Small islands developing states (SIDS) contribute minuscule proportions to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy consumption, but are highly exposed to climate change impacts, in particular to extreme weather events and sea-level rise. However, there is little research on potential decarbonization trajectories unique to SIDS. Here, we argue that insular topology, scale, and economy are distinctive characteristics of SIDS that facilitate overcoming carbon lock-in. We investigate these dimensions for the three islands of Barbados, Fiji, and Mauritius. We find that insular topologies and small scale offer an opportunity for both public transit corridors and rapid electrification of car fleets. The tourism sector enables local decision-makers and investors to experiment with shared mobility and to induce spillover effects by educating tourists about new mobility options. Limited network effects, and the particular economy thus enables to overcome carbon lock-in. We call for targeted investments into SIDS to transition insular mobility systems towards zero carbon in 2040. The decarbonization of SIDS is not only needed as a mitigation effort, but also as a strong signal to the global community underlining that a zero-carbon future is possible.
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