10 May 2010
Press Conference

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

Press Conference on Vulnerabilities of Small Island Developing States

Overdue commitments made to small island developing States (SIDS) must be fulfilled to enable them to survive climate change and other international crises that were threatening their very existence, officials from three such States said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

“We should not allow countries to sink for the progress of others,” Amjad Abdullah, Director-General of the Ministry of Housing, Transport and Environment of the Maldives told correspondents, in the midpoint of a day in which the particular vulnerabilities of those countries was under discussion in the Commission on Sustainable Development, which began the second week of its two-week annual session today.

Mr. Abdullah was joined at the press conference by Ambassador Collin Beck from the Solomon Islands and Lotoala Metia, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning of Tuvalu.  Discussions during today’s special focus on small island developing States in the Sustainable Development Commission will form a part of the preparations for a high-level meeting planned for this September to review progress made under the 2005 Mauritius Strategy for the Development of the small-island States.

During today’s meeting, Mr. Abdullah reported, representatives of those countries had stressed the urgency to fill the gap in the financial and technological assistance that the international community was supposed to be providing to help their countries reach development goals, despite the environmental and economic crises to which they were particularly vulnerable and which they were doing their best to face within their very limited means.

He stressed that those nations had been doing their part to meet their successive commitments under the 1992 Agenda 21, as well as the 1995 Barbados agreements and the Mauritius agreement, which had addressed small island developing countries in particular.  Their partner countries, however, were not doing their part.  Political will had made it possible for the Maldives, for example, to become carbon neutral in 10 years, but no partner countries had made that kind of commitment.

An immediate objective, he said, was to get the kind of recognition for the problems of small island developing State that had been accorded to other most vulnerable countries, such as the least developed countries and landlocked developing States.

Ambassador Beck, who is also the Vice-Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States, representing the Asia-Pacific Group, said reviews of progress since the Mauritius conference had found that the vulnerabilities of small island States had deepened, owing to new trends and emerging issues such as the food and energy crises, as well as by the acceleration of climate change.

Meanwhile, Mr. Beck said, those countries themselves had been moving ahead on biodiversity and energy initiatives and many had committed themselves to carbon-neutrality within a time-bound period.  The challenge was to have the international framework become more responsive to their needs through enhanced implementation of Mauritius, including increased access to finance.

Mr. Abdullah added that many small island developing States had completed national plans of action, outlining their urgent and immediate adaptation needs, but projects under very few of those had been kicked off.  Continued delay, 10 years after the Barbados Plan of Action, threatened the survival of the nations.

Going forward on climate change, Mr. Beck said it was crucial for a solid outcome to emerge from the talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of this year, including legally binding agreements to limit carbon emissions.  Small island developing States were already experiencing worsening food security and the need to relocate people to higher ground on a daily basis.

Minister Metia confirmed that climate change had already had a very big impact on the islands of Tuvalu and he had made pleas at a host of international forums for aid to their national action plan.  To date, they had not received any of the pledged assistance, even though they were nearing the end of the five-year cycle.  They had made their case again today in the Commission.  They had little choice:  if the seas rose, they would be submerged.

Asked if the small island developing States had been pressured to sign onto last year’s Copenhagen accord on climate change, Mr. Metia said the accord was a “death certificate” and those countries would stand firm in resisting it, despite any bullying or promises of assistance.  To questions about his preference regarding a new head for the UNFCCC, he said that whoever heads it must be dedicated to ensuring the survival of the most vulnerable.  Asked if Taiwan, recently recognized by Tuvalu, was funding any climate-change mitigation projects, he said no, but that they were contributing to Tuvalu’s annual budget.

In response to questions about arrangements for emigration to other countries if the sea levels became untenable, the panellists from Tuvalu and Maldives said resolutely that migration was not on the agendas of their Governments.  “It’s our right to enjoy where we are,” Mr. Abdullah said.

In conclusion, Ambassador Beck warned that the window of opportunity to stop rapid climate change was drawing closed, and the fate of small island developing States would eventually happen to others, even though those countries were on the front line.  A science-based strategy was urgently needed to prevent that fate.

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For information media • not an official record