24 September 2010
General Assembly
GA/10998
ENV/DEV/1161

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Plenary

13thMeeting (AM & PM)


Secretary-General Pledges Continuing United Nations Commitment

 

to Support Small Island Developing States

 


Leaders at High-Level Review Meeting Voice Concern

Over Lack of Help in Dealing with Ever-growing Vulnerability


The United Nations was committed to supporting small island developing States, at the international policy level and on the ground, through its agencies and technical cooperation projects, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly today.


As the Assembly held a high-level review meeting on the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, Secretary-General Ban said that, vulnerable as small island States were to climate change, some of them had already experienced loss of agricultural land and infrastructure.  Many had suffered negative impacts on their fishing and tourism industries, loss of biodiversity, saltwater intrusion, degradation of terrestrial and wetland habitats, and destruction of human settlements.


The meeting, dubbed “Mauritius + 5”, is being held today and tomorrow to review implementation of a strategy adopted in 2004, which includes 19 priority areas, among them the original themes of the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action to address the vulnerabilities particular to small island developing States.  Those vulnerabilities include small territorial and population size; isolation due to great distance from major markets; narrow resource base; limitations on economies of scale; and high exposure to global environmental threats, especially climate change.


Pointing out some progress made in the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy, the Secretary-General said that, as a whole, small island States still lacked sufficient access to financing for the dramatic changes they needed to make.  Increased financial assistance was required, as were simplified and streamlined financing mechanisms, especially during and after natural disasters.  National and regional reviews emphasized the need for small island States to mainstream climate‑change adaptation plans into their national development strategies, he said.  They also needed increased access to low-carbon technologies and technology transfer initiatives.  Improved data collection and information systems to facilitate informed decision-making were necessary as well.


Opening the meeting, General Assembly President Joseph Deiss (Switzerland) said that the most vulnerable within the United Nations family deserved particular attention.  Natural disasters disproportionately affected small island States, and a single one could wipe away decades of development.


During the opening session, Heads of States and Government from small island States, speaking on behalf of numerous regional and subregional alliances, stressed that, besides all their other vulnerabilities, islands were threatened by the negative effects of climate change, and the very existence of some of them was threatened by rising sea levels.


Tillman Thomas, Prime Minister of Grenada, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said it caused great umbrage to be told that the disappearance of islands was an issue “for the future”, because the disappearance was already happening in parts of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Maldives.  He warned that small islands would be the largest economic losers, with large displaced populations, if the average global temperature rose by 1.5° Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels.  “1.5 to stay alive”, he said, emphasizing that the tagline should be one of the most serious statements considered during the current Assembly session.


Marcus Stephen, President of Nauru, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said the major obstacle to progress was the international community’s failure to grasp the many vulnerabilities that were unique and particular to small island States.  Small island States were seeking concrete international action to create a formal small island developing States category with structural support mechanisms in the areas of trade and finance.  Adequate financial support was needed for the sustainable development of the islands, which faced major obstacles in accessing international finance, owing to eligibility criteria that did not always accommodate small-scale projects.


He added that the five-year review of the Mauritius Strategy highlighted serious shortcomings in United Nations institutional assistance to small island States, noting that the Organization had insufficient information about the work of several of its own organs and that of World Bank agencies.  The extent to which their work was guided by the Barbados Programme of Action or the Mauritius Strategy was not clear, he added.


Edward Natapei, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said small islands’ vulnerabilities had been compounded by the recent fuel, food and financial crises, and would continue to worsen with the impact of climate change.  Their dependence on fossil fuel had crippling effects on all aspects of development, imports and exports, industry and lifestyles.  Due to the isolation of the Pacific islands, transport needs were twice as high as those of the Caribbean region.  There was also a need for effective monitoring of illegal fishing and for implementation of sustainable management regimes for globally important fish stocks, he said, adding that development assistance was fragmented, unpredictable and difficult to access.


Kenneth Baugh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that States such as Jamaica had been categorized as middle-income countries, which deprived them of access to sources of concessionary finances and development financing.  Such States were also without access to international debt relief initiatives, he pointed out, calling for international recognition of the underlying debt problem of highly indebted small island States, and for concessionary loans and grants, and debt-for-equity swaps.


What was needed, according to Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, was for the international community to take the special vulnerabilities of small island States into account in practical ways.  They needed a way forward on trade and must be enabled to deliver their goods and services to larger markets.  Special debt-relief packages were needed, as small island States were among the most highly indebted countries in the world, he said.  They needed access to concessionary financing and solutions to their challenges in accessing export finance and the money market.  They also needed a stronger voice in the negotiation and implementation of international agreements.  Furthermore, small island States needed access to climate-change funding as rising sea levels posed an imminent threat of, quite literally, existential urgency to some of them.


Also speaking during this morning’s opening session were Heinz Fischer, Federal President of Austria; Danny Faure, Vice-President of the Seychelles (on behalf of islands in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well as the Mediterranean and South china Seas); and Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan.


The meeting also heard interventions by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Canada; the Minister for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy; the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico; and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union.


Other speakers were the representatives of Yemen (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China) and the United States.


A multistakeholder round table this afternoon on “Reducing vulnerabilities and strengthening resilience of small island developing States” heard introductory remarks by Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.  Co‑chairing the round table were Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Kevin Rudd, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia.


The High-level Review Meeting of the Mauritius Strategy will continue at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday 25 September.


Background


The General Assembly met this morning for a high-level review of the Mauritius Strategy for implementing the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.


Delegates had before them a report of the Secretary-General titled “Five-year review of the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (document A/65/115), as well as a draft resolution on the high-level review meeting’s outcome document (document A/65/L.2).


The report is a compilation of activities carried out at the national and regional levels in preparation for the review, plus the outcome statements from three regional review events held in 2010: a February meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and two meetings held in Male, Maldives, and St. George’s, Grenada, respectively, in March.  An interregional meeting held in New York during the eighteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development was followed by the observance of Small Island Developing States Day on 10 May.


After the introduction, section two of the report summarizes the overall progress that island States made in pursuit of macroeconomic development and the Millennium Development Goals, as well as vulnerability trends.  The third section provides a more in-depth account of the progress made and of lessons learned, while noting the continuing challenges of implementing the Mauritius Strategy in relation to each theme and means of implementation.  The fourth section presents conclusions and issues for consideration.


According to the report, small island developing States remain highly vulnerable to external shocks.  Many hard-earned gains appear threatened by the adverse impact of climate change and natural disasters, as well as by the recent global food, fuel and financial crises.  Issues to be considered include the strengthening of national development planning to focus on building resilience to external shocks; profiling vulnerability resilience to better monitor progress; focusing on key thematic areas; supporting partnership initiatives; strengthening access to financial resources; and institutionalizing special support for small island States, perhaps through an international review of the effectiveness of existing support systems and processes.


Special support could also take the form of measures to address vulnerabilities by creating a designated category for small island States similar to the list of least developed countries, the report states.  That step would require identification and definition of the group on the basis of objective criteria rather than the current system of self-selection.  Graduation criteria would need to be established and support measures defined.


According to the report, equity issues would also need to be considered and their implications explored, because while the majority of the most vulnerable world economies are those of small island States, there are other countries with highly vulnerable economies.  In addition, instituting support mechanisms would entail recognizing the greater vulnerability levels of small island States not only at the poorest level, but also at certain middle-income levels.  The report suggests of that a technical study could explore options in that regard.


Opening Remarks


JOSEPH DEISS, President of the General Assembly, said that, within the United Nations family, the most vulnerable deserved particular attention.  The fifth review of the Mauritius Strategy indicated that the economies of small island developing States were highly dependent on fisheries and tourism.  Their geographical distance from resources and their small size hampered their development, and they were exposed to global environmental crises.


Natural disasters disproportionately affected small island States, and a single one could wipe away decades of development, he said, adding that the rising sea level was a threat to atolls.  Nobody could remain indifferent to the plight of small islands.  Over the next two days, the progress on implementation of the Mauritius Strategy and the difficulties encountered should be reviewed, he said, expressing hope that the discussions would lead to greater political will on the part of the international community to reduce the vulnerabilities of small island developing States and to the establishment of partnership.


BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, noted that the Mauritius Strategy addressed 19 priority areas, including the original themes of the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action.  The international community had long recognized the unique and particular vulnerabilities of small island States, which arose from intrinsic characteristics — small size, isolation, narrow resource base, limitations on economies of scale and high exposure to global environmental threats.  Especially vulnerable to climate change, some small islands had already experienced loss of agricultural land and infrastructure.  They had suffered negative impacts on their fishing and tourism industries, loss of biodiversity, saltwater intrusion, degradation of terrestrial and wetland habitats, and destruction of human settlements.


Pointing out that some progress had been made, he said national plans and polices now reflected key principles of sustainable development.  A strengthening of regional institutional frameworks had been noted, and commodity exporters in some small islands had seen trade opportunities grow.  However, the export growth of resource-poor islands remained well below the world average.  As a whole, small island developing States still lacked sufficient access to financing for the dramatic changes they needed to make.  Increased financial assistance was required, as were simplified and streamlined financing mechanisms, especially during and after natural disasters.


He said national and regional review emphasized the need for small island States to mainstream climate change adaptation plans into national development strategies.  They also needed increased access to low-carbon technologies and technology transfer initiatives.  Also required were improved data collection and information systems to facilitate informed decision-making.  The United Nations was committed to supporting small island States at the international policy level and on the ground through its agencies and technical cooperation projects.


Statements


MARCUS STEPHEN, President of Nauru, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said that, despite some meaningful achievements, progress towards sustainable development had regrettably been considerably below expectations.  The vast majority of Pacific small island developing States were not on track to reduce basic-needs poverty.  “Our vision from Barbados has not been realized,” he said.  The major obstacle to progress was the international community’s failure to grasp the many vulnerabilities that were unique and particular to small island States.  They included isolation from major markets, small populations, vulnerability to natural disasters, fragile freshwater supplies and extreme vulnerability to climate change and rising sea levels.


He said small island States were seeking concrete international action to create a formal small island developing States category with structural support mechanisms in the areas of trade and finance.  Adequate financial support was needed for the sustainable development of the islands, which faced major obstacles in accessing international finance owing to eligibility criteria that did not always accommodate small-scale projects.  The review highlighted serious shortcoming in United Nations institutional assistance to small island States, he said, noting that the Organization had insufficient information about the work of several of its own organs, as well as agencies of the World Bank.  The extent to which their work was guided by the Barbados Programme of Action or the Mauritius Strategy was not clear.


He went on to point out that Pacific islands were highly dependent on marine resources, which were being depleted by actions beyond their control.  Calling for efforts to eliminate global overfishing and destructive fishing practices, he said foreign investment in small fishing industries were needed to enable small island States to enjoy a more equitable share of the economic benefits from their valuable fish stocks.  Climate change must also be addressed, and all United Nations organs, including the Security Council, must respond actively to the climate crisis.  As the primary organ entrusted with preserving international peace and security, the Council must have a role in responding to the crisis, he said, extending an invitation for the Secretary-General to visit the Pacific and see first hand the realities of life there, and why a formal category, as well as an ambitious climate change agreement, were needed for the survival of small island States.


TILLMAN THOMAS, Prime Minister of Grenada, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said climate change was “public enemy number one” for that group.  It had been formed to provide a vehicle for the survival of its members, who had seen early on that they could disappear into the ocean unless a binding agreement to stem global warming was reached.  It caused great umbrage to be told that the disappearance of the islands was an issue “for the future”, because the disappearance was already happening in parts of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Maldives.


He said small islands would be the largest economic losers, with large displaced populations, if the average global temperature rose by 1.5° C beyond pre-industrial levels, which corresponded to a greenhouse gas concentration beyond 350 parts per million.  That was considered the threshold for the continued survival of ecosystems essential to livelihoods in small island States.  The long-term temperature target and a specific time in which it must be achieved should continue to be debated and a report prepared, he stressed, noting that, of the 192 United Nations Member States, 106 supported the call to keep the temperature increase below 1.5° C.  Of the remaining countries, 41 were undecided.  The draft resolution to be adopted by the meeting must include the recognition that small island developing States needed “1.5 to stay alive”, he emphasized, adding that the tagline should be one of the most serious statements considered during the current Assembly session.


Small island States had not been able to tap the great resources provided by the world’s oceans, he said, noting that a growing number of them were partnering to develop a necessary and new sustainable energy initiative.  Such an institutional mechanism programme had been forged in the “disappointing and cold reality” of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, and it was to be hoped that partners would contribute to it.  Another disappointment of Copenhagen had been the decision to deny consideration of a special category for small island States, despite the encouraging support voiced by partners with regard to the special vulnerabilities they faced.  The ultimate operational entity overseeing sustainable developing in small island States was vague and hard to identify, he concluded.  Yet their sustainable development was critical to their survival and the balance of national, regional and global environments.


EDWARD NATAPEI, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said that, during their recent meeting in his country, Forum leaders had adopted the Port Vila Declaration on Accelerating the Progress of the Millennium Development Goals, which highlighted the importance of mainstreaming the programme of support for the sustainable development of small island developing States, as captured in the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy.  The review for Pacific small island developing States had concluded that their vulnerability — underscored by the effects of the global economic crisis, climate change and natural disasters — was increasing while their ability to cope was not.


That vulnerability had been compounded by the recent fuel, food and financial crises, and would continue to worsen with the impact of climate change, he continued, describing the phenomenon as the most urgent challenge since it threatened all aspects of the islands’ existence, as well as their pursuit of development, security and survival.  Dependence on fossil fuel had crippling effects on all aspects of development, imports and exports, industry and lifestyles.  Due to the islands’ isolation, transport needs were twice as high as those of the Caribbean region.


There was also a need for effective monitoring of illegal fishing and for implementation of sustainable management regimes for globally important fish stocks, he said.  Development assistance was fragmented, unpredictable and difficult to access.  Forum leaders had adopted the Cairns Compact, with the aim of improving the coordination of internal and external resources aimed at achieving national and regional development outcomes.  There was also a need to address the resulting imbalances in external trade through aid-for-trade, and conditions based on the principle of special and differential treatment.


He called on the United Nations to work more collaboratively with Pacific regional organizations, including the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific, for the further implementation of the Mauritius Strategy.  He also encouraged the world body to strengthen the coordination and alignment of its support with the efforts of other intergovernmental agencies and partners in implementing the Strategy and the Pacific Plan.  He asked international partners to recognize that while small island developing States shared many common challenges and inherent constraints, they also had their individual peculiarities and thus must be supported from the ground up.


ABDULLAH M. ALSAIDI (Yemen), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said he remained concerned that despite the acknowledged unique and particular vulnerabilities of small island developing States, insufficient steps had been taken at the international level to address those vulnerabilities and support the sustainable development of the islands.  Promises and commitments remained largely unfulfilled, and the Group of 77 was also concerned about the state of implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy.


He said that despite the progress made by small island States at the national and regional levels in building the institutional capacity for sustainable development and in carrying out policy reforms, they continued to encounter many serious problems and constraints, which had slowed down or impeded the process of implementation.  Several small islands were not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and some had even regressed, he said, noting that the impact of the multiple global crises continued to threaten progress.


Small islands remained particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and their resource constraints were exacerbated by growing population pressures, climate change and rising sea levels, he said, noting that some were threatened in their very survival.  Critically needed infrastructure projects, such as air and maritime transport, adaptation to climate change and sea-level rise, waste management, energy and tourism infrastructure required large investments beyond the resources of most small island States.


The negative impact of the global financial and economic crisis had been particularly devastating to small island States, given their openness to the global financial and economic systems and their high dependence on a narrow range of income-generating sectors, such as tourism.


He urged all development partners, developed countries in particular, to honour and urgently scale up all commitments relating to small island developing States, especially those related to the provision of new and additional financial resources, technology transfer and capacity-building.  He also urged the international community and the United Nations system to support efforts by small island States for sustainable development through the full and effective implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy.


HEINZ FISCHER, Federal President of Austria, said climate change was the greatest challenge for the sustainable development of small island States, and in the case of low-lying ones, their very survival.  While not responsible for climate change, they were among the first to face its adverse effects, including environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, decreasing freshwater availability and rising sea levels.


Austria would continue to combat climate change by working towards an ambitious, comprehensive and legally binding treaty on the matter as soon as possible, he pledged.  Climate protection was closely linked to other areas of development cooperation, he said, pointing out that Austrian development cooperation treated climate change as a cross-cutting issue integrated into programmes and projects in various sectors.  The energy sector was also closely linked to climate change and efforts to achieve the Millennium Goals.


He said his country was a strong supporter of the Secretary-General’s global campaign to ensure universal access to energy by 2030, and of United Nations efforts in the energy sector, both through staff secondment and through advocacy.  Austria also supported the Global Energy Assessment initiative established by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.  The country’s work with small island States included a Pacific partnership initiated with Italy and the City of Milan.  Through that partnership, concrete renewable energy projects were delivered on the basis of national priorities.  Started in 2007, the programme had been renewed for another three years, he said.


DANNY FAURE, Vice-President of the Seychelles, speaking on behalf of AIMS (which groups island States in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean and South China Seas), said the inherent vulnerabilities and priority concerns of AIMS and other small island States must be factored into the multilateral development agenda and work programmes.  There was also a need for the islands’ special circumstances to be considered in international governance review processes, including in the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  He also called for a review of the United Nations system’s support for small island States, and for the integration of their issues into the work programmes of all agencies of the Organization.


He pointed out that the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita criteria governing international aid delivery disqualified most small island States from accessing concessionary financing.  That was misleading and failed to reflect the multifaceted challenges associated with the economic, social and environmental vulnerabilities of island States.  Funding for climate change adaptation remained a challenge, and AIMS intended to establish a regional implementation programme on climate change and development to focus on the creation of an AIMS regional centre of excellence and on the implementation of low-carbon development programmes at the national and local levels.


Emphasizing that the mantra “1.5 to Stay Alive” meant exactly that, he called for the global temperature increase to be kept well below 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels, and for greenhouse gas concentrations to be kept well below 350 parts per million of the carbon dioxide equivalent.  The lack of a regional organization for AIMS was a special challenge because the interests of its members could not be defended and promoted collectively.  There was therefore a need for an intraregional mechanism to support those countries’ national pursuit of sustainable development and to facilitate the development of regional programmes, initiatives and partnerships, he said.


NAOTO KAN, Prime Minister of Japan, said the vulnerabilities of small island States must be urgently addressed, noting that many of them were located in disaster-prone areas where they were wracked by a multitude of natural calamities.  The January earthquake in Haiti was an example, he said, adding that his country had sent disaster relief teams to the stricken island nation immediately after the disaster, including 330 engineers to help the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  They were still in Haiti, engaged in reconstruction, debris removal and road repair.  Japan would soon provide $100 million in reconstruction assistance.


Haiti also provided an example of damage beyond the huge number of human lives lost, he said.  The basic infrastructure had collapsed, as had the results of development efforts.  It was essential to adopt risk reduction measures in order to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters, he said, urging small island States to foster a culture of safety and resilience, at both the national and community levels, based on the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action.  Japan’s support for small island States would focus on institution-building, human-resource development and infrastructure improvement, he said.


Island States were particularly vulnerable to climate change, he said.  Providing them with assistance must become the highest priority in the international community’s consideration of climate change.  Japan had pledged $15 billion in public and private funds over the three-year period through the end of 2012 as a fast-start for financing to help vulnerable countries and those adopting mitigation measures.  Of the pledged amount, $5.3 billion had already been implemented.  Global warming must be stopped, he stressed, pledging that his country would cooperate with small island States to ensure the success of the climate meeting to be held in Mexico later in the year.


He said his country engaged in dialogue with small island States to ensure that the assistance provided was in accord with the needs and priorities of their peoples, he said.  Japan had hosted the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting five times since 1997, and would host an interim ministerial meeting in preparation for the next Leaders Meeting, in 2012.  On 2 September, Japan and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) States had agreed to further enhance their partnership, he said, adding that the concept of human security was at the heart of that cooperation and dialogue.  Itself an archipelago comprising four islands and 6,800 islets, Japan vigorously promoted human security and urged all countries to adopt policies that put that concept into practice.


PETER KENT, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Canada, said small island developing States had demonstrated their commitment to promoting sustainable economic and development principles and had made progress in the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy.  As examples of its commitment to helping them in those efforts, Canada had provided $100 million to the World Bank pilot programme on climate resilience and $600 million in development assistance over 10 years for the CARICOM region.  Aid to Haiti was a particular priority, for which Canada had provided more than $500,000, he said.


National, bilateral and regional efforts must be complemented by effective international support, he said, pointing out that the United Nations was uniquely placed to address the concerns and vulnerabilities of small island States.  In addition, all development actors, including international financial institutions, regional development banks, the private sector and civil society, must work together.  The private sector could play a particularly important role by encouraging entrepreneurship and connecting markets in order to alleviate debt, create employment and facilitate economic integration.  In that regard, Canada had committed $20 million to the Partnership for CARICOM Private Sector Development, he said.


STEFANIA PRESTIGIACOMO, Minister for Environment, Land and Sea of Italy, said her country was aware of the “indisputable injustice” of the fact that island States had contributed the least to climate change, yet were the most affected by its negative consequences.  Italy had concentrated its commitment to the small island States’ sustainable development efforts in the area of climate change and related sectors.


She said her country supported a number of key initiatives, including the establishment of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, which had become a leading enabling regional institution that had laid the groundwork for a strategic regional approach.  Rising sea levels, together with the associated coastal erosion and salt water intrusion, the increasing frequency and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes, and the disruptions in rainfall and freshwater supplies, threatened the very existence of the CARICOM countries.


While the international community was still debating a global agreement that would ensure equitable participation by all in addressing climate change mitigation, she said, Italy had started to support a programme in the Pacific region that stood out as a pragmatic attempt to address the urgent need for adaptation measures and to seek practical solutions.  That programme on climate change and renewable energy had become a successful model for international cooperation.  After only three years, that success was basically due to the strict application of the ownership principle, by which development strategy remained in the hands of the host Government, she said.


JUAN MANUEL GÓMEZ-ROBLEDO, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said his country would host the sixteenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the sixth Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, from 29 November to 10 December.  The event would offer a unique opportunity to achieve substantial progress in the fight against climate change, he said, stressing: “We cannot afford to lose it.”  While there were encouraging signals of advances in key areas such as adaptation, financing and technology transfer, there were also pending issues to resolve on sensitive matters such as mitigation and monitoring, reporting and verification.


Emphasizing that a solution must be reached, he called for the adoption of an ambitious, comprehensive and balanced package that would both lead to efficient actions and serve as a framework for better implementation of the existing climate change regime.  The worst-case scenario was failure to reach agreement, he said, pointing out that small island States would be first to benefit if agreement was reached.  Negotiators needed the guidance of national leaders, who could not afford to wait, because the scientific evidence was clear.  As time went by, opportunities to achieve set goals occurred less frequently and the costs of taking steps became greater.  Vulnerability implied substantive damage to infrastructure, loss of human life and a backward step on the developmental pathway, he said, adding that it made economic sense to act without delay.  The only missing piece to agreement was political will.


KAMALESH SHARMA, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, said that since 26 of the association’s 54 member States were small island developing States, it had pioneered the very science of the small State.  The Commonwealth had worked with member States and partners such as the World Bank, with which it had produced two ground-breaking reports, in 2000 and 2005, on the inherent vulnerabilities and strengths of small States, particularly remote islands.  Over the last five years, it had provided some £60 million in assistance for small island developing States.


Citing three examples of the “transformative power” of Commonwealth assistance, he said the organization had helped Mauritius transform itself from a mono-crop sugar economy into a seafood hub, an exporter of upmarket garments and a centre for financial services, distance education and tourism.  It had also helped Barbados to upgrade its trade facilitation systems to international standards and to bring local producers, entrepreneurs and communities into its national tourism strategy.  It had helped 14 member States to claim, at the United Nations, 2 million additional square kilometres of seabed.


He said the policies and programmes of the international financial institutions and the international community needed to take the special vulnerabilities of small island developing States into account in practical ways.  Island States needed a way forward on trade and must be enabled to bring their goods and services to larger markets.  Special debt relief packages were also needed, as small island States were among the most highly indebted countries in the world.  They needed access to concessionary financing and solutions to their challenges in accessing export finance and the money market.  They also needed a stronger voice in the negotiation and implementation of international agreements.  Furthermore, small island States needed access to climate-change funding as rising sea levels posed an imminent threat of, quite literally, existential urgency to some of them.


KENNETH BAUGH, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, also speaking on behalf of CARICOM, said there was a symbiotic relationship between the Millennium Development Goals and the Barbados Programme of Action.  Unless the challenges facing small island States were addressed within the holistic rubric of attaining the Millennium Goals, most of them would miss the targets.  The capacity constraints of small islands had been exacerbated by the successive waves of global crises.


Inherently vulnerable to external shocks such as the food, energy, financial and environmental crises of the recent years, small island States were highly motivated to help themselves, but action on several fronts was required to empower them in bridging existing gaps and increasing their social and economic resilience.  Because financial resources and investments were critical, CARICOM urged development partners to fulfil previously made commitments in addition to the resources earmarked for small island States.


He said it should be recognized that States such as Jamaica had been categorized as middle-income countries, which deprived them of access to sources of concessionary finances and development financing.  Such States were also without access to international debt relief initiatives, he pointed out, calling for international recognition of the underlying debt problem of highly indebted small island States, and for concessionary loans and grants, and debt-for-equity swaps.


Regarding expansion of and access to export markets, he urged development partners to scale up their aid-for-trade initiatives and called for the conclusion of the Doha Round of trade negotiations with a continued focus on the development dimension.  Climate change was a major challenge to the sustainable development of small island States, he said, adding that the necessary adaptation and mitigation measures required adequate financing, capacity-building and technology transfer, including the development of renewable energy sources and green technologies.  Urging a review of the United Nations system’s delivery to small island States, he called for adequate financing and staffing of the Small Island Developing States Unit in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Adequate financing was also needed for the Regional Coordinating Mechanism of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) subregional headquarters in Port-of-Spain.


CATHERINE ASHTON, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union, said the bloc remained committed to supporting the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy priorities.  Not being a homogenous group, small island States still faced significant and diverse challenges, and the European Union had its long-standing cooperation in place to help them address those challenges.  The European Union’s Global Climate Change Alliance had identified small island developing States and least developed countries as the priority beneficiary groups for cooperation on climate change, she said.  Climate change threatened the very existence of some islands and posed additional development challenges with potentially significant security implications, she said.


The European Union’s ultimate goal in the climate negotiations was an ambitious, comprehensive and legally binding global framework, she said, pointing out that, since Copenhagen, it had inscribed its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent into law.  It was willing to increase that target to 30 per cent only if all developed countries and advanced developing countries carried out their fair share of emission-reduction efforts, and if the weaknesses currently undermining the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol were addressed.  The Copenhagen Accord was supported by almost 140 countries, accounting for more than 80 per cent of global emissions.  “Copenhagen is our compass and it provides also the basis for significant short-term and long-term financing of climate action,” she said.


FREDERICK BARTON (United States) said his country sought to help small island States build resilience against both extreme natural events and unknown future challenges.  To that end, the United States was working closely with partners in the Caribbean and the Pacific to support the collection of data through the use of sensors and satellites, weather balloons and water samples, among other methods.  The United States and its partners were using that data to conduct the necessary research to improve the collective understanding of Earth systems and to better predict normal as well as extreme events.  Annually, it contributed more than $300 million to development partners for biodiversity conservation, since small island States were especially vulnerable to the impact of invasive alien species on biodiversity, ecosystems, agriculture, trade and human health.


He said the future lay in making the transition to a green economy, and the United States was pursuing multiple paths towards that goal.  It would continue to support the efforts of small island developing States to green their economies, and was firmly committed to working with them to put in place a robust, comprehensive and sustainable climate change regime that would deliver significant mitigation actions by all major economies, ensure that those actions were carried out in a transparent manner, and provide a framework of support for the efforts of developing countries to mitigate and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.  The United States would commit $100 million in fiscal year 2010 to help vulnerable small island States adapt and build resilience to the impact of climate change, he said.


Round Table


Co-chairing the afternoon’s round table on “Reducing vulnerabilities and strengthening resilience of small island developing States” were Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Kevin Rudd, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia.


Mr. GONSALVES described small island States as a barometer of the health of the global architecture, pointing out that the essence of their vulnerability was that no other group of States was so heavily dependent for sustainable development on the conduct of others.  Their development and survival was not a discrete regional issue; it was inextricably intertwined and mutually dependent on global development and international responsibility.  “As goes the world, so go small island developing States, and vice versa,” he said.


Mr. RUDD noted that the time had come for the special vulnerability of small island developing States to be fully recognized.  The vulnerabilities should be addressed by the international community so as to build national and regional resilience.  Nevertheless, capacity and resilience should be built solely on the views of those living in the vulnerable areas so as to address specifically each of the unique condition of the vulnerability.


Other high-ranking participants, including ministers, other State officials and representatives of civil society and the private sector expressed views indicating that global climate change was the greatest culprit with regard to the increased vulnerability of small island States.  They stressed the need to build climate resiliency and noted that, while small islands were the most vulnerable, they were also the most active in pushing for an aggressive approach to climate change.  Many speakers said it was important to recognize similar vulnerabilities while remaining sensitive to unique conditions.


In closing remarks, Mr. GONSALVES said it was clear that the efforts of small island States to reduce their vulnerability and strengthen their resilience needed the support of developed countries with the resources to help.  Only one thing remained to be done and that was to “get on with it”.  Mr. RUDD agreed, saying assistance should be provided in a developmentally sustainable manner and in accordance with the specific needs of the States concerned.


The Prime Minister of Vanuatu participated in the round table in his capacity as Chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum.


Other high-ranking taking part included the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia; the Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of the Solomon Islands; the Minister of State for International Development of the United Kingdom; the Premier of the Cayman Islands; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand; the Minister for Housing and the Environment of Trinidad and Tobago; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Marshall Islands; the Minister for Environment, Water Resources and Drainage of Barbados; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey; and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala.


Others were the Secretary of State for Development Cooperation of Germany; the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas; the Vice-Minister for Environment of Indonesia; the Ambassador for Climate Change in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea; the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs of the United States; the Director of Global Public Goods in the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of France; the State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway; the Director of Environmental and Special Themes in the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil; and the Director of International Cooperation in the Ministry of the Environment of Venezuela.


Additional participating Government officials included the Director-General of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency in the Federal Ministry of Environment of Nigeria; the State Secretary for Political Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Croatia; and the Assistant Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Finance of Samoa.


Also participating were representative Chile (on behalf of the Rio Group), Grenada (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States), Australia, Suriname, China and Switzerland.


Participating without speaking was the Small Island Developing State Coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  A representative of the Mauritius Council of Social Service also participated, as did a representative of the Nature Conservancy.


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For information media • not an official record