rise.
Historically, island countries have tended to be less prone to political instability than their continental counterparts. The percentage of island countries that are democratic is higher than that of continental countries.
While island countries by definition are sovereign states, there are also several islands and archipelagos around the world that operate semi-autonomously from their official sovereign states. These are often known as dependencies or overseas territories and can be similar in nature to proper island countries.
Island countries have often been the basis of maritime conquest and historical rivalry between other countries. Island countries are more susceptible to attack by large, continental countries due to their size and dependence on sea and air lines of communication. Many island countries are also vulnerable to predation by mercenaries and other foreign invaders, although their isolation also makes them a difficult target.
Many developing small island countries rely heavily on fish for their main supply of food. Some are turning to renewable energy—such as wind power, hydropower, geothermal power and biodiesel from copra oil—to defend against potential rises in oil prices.
Some island countries are more affected than other countries by climate change, which produces problems such as reduced land use, water scarcity, and sometimes even resettlement issues. Some low-lying island countries are slowly being submerged by the rising water levels of the Pacific Ocean. Climate change also impacts island countries by causing natural disasters such as tropical cyclones, hurricanes, flash floods and droughts.
The effect of climate change on small island countries can be extreme because of low-lying coasts, relatively small land masses, and exposure to extreme weather. The effects of climate change, particularly sea level rise and increasingly intense tropical cyclones, threaten the existence of many island countries, island peoples and their cultures, and will alter their ecosystems and natural environments. Several Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are among the most vulnerable nations to climate change.
Some small and low population islands are without adequate resources to protect their islands, inhabitants, and natural resources. In addition to the risks to human health, livelihoods, and inhabitable space, the pressure to leave islands is often barred by the inability to access the resources needed to relocate. The nations of the Caribbean, Pacific Islands and Maldives are already experiencing considerable impacts of climate change, making efforts to implement climate change adaptation a critical issue for them.Efforts to combat these environmental changes are ongoing and multinational. Due to their vulnerability and limited contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, some island countries have made advocacy for global cooperation on climate change mitigation a key aspect of their foreign policy. Governments face a complex task when combining gray infrastructure with green infrastructure and nature-based solutions to help with disaster risk management in areas such as flood control, early warning systems, nature-based solutions, and integrated water resource management. As of March 2022, the Asian Development Bank has committed $3.62 billion to help small island developing states with climate change, transport, energy, and health projects.
Many island countries rely heavily on imports and are greatly affected by changes in the global economy. Due to the nature of island countries their economies are often characterised by being smaller, relatively isolated from world trade and economy, more vulnerable to shipping costs, and more likely to suffer environmental damage to infrastructure; exceptions include Japan, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. The dominant industry for many island countries is tourism.
Some island countries are centred on one or two major islands, such as the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand, Cuba, Bahrain, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Iceland, Malta, and Taiwan. Others are spread out over hundreds or thousands of smaller islands, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, The Bahamas, Seychelles, and the Maldives. Some island countries share one or more of their islands with other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland; Haiti and the Dominican Republic; and Indonesia, which shares islands with Papua New Guinea, Brunei, East Timor, and Malaysia. Bahrain, Singapore, and the United Kingdom have fixed links such as bridges and tunnels to the continental landmass: Bahrain is linked to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahd Causeway, Singapore to Malaysia by the Johor–Singapore Causeway and Second Link, and the United Kingdom has a railway connection to France through the Channel Tunnel.
Geographically, the country of Australia is considered a continental landmass rather than an island, covering the largest landmass of the Australian continent. In the past, however, it was considered an island country for tourism purposes (among others) and is sometimes referred to as such.
- Archipelagic state
- Effects of climate change on island nations
- Landlocked country
- List of Caribbean island countries by population
- List of island countries
- List of islands by area
- List of islands by country
- List of sovereign states and dependent territories in Oceania
- List of sovereign states and dependent territories in the Indian Ocean
- City state
- Pacific Islands Forum
- Small Island Developing States
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