Volume 18, No.05 - May 2014

Feature articles

Renewing focus on sustainable islands

“Many of the challenges facing Small Island Developing States are shared by the international community, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, oceans and seas, disasters […],” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo, as preparations accelerate ahead of the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States. DESA News also spoke with some of the conference bureau members who shared their hopes for this major event.

Preparations for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), to be held in Apia, Samoa on 1-4 September, began practically right after the Rio+20 conference in 2012, when Member States called for this third conference. “At Rio+20, Member States noted with concern that SIDS had made less progress in sustainable development than most other groupings. In economic terms, especially in terms of poverty reduction and debt sustainability, SIDS had actually regressed,” explained Mr. Wu in his new blog. Mr. Wu, who is the Conference Secretary-General, also shared how the work is progressing and how “the spirit of partnership has been strong in the preparatory process so far”.

The inter-sessional meeting just recently concluded negotiations on the zero draft document, when DESA News got an opportunity to speak with some of the conference bureau members. “It is very important for the outcome document to be action-oriented and aspirational,” said the Permanent Representative of Samoa to the UN Ali’ioaiga Feturi Alisaia, highlighting the important multi-lateral processes taking place at the UN surrounding the conference. “We see the timing of the conference as ideal, so that there will be input from Small Island Developing States that will feed into all these processes,” he said referring to the work designing the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Secretary-General’s upcoming summit on climate change.

“This conference is a global conference; it is not a conference which is of interest to SIDS only; it is relevant for the international community as a whole”

Milan J N Meetarghan
Permanent Representative of Mauritius to the UN

“This conference is a global conference; it is not a conference which is of interest to SIDS only; it is relevant for the international community as a whole,” stressed the Permanent Representative of Mauritius to the UN Milan J N Meetarghan. He said that the world is now aware of inter-dependence of economies in developing countries, small developing countries, and the developed world, and it is important that the international community comes up with a global solution which will impact all Member States.

Quest for genuine and durable partnerships
The main theme of this conference will be “The sustainable development of small island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships” and the bureau members all agreed on the importance of this theme for the successful outcome document. “I think it is a very timely theme and I hope that during the conference, there will be real, genuine and sustainable partnerships for the SIDS,” said the Permanent Representative of Singapore Karen Tan. Adding; “I hope that not just Member States, but also international organizations, international financial institutions, CSOs come together and announce good partnerships”.

Ambassador Meetarghan also pointed to the importance of partnerships among the Small Island Developing States themselves. “We believe that beyond conventional partnerships, it is also important to talk about SIDS — SIDS partnerships, regional cooperation among SIDS, but also cooperation among SIDS worldwide,” Mr. Meetarghan said, highlighting the possibility created when SIDS pool their resources.

“The traditional donor-based, “North — South” partnership model hasn’t lived up to our expectations,” said the Roving Ambassador of Seychelles for Climate Change and Small Island Developing States Ronald Jumeau. “We have to look to new ways to achieve all that needs to be done for SIDS,” he said, suggesting sourcing the resources from other areas and non-traditional sectors. The Seychelles have been looking across the spectrum, such as private sector, philanthropic trusts and foundations, especially in helping with issues such as the oceans, in the context of mitigating climate change.

“In New Zealand, we have a saying […] ‘with your basket and my basket, the people will thrive’, so by working together, we can ensure great success”

Phillip Taula
Deputy Permanent Representative of New Zealand

“No partnership is too big or too small,” said the Deputy Permanent Representative of New Zealand Phillip Taula. “In New Zealand, we have a saying, ‘Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourouka ora ai te iwi”, which means, ‘with your basket and my basket, the people will thrive’, so by working together, we can ensure great success,” Ambassador Taula said.

Priorities: Oceans and Climate Change
As one of the main priorities for the conference, the bureau members highlighted oceans and their importance to the sustainable development of Small Islands Developing States. “This conference is about developing our potential with respect to the oceans. SIDS in general do not have much in terms of resources, but they do have potentially enormous resources in oceans around them,” said Ambassador Meetarghan. He underscored the importance of the common strategy in developing the oceans as a natural resource. “I believe for SIDS, the oceans are the next frontier,” he added.

“As an island nation surrounded by oceans, New Zealand particularly appreciates the environmental issues and challenges that the Small Island Developing States face,” Ambassador Taula said.

The issue of tackling climate change was also brought up by the bureau members. ”There will be no sustainable development of the SIDS without tackling climate change,” said Ambassador Jumeau, who also stressed that “the future and the sustainable managing of oceans is of great importance to the Small Island Developing States.”

Looking towards and beyond Apia
One of the most important goals of the conference will be to develop resilience of SIDS so that they can overcome their vulnerabilities. Climate change is likely to top the list of priorities, as it represents an existential issue for many of these nations. However, the most effective way to build that resilience is contained in the main theme for the conference: genuine and durable partnerships. A lot of work has already been done, and the Conference will provide an ideal platform to raise the level of cooperation to new levels. This has also been underscored by Conference Secretary-General Mr. Wu.

“The International Conference in Samoa will be a major milestone for SIDS. It will make an important contribution to the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda. It will also result in tangible outcomes through strengthened collaborative partnerships between SIDS and the international community,” said Mr. Wu.

For more information:

Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States

Blog of Conference Secretary-General Wu Hongbo


Good governance – recognizing indigenous peoples for who they are


The thirteenth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will take place on 12-23 May with principles of good governance at the forefront of discussions. For indigenous peoples, good governance is grounded in the right to self-determination, which is a pre-condition for the enjoyment of all other rights as it means the right to freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Good governance is premised on the recognition of indigenous forms of autonomy, self-governance and ancestral authorities, as well as of customary governance systems and land tenure systems over lands, territories and natural resources. It encompasses the right to fully and effectively participate in decision-making that impacts indigenous peoples’ rights, lives, communities, lands, territories and resources.

At the same time, good governance needs to be inclusive and ensure equity and justice for indigenous peoples to achieve  their individual and collective well-being. Good governance must be consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007 and which affirms the distinct status and rights of indigenous peoples. The UN Declaration clearly states that “indigenous peoples in the exercise of their rights should be free from discrimination of any kind” and  conveys “inalienable ethical messages – the recognition of indigenous peoples for who they are, the imperative to remedy historical wrongs and the acceptance of traditional practices as part of the global culture of mankind,” as H.E. Ambassador Abulkalam Abdul Momen, Vice-President of the UN General Assembly stated in last year’s forum session.

Situation for indigenous peoples in the Asian region
Two thirds of the world’s indigenous peoples live in Asia, which is home to over 2000 civilizations and languages. In Asia, indigenous peoples include many groups that are often referred to as “tribal peoples”, “hill tribes”, “scheduled tribes”, “janajati”, “orang asli”, “masyarakat adat”, “adivasis”, “ethnic minorities” or “nationalities”. Irrespective of their legal status or the terminology used, many indigenous peoples in this region experience non-recognition of their cultural identity, exclusion and marginalization. Their situation will be in focus on Thursday, 15 May, during a half-day discussion on indigenous peoples in the Asian region as part of this year’s forum held at UN Headquarters in New York.

“The process underway to advance a development agenda that has sustainable development at its core, represents a unique opportunity for a more comprehensive consideration of poverty and well-being that includes the indigenous perspective”

Wu Hongbo
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General

The Permanent Forum will also discuss the preparations for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a high-level plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to be convened on 22-23 September 2014 at UN Headquarters in New York. There will also be a discussion on the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 22 December 2004, and which will come full circle at the end of this year.

Addressing sexual health and reproductive rights
Despite a pervasive lack of dis-aggregated data on the health of indigenous peoples, there is strong evidence around the world that indigenous peoples are still disproportionately affected by high rates of maternal and infant mortality, and lack of access to culturally-appropriate maternal health care services. HIV/AIDS is one of the most urgent challenges faced by indigenous women, with economic, social and sex exploitation as contributing factors.

The Permanent Forum will also discuss indigenous peoples’ sexual health and reproductive rights on Wednesday 14 May,  when it will consider the report of the Expert Group Meeting on “Sexual health and reproductive rights: articles 21, 22 (1), 23 and 24 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, held in January 2014.

The Permanent Forum will also follow up on the priority themes of indigenous youth and children, on Friday 16 May. A report on the living conditions of indigenous children and adolescents in Mesoamerica and compliance with their rights will be presented. The study shows the gaps between indigenous children and the rest of the population, with the differences starting from birth. Often indigenous children do not speak the language of instruction, and the curricula and teaching methods are culturally inappropriate, leading to poorer educational performance and higher dropout rates for indigenous children compared to their non-indigenous peers.

Active involvement in preparing post-2015 development agenda
Indigenous peoples are actively involved in the work preparing for the post-2015 development agenda, including the designing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to ensure that their concerns are reflected and their rights protected. A discussion on the post-2015 development agenda will take place at the Forum, with indigenous peoples presenting their vision and priorities for the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda.

The critical importance of the participation of indigenous peoples in this process was already underscored by UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo at last year’s forum. “The process underway to advance a development agenda that has sustainable development at its core, represents a unique opportunity for a more comprehensive consideration of poverty and well-being that includes the indigenous perspective. It provides us the space to adopt a new partnership for development – built on the human rights-based approach. I believe that working together, we can achieve a real, inclusive and participatory post-2015 development agenda,” Mr. Wu stated.

Photo credit: Broddi Sigurdarson, UN DESA

For more information:

Programme of the Thirteenth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Indigenous Peoples Major group

DESA News February 2014: Promoting the well-being of indigenous peoples


Cities for a sustainable future


By 2050, about 70 per cent of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas and over 60 per cent of the land projected to become urban by 2030 is yet to be built. If done right, urbanization can help deliver a sustainable future. Taking aim at the topic of sustainable urbanization, ECOSOC is gathering high-level representatives from across the globe for a three-day event on 27-29 May.

Over the centuries, the world has become more and more urbanized. At the beginning of the 19th century, only 2 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities, whereas during the first decade of the 21st century, this number reached the 50 per cent mark. Urban centres have thus become the most dominant habitat of humankind and the trend continues.

“95 per cent of urban expansion will take place in the developing world,” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Mr. Wu Hongbo as he addressed a High-level Symposium on Sustainable Cities and Sustainable Urbanization in China last year. “In China, 350 million people are expected to move into cities in the coming two decades. Clearly, such massive changes will pose social, economic and environmental challenges, while also creating tremendous opportunities,” Mr. Wu said.

“95 per cent of urban expansion will take place in the developing world”

Wu Hongbo
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General

Posing challenges as well as opportunities
With the world urban population estimated to increase from 3.5 billion today to 6.2 billion in 2050, urbanization poses both a challenge and an opportunity to sustainable development. Urban areas are faced with problems of unsustainable geographical expansion patterns; ineffective urban planning, governance and financing systems; inefficient resource use; poverty, inequalities and slums; as well as inadequate delivery of basic services.

Youth, women and people with disabilities have also often been left behind in conventional models of urban development. Extreme deprivation remains a major concern with one billion people living in slums. Furthermore, cities continue to be the major contributor to the total greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite these challenges, urban areas are also a source of growth, development and jobs. They offer opportunities for economies of scale and scope in development efforts, in particular in addressing poverty, health and education issues. Urban centres account for 70 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), i.e. 55 per cent in low-income countries, 73 per cent in middle-income countries, and 85 per cent in high-income economies.

The process of urbanization can thus create an enabling environment for transforming production capacities, income levels and living standards, especially in developing countries. However, this requires a shift in mind-set of decision makers, away from viewing urbanization as a problem, towards viewing urbanization as an opportunity to promote sustainable development.

Urbanization – transformational power to achieve and advance sustainable development
The Outcome Document of the Rio+20 Conference also highlighted the potential of cities, recognizing that if cities were well planned and developed, including through integrated planning and management approaches, they could promote economically, socially and environmentally sustainable societies.

Integrated approaches to sustainable urbanization target multiple MDGs and allow for the strengthening of synergies between efforts to achieve different goals, such as health, education, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, empowerment of women and environmental sustainability.

Addressing sustainable urbanization would entail the consideration of its economic, social and environmental implications and connections and it would require collective action by a wide range of stakeholders, including Governments, the UN system, private enterprises, civil society and communities.

ECOSOC contributes to new urban agenda
Taking aim at the issue of sustainable urbanization during the Integration Segment on 27-29 May, this will offer the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) an opportunity to contribute to the third United Nations conference on housing and sustainable urban development (Habitat III) scheduled to take place in 2016, and more importantly, to the expected outcome document outlining the new urban agenda.

By bringing together the ECOSOC system, policy makers and key stakeholders, including networks of UN-Habitat, Major Groups representatives and UN system organizations, the event will help to establish a common understanding of the role of urbanization in sustainable development and to define the fundamental attributes of the ‘sustainable city’, which Member States and the UN could collectively promote.

“For me, a sustainable city will be a place of economic dynamism. An engine of inclusive, balanced, smart, green and low-carbon economic growth”

Wu Hongbo
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General

Organized by UN DESA in collaboration with UN-Habitat and the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA), the event will feature various interactive panel discussions, dialogues, and a town-hall style meeting. Side events, that will be organized by Member States, the UN system and other stakeholders, will offer opportunities for ministers, mayors and other representatives to engage with each other on the future of cities. This segment will also complement and provide input to the work of the High-Level Segment of the Economic and Social Council and the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

Urban prosperity and urban inequalities
In addition to cities as drivers of sustainable development, a number of other issues will be addressed during the event by high-level participants from across the globe, including sustainable urbanization in Africa and effective governance, policy-making and planning for sustainable urbanization.

The event will also examine urban prosperity and inequalities. The theme of urban equity was also at the core for the recently held World Urban Forum convened by UN Habitat. Their estimates indicate that two-thirds of the world’s urban population live in cities where income inequality has increased since the 1980s. Cities play a critical role in addressing the inequality problem, as their design, governance, and infrastructure have direct impact on the lives and opportunities of their inhabitants.

The event will focus on possible mechanisms for inclusive urbanization and for promoting equality and also on how sustainable urbanization policies can address the issue of inequalities in access to basic public services.

Imagining the cities of the future
“Many experts predict that the battle of the future sustainable development will be won and lost in cities,” said Mr. Wu at the high level symposium in China. “It will be critical to achieving the post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals – whether we will be able to usher in a new era of cities and a new track of sustainable urbanization.”

The cities of the future will also be a topic for discussion at the ECOSOC Integration Segment, featuring questions on what future cities and some of the innovations and partnerships for sustainable urbanization could look like.

“For me, a sustainable city will be a place of economic dynamism. An engine of inclusive, balanced, smart, green and low-carbon economic growth. A place for social progress with social cohesion, socially-balanced housing, as well as public services for all, including health care and education,” Mr. Wu said. “A sustainable city will be a place of green space and environmental regeneration. In short, a sustainable city is a city we all want, for us and for our children,” he added.

For more information:

ECOSOC Integration Segment – Sustainable Urbanization