SAMOA: Urging sustainable action, UN officials link small islands to global issues at conference opening

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2nd from left)at the opening of the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa. UN Photo/E. Schneider

31 August 2014 – Calling small island developing nations a magnifying glass for vulnerabilities around the world, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged the international community to support sustainable development in these countries through multi-stakeholder partnerships.

“By addressing the issues facing SIDS we are developing the tools we need to promote sustainable development across the entire world,” Mr. Ban said at the opening session of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in the Samoan capital, Apia.

The conference is being held in the Pacific to demonstrate first-hand the challenges and opportunities facing countries in the “small island developing states” group. These include high costs for energy and transportation, susceptibility to natural disasters, and vulnerability to external shocks. The island nations are also prime destinations for tourism, naturally endowed with 'green energy' resources like sun and wind, and driving so-called 'blue growth' economy linked to marine and maritime sectors.

“We must assess progress and identify new challenges as well as opportunities,” he told more than 3,000 representatives of government and civil society, and business leaders.

The overall goal, particularly since the four-day conference's final document has already been hammered out, is to form genuine and durable partnerships among the various participants, with the aim of strengthening island initiatives that can help address global issues.

“Lasting progress can ultimately only be achieved within a propitious international environment that supports national efforts,” John Ashe, President of the General Assembly said in his opening remarks.

At the time of the opening, at least 287 partnerships were already registered on the official website.

“When one looks at partnerships in terms of the numbers, I would say this conference is a huge success,” Mr. Ashe said in an interview after the opening session. “Based on what we've seen so far, there is considerable interest in partnerships with SIDS.”

A common theme throughout the pre-conference events and today's opening is climate change, and efforts to stem its impacts.

In his opening address, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi urged organizers to take concrete steps to stem rising sea levels. He noted that critical problems do not recognise borders and hold no respect for sovereignty.

“The big problems of our small islands will sooner rather than later impact every country irrespective of level of development of prosperity,” said the Prime Minister.

Turning to participants of the conference, he urged them to act: “There are always great opportunities to deliver moralistic statements and declarations of intent. But grandstanding won't achieve our cause.”

This week's conference comes ahead of Mr. Ban's Climate Summit which will be held on 23 September at UN Headquarters in New York. The summit is meant to catalyze action and build momentum for a climate agreement to be discussed next year in Paris.

“SIDS will have an important role to play,” Mr. Ban said. “You can tell the largest emitters what action you expect from them. And you can show how you are working to build resilience and create the green economies of the future.”

“You can set an example for the world,” he added, noting that this year is also the International Year of Small Island Developing States.

In addition to the plenary session, six so-called 'partnership dialogues' have been organized on the themes of sustainable economic development; climate change and disaster risk management; social development in SIDS, health and non-communicable diseases, youth and women; sustainable energy; oceans, seas and biodiversity; water and sanitation, food security and waste management.

The topics are related to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which the international community is working to reach by next year's deadline, as well as the sustainable development goals that will follow post-2015.

According to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, small islands had made less progress on the MDGs than other countries, with some even regressing.

One in four Pacific islanders live below the poverty line, according to a UN Development Programme's (UNDP) 'State of Human Development in the Pacific' released Saturday.

Promotion of adequate health services and basic education, as well as prioritizing social protections in national budgets are some of its recommendations.


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