United Nations and Commonwealth Join Forces to Solidify Global Solidarity for Small States

With a looming debt crisis driven by the COVID-19 pandemic on top of a raging climate emergency, the world’s small island developing States (SIDS) need urgent global support if they are to have any realistic chance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. 

Prior to the pandemic, SIDS were among the most indebted nations in the world. By 2019, external debt accounted for 62% of GDP on average in SIDS, compared with 29% for all developing countries and economies in transition.  

The case for more urgent international support is also highlighted by the collapse in the tourism industry, a key economic sector in many SIDS. The industry declined in SIDS by 47% in the first four months of 2020. 

With a high exposure to natural hazards, single disasters often have widespread and long-term effects for SIDS, eroding years of hard-won socio-economic gains in just a matter of hours. Damage caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017 in Dominica was estimated to be more than 225% of the country’s GDP. Such disasters make it harder for SIDS to allocate resources to sustainable development, and increases vulnerability to other climate impacts. 

Recognising the urgent need to rally global support for SIDS to achieve the SDGs, the United Nations, through the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), and the Commonwealth Secretariat are partnering to  support SIDS to overcome their vulnerabilities and build resilience in the face of mounting development challenges. 

The partnership will rally global efforts to address core vulnerabilities in the world’s small states, including those that are small island nations. The joint programme will aim to aid small islands to overcome their economic vulnerabilities, take impactful climate action and attain debt sustainability. 

The programme, which is expected to be finalised by September 2021, will create a network of small states champions to advocate on the global stage for the specific vulnerabilities of SIDS. Furthermore, it is expected that the strategy will call for a universal measurement of vulnerability that recognizes the threat of climate change to SIDS.  

The strategy arrives at a particularly critical time as the COVID-19 pandemic has severely hampered development progress by SIDS with less than a decade to go to achieve the SDGs.