Face-to-face with sustainable development challenges

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) around the world face unique challenges in the context of sustainable development, including vulnerabilities to climate change such as a rise in sea-levels. “If we don’t address climate change, islands may not exist,” said the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Seychelles, Mr. Jean-Paul Adam, in an exclusive interview with DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development.

Discussing different challenges that SIDS face to implement sustainable development, the opportunities that partnerships bring and the upcoming international conference on sustainable development of SIDS in 2014, Jean-Paul Adam, the world’s youngest foreign minister when appointed in 2010, shared his views and hopes for a sustainable future.

“One of the biggest challenges is first of all the scale of islands,” Mr. Adam said, pointing to the fact that everything is smaller and that international institutions often are designed for larger communities. As an example, Mr. Adam highlighted that it is the measurement of the GDP per capita that determines development assistance. Since SIDS often show high GDP rates, they will not be able to benefit from development assistance.

“We don’t have economies of scale, we can’t decide to build half a runway just because we are a small country,” he explained, underscoring that this is a big challenge due to the higher costs involved for infrastructure projects. “And then you have climate change, which is happening at the same time. This is existential for islands,” Mr. Adam said, describing countries in the Pacific and Indian Ocean, badly affected by rising sea-levels.

“We also need to think about the acidification of the ocean and the effect that this has on fish stocks and what this means for food security,” he said. The Seychelles supplies 20% of all tuna on the European market. With climate change and acidification of oceans, these stocks will be affected. Mr. Adam also underscored the importance of a healthy environment for tourism, which is an important source of income for many small island developing states. “We are being affected by things that are outside of our control, and this affects us in a fundamental way,” Mr. Adam said, adding “if we don’t address climate change, islands may not exist”.

In addition to the issues raised by Mr. Adam, other challenges that SIDS face include difficulties in benefitting from trade liberalization and globalization; heavy dependence on coastal and marine resources for livelihood; heavy dependence on tourism; energy dependence and access issue; the limited freshwater resources; limited land resulting in land degradation and vulnerable biodiversity resources. The Seychelles also has to tackle the problem with piracy, which affects their tourism.

Role of partnerships in supporting SIDS efforts

Talking about how partnerships among different stakeholders can serve as an effective mechanism to support the efforts of SIDS, Mr. Adam described a number of initiatives launched and ways to support SIDS. “There are a lot of things that can be done that doesn’t actually cost that much more money, but it is simply more about effective targeting of certain resources. Resources that often already exists,” he said.

Mr. Adam also described the role of the Seychelles as co-chairs of the Global Island Partnership together with Grenada and Palau and its work linking up different concerns of islands, the creation of protected marine areas as well as a debt for adaptation swaps initiative. “Islands can get rid of some of their debts in turn for climate change adaptation,” he explained.

DESA is also working to help facilitate knowledge-sharing and partnerships between SIDS. One way of doing this is through the creation of the SIDS Network (SIDSNet), which is operated by the department.

Hopes for upcoming international Conference on sustainable development of SIDS in 2014

Addressing the 2014 SIDS Conference, which is envisioned to be a landmark conference to advance significant support for Small Island Development States, Mr. Adam shared his country’s expectations, also taking into account what has been advanced from the Mauritius Conference in 2005 and Rio+20 in June this year.

“I think that islands do share a certain amount of frustration with the pace of support that is available to them under the international system, because there are so many issues that have been flagged, not only since 2005, but since Barbados,” he explained, pointing to a relatively limited amount of practical progress and a lack of concrete measures.

Although Mr. Adams recognized that the global awareness has improved when it comes to the situation of small islands, he also underscored the importance of implementing commitments made at earlier conferences. “We need to have the green fund operational and we need islands to be able to benefit from this by 2014,” he said, referring to the UNFCCC, the Green Climate Fund, which was launched in 2011 to assist developing countries to combat climate change.

Small islands with big ideas

Mr. Adam also put spotlight on some of the renewable energy initiatives. He highlighted the SIDS DOC and its benefits for starting some initial projects within renewable energy. “It is clear that the energy-mix that exists currently is not sustainable for the climate,” he said. He added, “islands use very, very tiny amounts of energy compared to what the world needs. Why not use islands in a way as laboratories for developing renewable energy economies?”

“We are small islands but we must have big ideas,” he said, sharing plans of small islands states in making a few of them 100% renewable energy economies. “That’s achievable in just a few years,” Mr. Adam explained. “The UN Conference on Trade and Development did study that showed that islands are 12 times more vulnerable to the volatility of the energy prices than other types of countries,” he added.

“There is a real economic argument to invest in renewable energies in these islands,” he said also describing that the technology is still in some ways experimental and very expensive. “Once the technology is in place, you have something that is sustainable for the long-term.” Mr. Adam also underscored that these initiatives do not need to be investments in terms of grants, but can also be private sector investments.

“There needs to be the right mechanisms established that can be replicated in developing countries,” Mr. Adam emphasized. “Look at the islands as the place to try some of these things. It is easier to start small and go big,” he said encouragingly.

SIDS and the sustainability challenges they face are currently in focus at the meetings of the General Assembly’s Second Committee. The world community is thereby moving closer to fulfilling commitments made and realizing a sustainable and secure future for the small island developing states across the globe.

For more information:

Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform – Small Island Development States

The Small Island Developing States Network (SIDSnet)

Climate Change Adaptation in Grenada: Water Resources, Coastal Ecosystems and Renewable Energy

Partnerships for Sustainable Development