Climate Change Greatest Threat to Small Island States, Delegate Tells Second Committee, Urging Critical International Support for Survival

1 November 2013
GA/EF/3381

Climate Change Greatest Threat to Small Island States, Delegate Tells Second Committee, Urging Critical International Support for Survival

1 November 2013
General Assembly
GA/EF/3381
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Second Committee

Panel Discussion (AM)

Climate Change Greatest Threat to Small Island States, Delegate Tells

 

Second Committee, Urging Critical International Support for Survival

 

Climate change was the greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of her region and it was time to act, the representative of Kiribati told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) today.

“For us, it is a critical issue for the survival of our people”, Makurita Baaro said during a panel discussion on “Strengthening the resilience of small island developing States within the context of sustainable development”.

Sea levels were rising, coastlines were being eroded, and extreme weather events were growing more common, she pointed out.  For its part, Kiribati had mainstreamed climate change and its responses into its national development framework, having embarked on a mangrove planting programme to alleviate coastline erosion.  Seawalls also were being built to protect roads.  But the country could only do so much, and it could not do it alone.  The United Nations must heed what was happening in the small island developing States, as most of the world’s large cities were on coastal low-lying areas and they too would face such challenges.

Osman Mahomed, Executive Chair of the Commission on Maurice Ile Durable, said the scheme aimed to transform the country into a model for sustainable development among small island developing States.  To that end, some 207 initiatives had been launched, many paid for through a fund that channelled proceeds from polluting industries towards sustainable development projects.  More than 40 Cabinet decisions related to Maurice Ile Durable had been taken, one of which would increase the contribution of renewable energy to total electricity generation from 17 per cent to 23.4 per cent in 2014.

Delivering a keynote address, Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, said that the future sustainable development goals had to reflect the aspirations of small island developing States and inspire global action and partnerships in their support.  While many of those States had achieved remarkable progress in implementing the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy, they continued to suffer from particular vulnerabilities.

Peter Allum, Assistant Director for the Strategy, Policy and Review Department for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), warned against speaking about small island developing States as a homogenous entity.  In recent years, Caribbean countries had experienced significant economic slowdown, while economic growth in the Pacific for small island developing States had remained steady since the 1990s.  Pacific countries received more aid than those in the Caribbean.  They also had a moderate level of debt, while Caribbean debt amounted to three times that of Pacific debt.  Technical assistance, policy design, implementation, international support, adequate financing and public safety nets were essential.

Presenting an academic perspective, José Regidor García, Rector for the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a Member of the Board of Trustees at the University Consortium of Small Island States, said it was time to act through the development of education programmes.  Universities were incorporating into their curriculum subjects pertinent to small island developing States.  He remained optimistic that more universities would do the same.

In an ensuing discussion, several delegates underlined the need for action in helping small island developing States overcome the threats posed by climate change.  The promotion of sustainable development was a collective responsibility, they said, with some asking what more the United Nations or the IMF could do.

Jamaica’s delegate said Caribbean nations faced high public debt in part because of dwindling official development assistance (ODA).  Jamaica’s ratio was 145 per cent.  The country did not have the fiscal space to meet its acute development financing needs.

Nauru’s representative said healthy oceans and seas were critical for delivering on the post-2015 sustainable development goals.  Papua New Guinea’s delegate advocated for a stand-alone “oceans and seas” objective in the post-2015 agenda.

The Second Committee will meet again on Monday, 4 November, to consider sustainable development.

Panel Discussion

The Second Committee met this morning for a panel discussion on “Strengthening the resilience of small island developing States within the context of sustainable development”, chaired by Abdou Salam Diallo ( Senegal) and moderated by Janine Coye-Felson, Special Advisor, Legal Matters in the Office of the President of the General Assembly.  The event featured a keynote address by Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Secretary General of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, and the following panellists: Osman Mahomed, Executive Chair, Commission on Maurice Ile Durable, Mauritius; Makurita Baaro, Permanent Representative of Kiribati to the United Nations; Peter Allum, Assistant Director, Strategy, Policy and Review Department, International Monetary Fund; and, José Regidor García, Rector, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and Member of the Board of Trustees, University Consortium of Small Island States.

Mr. DIALLO said that the situation of the small island developing States, specifically their vulnerability and potential for resilience was clearly recognized by the international community and was reaffirmed in the outcome of the Rio+20 Conference.  However, in addition to discussing resilience, it was important to recommend action as well as provide further stimuli to the thinking towards action oriented strategies for strengthening and building resilience in small island developing States.  Their situation should be considered as a precursor to development within the entire international community, he said, emphasizing the need for greater partnerships in the consideration of the agenda item on the further implementation of the Mauritius Strategy.

Mr. WU said that during the past few months, in the course of national, regional, and interregional preparations for the Small Island Developing States Conference in Samoa, he had heard the concerns and aspirations of those Member States.  While many of them had achieved remarkable progress in implementing the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy, through their own efforts and through international partnerships, they continued to suffer from particular vulnerabilities.  Many small island developing States faced uncertain prospects in achieving a sustainable future.

Strengthening their resilience was of paramount importance, he stressed.  Small island developing States wanted to rise above the constraints that had hindered their development prospects.  They were ready to utilize the momentum of the post-2015 development agenda.  Future sustainable development goals had to reflect the aspirations of small island developing States and further inspire global action and genuine partnership in their support.  The journey to Samoa must include the deliberations of the international community on the blueprint for further sustainable development options for small island developing States.

Beginning the discussion, Ms. COYE-FELSON said small island developing States would only achieve sustainable development objectives through concrete actions at national and international levels.  Those actions must match the magnitude of the challenges ahead.  While past actions had focused on treating the economic, social and environmental aspects of the needs of those States, today, the focus was on building resilience.

Mr. MAHOMED described the Maurice Ile Durable initiative, launched in 2008, which sought to transform Mauritius’ economic, social and environmental landscape.  A consultative process, held in 2011, had led to the Government’s approval in June 2013 of a strategy and action plan, in which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), L’Agence Française de Développement and the European Union were involved.  It aimed to transform the country into model for sustainable development among small island developing States.  With that in mind, some 207 initiatives had been launched, many of which were paid for through a fund that channelled proceeds from polluting industries towards sustainable development projects.  Citing one, he said a sustainability index had been launched to recognize companies with exemplary environmental, social and governance track records.

He went on to say that more than 40 Cabinet decisions related to Maurice Ile Durable had been taken, one of which would increase the contribution of renewable energy to total electricity generation from 17 per cent to 23.4 per cent in 2014.  Much of the $200 million needed for the action plan would come from the private sector and be cross-subsidized by the Government.  Describing five main areas, he said energy targets were on track, with goals to reduce consumption by 2020.  As for environmental targets, Mauritius had met most of the Millennium Development Goals.  In the area of employment, Mauritius aimed to increase the number of green jobs, while in the area of education, the goal was to become an internationally recognized sustainable development hub by 2020.  As for equity, the goal was to improve the country’s position on the world poverty index.

Next, Ms. BAARO said the real question for small island developing States, as well as for regional and international organizations, was how to address those countries’ unique vulnerabilities.  “It is time for action”, she stressed, underlining that climate change was the greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of her region.  “For us, it is a critical issue for the survival of our people”.  She urgently called on development partners to assist in dealing with its impacts.  Noting that much of the funding for adaptation had been used for research, she said that, at any point in time, there would be 20 climate change experts or consultants working in Kiribati from international or regional institutions.  While she welcomed such interest, Kiribati was just as vulnerable today — if not more so — than in 1999.

“We have to be the most studied, most researched and most media covered nation relating to climate change,” she said.  All of them told the same story: that sea levels were rising, coastlines were being eroded, and extreme weather events were growing more common.  For its part, Kiribati had mainstreamed climate change and its responses into its national development framework, having embarked on a mangrove planting programme to alleviate coastline erosion.  Seawalls also were being built to protect roads.  But the country could only do so much, she said, and it could not do it alone.  “We are the early warning system”, she said, urging the United Nations to heed what was happening in the small island developing States, as most of the world’s large cities were on coastal low-lying areas and they too would face such challenges.  She called for genuine, durable partnerships that were people-centred and based on mutual respect.

Mr. ALLUM pointed to three International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that examined the macroeconomic performance of small States in the Caribbean and the Pacific.  For small States, whose results also applied to small island developing States, the pace of growth had dropped particularly in the Caribbean.  That adversely affected human development and living standards there.  Sluggish growth was also combined with microeconomic volatility.  Small States were disproportionately vulnerable to natural disasters due to their limited economic production and geographical size, and were less successful at building fiscal and weather buffers, making them more likely to be tipped into economic shock.  Small States had been growing much slower than their larger peers, with their position worse now compared to a decade or so ago.  One possibility for that was that the global economic crisis had been less favourable to small States.  Plus, larger countries were better placed in trade markets and had undertaken massive macroeconomic transformations in the 1990s while small States lagged behind.

He warned against speaking about small island developing States as a homogenous entity, emphasizing the difference between States in the Caribbean and those in the Asia Pacific.  In recent years, Caribbean countries had experienced significant economic slowdown, while economic growth in the Pacific had more or less remained steady since the 1990s.  Pacific countries also received more aid than those in the Caribbean.  They also had a moderate level of debt, while Caribbean debt amounted to three times the amount of Pacific debt.  Of the top six most indebted countries in the Caribbean, four were forced to seek restructuring from their creditors.  The Fund offered concessional loans to low income countries, small States and micro-States.  For the small island developing States, technical assistance centres in Fiji and Barbados contributed to the delivery of technical assistance based on unique needs.  Emphasizing the need to tackle public debt burden, he said that three countries had recently benefitted from the international debt relief initiative.  Small island developing States had very unique needs compared to larger countries, he said, and pointed to a guidance note prepared for the Fund’s economists to familiarize themselves with the issues of small island developing States.  Indeed, building resilience required policy design, implementation, international support, adequate financing and public safety nets.

Mr. REGIDOR GARCIA pointed to the interactions and partnerships of and for small island developing States.  He touched on the number of resources of his Universidad de las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s programme including e-learning.  The programme provided technological support for other initiatives the university was developing on subjects fundamental to the concerns of small island developing States.  Research on oceanographic problems was being conducted and the university had United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chairs on environmental management and marine protection, among other topics.  In addition, the university had well-defined the social responsibilities it was carrying out in the many projects it conducted in several countries.  It also offered a masters’ programme in sustainable development.  He noted that the other universities were incorporating into their curriculum subjects important to small island developing States and said he remained optimistic that more would do the same.  It was possible for those States to work together and it was time to act through the development of education programmes that empowered their people.

In two rounds of questions and comments, delegates underlined the urgent need for action in helping small island developing States overcome the manifold and “stark” threats posed by climate change.  The promotion of sustainable development was a collective responsibility, they said, with some asking what more the United Nations or the IMF could do.

To Ms. BARRO’s point, the representative of the European Union, said the bloc had spent €2 billion on development for small island developing States, which he hoped would not simply support consultants.  Highlighting the severity of the need, he said Hurricane Katrina constituted a 1 per cent loss to the United States’ gross domestic product (GDP), whereas Hurricane Ivan in 2004 had taken off 212 per cent from Grenada’s GDP.  He asked panellists about the roles of women and the private sector in answering questions on vulnerability and resilience.

Jamaica’s delegate said Caribbean nations faced high public debt in part because of dwindling official development assistance (ODA).  Many had debt-to-GDP ratios of between 80 and 140 per cent.  Jamaica’s ratio was 145 per cent.  The country did not have the fiscal space to meet its acute development financing needs.  Nor could it go to the capital markets because it was overleveraged.  He asked how more foreign direct investment or portfolio flows could be mobilized.

Nauru’s representative said healthy oceans and seas were critical for delivering on the post-2015 sustainable development goals.  Papua New Guinea’s delegate advocated for a stand-alone “oceans and seas” objective in the post-2015 agenda.

In response, Mr. ALLUM clarified that he had not suggested that small island developing States were more prone to governance problems or civil unrest.  Bringing budgets back after a major shock was difficult.  In the Caribbean, many Governments had responded to shocks by ramping up spending on safety nets, only to face problems afterward reigning in spending.  That had led to debt problems.  Institutional arrangements must be found to help bring budgets back into balance.

As for helping countries deal with losses from shocks, he said that grant financing was the most natural response.  While the IMF did not provide grants, it did provide advice at an early stage, which often unlocked financing from other actors, including the European Union, which was considering a “shocks facility”.

In that context, he said it was often hard for the private sector to “find its feet” in some Caribbean countries, given their small size and the diseconomies of scale.  Where industries existed, they established monopoly power.  The public sector also had taken on a larger size than it should relative to the private sector.  The way forward should involve unlocking the scope for the private sector to play a larger role.

Small island developing States shared some characteristics, he said, which had steered them into an unnatural community.  A balance must be found between taking a common approach to their problems and showing the appropriate sensitivity to their many different challenges.  He suggested reviewing the success stories of small States that had surmounted their challenges.

To Jamaica’s point, he said the best way to generate investment opportunities was through the type of reforms that Jamaica was taking to boost growth and competitiveness.  “That will pay off”, he said.

Ms. BARRO said her country had worked closely with Cuba on the issue of education and the “up-scaling” of its young people.  Kiribati was taking a multi-pronged approach to climate change, which featured “migration with dignity”.

On the role of women, she said Kiribati’s national policy involved women in sustainable development activities.  Generally, however, Kiribati was among the most male-dominated societies in the Pacific, with no role for women in its outer islands.  Men sat in the traditional meeting houses where collective decisions were made.  Women would make their opinions clear to their husbands and if they were not addressed in those meetings, “there would likely be only half a meal the next day”.  In a major step forward, a Ministry of Women and Social Affairs had been established, the first of its kind in Kiribati’s process of nation building.

For his part, Mr. MAHOMED said the role of women was highlighted in the Maurice Ile Durable initiative.  As for the private sector, l’Agence Française de Développement was providing grants to companies, which had led to more diversity and “sustainable development friendly” work.

Rounding out the comments, Mr. GARCIA added that the problems faced by small islands were too global to resolve alone, making intra-island cooperation critical.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Cuba and Brazil.

In his closing remarks, the Committee Chair said that today’s discussion underlined the unique vulnerability of small island developing States.  In the case of Tuvalu, he called for international support to reconsider the decision to move the small island developing State from the least developed countries category to the intermediate category.  Tuvalu faced the same challenges as other small island developing States, most notably the effects of climate change.  He also called on the international community to seek solutions that ensure those countries’ resilience.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.