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Small states

Small states are sovereign countries with a population of 1.5 million people or fewer. There are 31 small states in the Commonwealth.

As members of the Commonwealth, small states have an equal voice. It enables them to take part in international decision-making on issues that affect them, such as climate change.

With limited resources, small states face many challenges:

  • dependence on a narrow range of exports
  • high transportation costs due to insularity and remoteness
  • dependence on strategic imports such as food and fuel
  • susceptibility to natural disasters and environmental change 
  • decline in global trade and investment
  • lack of readily available information for investors and trading partners
  • limited capacity to harness growth opportunities. 

Some larger countries - Botswana, Jamaica, Lesotho, Namibia and Papua New Guinea - are classified as small states as they share similar characteristics.


Commonwealth supports The Bahamas in applying for seabed rights Image of hands pointing at maps

The Commonwealth Secretariat has assisted The Bahamas to claim over 200,000 sq km of additional continental shelf (seabed) through a submission to the United Nations in collaboration with officials in The Bahamas.

Building the resilience of small states to withstand shocks Image of a gardener working on the grounds of Solomon Islands National Parliament taking in the view of the capital. Copyright: Commonwealth Secretariat. Credit: Tom Perry.

The Commonwealth is strengthening a framework that supports small states to withstand economic shocks and natural disasters.

Protecting coastal habitats to mitigate against climate change in Vanuatu Image of young people swimming and canoeing. Copyright: Dan Lafolley

The Commonwealth has been working with the Government of Vanuatu to assess how protecting coastal habitats can work towards climate change mitigation and adaptation - the first assessment of its kind in the South Pacific region.

Developing an Eastern Caribbean ocean policy Image of Guyanese fishermen

The Commonwealth has been assisting the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Secretariat with the development and implementation of a regional ocean policy, the first of its kind in the Caribbean

Mauritius and Seychelles secure and manage joint seabed rights through continental shelf submission Image of scuba divers and fish

A number of small-island and developing member countries face serious obstacles to managing and securing the benefits that may be associated with the management of ocean space, including the development of potentially lucrative marine resources.