Volume 16, No.11 - November 2012

Feature articles

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

Join chat on global development agenda beyond 2015

Facebook livechat on 8 November (UN Photo)

Watch out for a livechat on DESA’s Facebook page on the post-2015 development agenda on 27 November from 9:00 to 11:00 am. This event offers a unique opportunity for the online community to share opinions, questions and concerns about the post-2015 process. Join the discussion and contribute to an ambitious development agenda!

With only three years left to 2015, it is time to discuss what will happen after the final target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Outlining a new development agenda requires an open and inclusive process – one that involves all stakeholders from across the globe and all spheres of life.

“Only a truly global conversation can help to keep the momentum of the MDGs beyond 2015 and to ensure that the agenda really addresses the concerns of the people. Let your voice be heard in the process of formulating a new development agenda beyond 2015,” said Mr. Selim Jahan, Director of the Poverty Division, Bureau of Development Policy at the United Nations Development Programme.

Organized by the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, the event will feature the core team behind the report “Realizing the Future We Want for All”, offering civil society organizations, NGOs and other stakeholders as well as the online community, a unique opportunity to discuss some of the key recommendations made in the report.

It stresses among other things the important role of the MDGs in advancing the development agenda and in improving the lives of people around the globe. Any post-2015 development agenda must therefore build on the lessons learned from the MDGs. At the same time, the new agenda also needs to respond to emerging and pressing challenges while keeping a focus on human development. As outlined in the report, these include issues such as deepening inequalities, shifting demographics, the knowledge gap, peace and security issues, governance and accountability deficits at the global, regional and an increasing environmental footprint.

“Business as usual is not an option. These challenges cannot be properly addressed if we would continue along trodden development pathways. We need deep transformative changes if we want to realize a future that can truly be shared by all and is sustainable for next generations. We do need a bold vision for the global post-2015 development agenda. It will be challenging, but without it there may be no future for most of us” explains Mr. Rob Vos, Director of the Division of Development Policy Analysis at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, one of the key messages of the report.

Moving forward, the report recommends that any new development agenda beyond 2015 should build on the values and principles outlined in the Millennium Declaration, which is as relevant today as it was in 2000. It should also build on the three fundamental principles: respect for human rights, equality and sustainability.

Join Rob Vos and other members of the UN System Task Team on 27 November from 9:00 to 11:00 am on DESA’s Facebook page. Let your voice be heard and take part in the conversation on the global development agenda beyond 2015!

For further information make sure to check DESA’s Facebookpage or DESA’s website.

For background information, have a look at the UN System Task Team website and their report with recommendations on the post-2015 development agenda.

Building a future free of hunger

Nearly 870 million people around the globe suffer from chronic malnutrition. To address the challenges of food security and to secure a future free of hunger, the UN Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly’s Second Committee, in collaboration with FAO, IFAD and WFP, will be organizing a special joint meeting on “Food security and nutrition: Scaling up the global response”.

Taking place at UN Headquarters in New York, the special joint meeting will bring together experts and representatives of Governments from around the world providing a unique opportunity to discuss food security and nutrition and to identify steps to build a future free of hunger. The event aims to promote coordinated international action and to address both the immediate issue of high food prices and long-term issues of production, trade and consumption of food.

“I wish to emphasize the need to focus global political and policy attention on the plight of the more than one billion of the world’s citizens that struggle with acute hunger and malnutrition,” said the Chair of the Second Committee, George Wilfred Talbot of Guyana, in an address before the Committee. He also encouraged ministerial level participation adding “it is imperative that the global response to the crisis be scaled up as a matter of urgency.”

Addressing challenges of food insecurity and malnutrition

Recent natural emergencies around the world have devastated crops and contributed to a recent spike in food prices. At the same time, 22 countries, mostly in Africa, are in a protracted food crisis, and in the Sahel, drought threatens millions of people with hunger.

The most recent assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicates that prices remain high and are expected to remain volatile. This situation puts pressure on the poor, most of whom spend over half of their income on food. According to the World Bank, the 2011 food price increases pushed 50 million people into poverty, undermining progress to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Extreme weather and climate-related disasters can also have detrimental impacts on nutrition. Empirical evidence shows that children born during a drought are likelier to suffer from malnourishment. These events underline the need for Member States to take urgent and effective action to tackle the root causes of high food prices, hunger and malnutrition.

At the Special ECOSOC Ministerial Meeting in September, ECOSOC President Miloš Koterec also focused on the effect of rising food prices on the prevalence of hunger. “Income inequality has been increasing dramatically in much of the rich world,” he said. “Food prices have climbed by tens of percentage points in recent years, after a century of steady decline. For the world’s poorest, this can make the difference between feeding a child or sending her to school.”

Engaging the online community

Ahead of the special joint meeting on food security and nutrition, people with access to Facebook and Twitter have been invited to post questions for the experts and government officials who will participate in the gathering. The aim of the ‘Building a Future Free of Hunger’ campaign is to give the widest possible audience a chance to shape the conversation at the meeting. During the event, which will be broadcast live via UN Webcast, participants will answer selected questions from the online community.

The overall campaign is part of the UN’s continuing efforts to build a future free of hunger, address the underlying causes of food insecurity, and build momentum to scale up the global response.

At a recent event honouring the latest winner of the World Food Prize, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also stressed that innovative approaches and technologies as well as a strong political will from countries are essential to combat hunger. He also highlighted a number of UN initiatives including the Movement to Scale Up Nutrition and the Zero Hunger Challenge, aiming to ensure access to food, end childhood stunting and double the productivity and income of smallholder farmers.

“In our world of plenty, no one should live in hunger. No child should have his growth stunted by malnutrition. No child should have her opportunity for a better life curtailed even before she is born, because her mother was undernourished,” Ban Ki-moon said.

Kindly note that the meeting was originally scheduled to take place on 1 November, but had to be postponed due to the impact of hurricane Sandy. Please make sure to check back on this website for updates regarding the new date for the meeting: UN Economic and Social Council website on Special Meeting on Food Security and Nutrition

For more information:

Online forum on Facebook – Building a Future Free of Hunger

Video – Help Build a Future Free of Hunger

The Second Committee of the UN General Assembly