Considering the devastating effects that global warming could have on the Virgin Islands in the coming decades, leaders were right to adopt a climate change policy. Now, they must stick to it.

The United Kingdom-funded document, which was drafted after extensive public consultation, describes a very serious threat. Before the end of the century, the average global temperature is expected to rise between one and five degrees Celsius. This increase is by no means negligible: Scientists say it could bring a sea level rise between one and two metres, which could inundate some of the VI’s low-lying areas.

Many meteorologists also say that global warming is already causing a greater incidence of major hurricanes.

Paradoxically, small island nations like the VI, which contribute relatively little to global warming, likely will feel its adverse effects much more acutely than the larger nations whose CO2 emissions are largely responsible for the problem.

The new VI policy lists several local risks, many of which would threaten the tourism-dependent economy: beach shrinkage; retreating shorelines; flooding; damage to coral reefs and other aquatic resources; greater vulnerability to disasters; and loss of fisheries, to name a few.

Fortunately, by starting now, the VI can lessen the impact of such threats here. To that end, the policy makes several commitments:

• avoiding development practices that threaten shoreline stability;

• establishing a climate change trust fund;

• maintaining food security;

• promoting energy efficiency;

• enhancing critical infrastructure;

• creating a more eco-friendly tourism industry; and

• better caring for terrestrial and marine ecosystems, among many others.

The policy also includes 15 pages of specific steps toward these broader goals, most of which seem quite sound.

In the past, however, the territory has often committed to such well-meaning plans only to proceed with business as usual. Global warming is much too serious a threat to take so lightly.

Action, then, must follow this well conceived new policy.