12 February 2008


12 February 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


A “green paper” being launched tomorrow would call for countries to partner with small island States on projects aimed at enabling their survival by adapting to impacts of climate change at a level of urgency not presently being addressed by the United Nations, correspondents heard today at a Headquarters press conference being held under the theme “ Small Islands, Major Consequences”.

Speaking in the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level debate on climate change in his capacity as Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States was Angus Friday, the Permanent Representative of Grenada to the United Nations.  Joining him were two other Ambassadors, Colin Beck of the Solomon Islands and Antonio Pedro Monteiro Lima of Cape Verde.  The three are part of the 44-member Alliance, self-described as a coalition of small island and low-lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges about the environment, especially their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climate change.

Ambassador Friday said the key point for his group since its founding 20 years ago was that advocacy for addressing the issues had gone from urging debate to calling for “urgent action”.  Coastal erosion, severe hurricanes, flooding, desertification and salinization of water supplies were some of the challenges.  Limited land mass made the islands extremely vulnerable to begin with, and climate change was tangible.  His country, for example, had lately been hit with hurricanes of unprecedented ferocity, whereas, formerly, it had been considered outside the hurricane zone.

Most of the 1,900 islands that comprised the Maldives were no higher than three feet above sea level, and only 210 of them were inhabited, he noted.  Through partnerships, a new “safe” island called Hula Mali had been built at a cost of more than $100 million.  At least 14 more such islands were needed to protect the populations from storm surges and other climate-related phenomena.

He explained that similar challenges confronted the low-lying atolls of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, as well as the low-lying islands of the Caribbean, which could not be addressed without partnerships.  The Adaptation Fund adopted in relation to the Kyoto Protocol was financed by only 2 per cent of theclean development mechanism, which amounted to no more than $200 million to $300 million.  Yet, it would cost the Maldives $1.5 billion to build safer islands for the population of just 50 of their islands, which was why partnerships were so urgently needed.

He noted that among the partnerships already formed by the Alliance was a financing round table “exercise” conducted with the European Commission, which had already partnered with the Alliance on adaptation.  The last of three round tables, convened over several months here at Headquarters in close cooperation with the United Nations Foundation, would be held tomorrow.  The Alliance was also working with “Friends of Climate Change”, a group of some 25 Ambassadors from around the world who were studying aspects of climate change.

The post-Bali period through to Copenhagen at the end of 2009 was a critical negotiating period for small island States, he said.  A big part of adaptation financing for the Alliance States was to mainstream adaptation into economic policies.  The Alliance’s negotiators would have to be organized and well-financed.  Just yesterday, Greece had offered €1 million to help the Alliance in a productive partnership as it navigated its way from Bali to Copenhagen.

Mr. Lima of Cape Verde said his country’s situation was of particular interest in that it was graduating from the status of least developed countries to that of medium-income State at a time when desertification could not be turned around, despite a policy of adaptation measures, such as reforestation, which it had pursued since 1975.  Also, Cape Verde’s proximity to Africa put it in a position to receive the effects of climate change phenomena in neighbouring countries, such as shifting sands from their desertification.

Mr. Beck of the Solomon Islands noted that the broad range of effects due to climate change made the particular needs of small island States beyond the ability of the United Nations to meet.  The partnerships would be complementing United Nations contributions; since the United Nations had grown so big, the concerns of small island States seemed too small for the United Nations to address.  The United Nations “way” of mandating adaptive measures, for example, failed to take into consideration the inability of small island States to comply, which made partnerships critical under the principle of “no island left behind”.

Mr. Friday pointed to a situation in the Solomon Islands as another example of an urgent climate-related issue needing to be addressed by Alliance partners, as it was beyond the scope of the United Nations system.  There, “environmental refugees” were being created when smaller islands gravitated to larger ones.  Other climate-related phenomena affecting Alliance and, by extension, the global community at large, included migration, either voluntary or involuntary, losses of cultural customs and migration of conflict.  Biodiversity migration could wreak havoc and disease migration had no boundaries.

He said the “tools” for managing such challenges was to partner with others under the coordination of the United Nations.  Those tools ranged from community cohesion projects to satellite exchange projects, technology exchange and meteorological cooperation.

Mr. Lima said that the United Nations could play a big role in promoting the benefit of the Alliance by shedding light on the situation of those States and mobilizing the resources to address their needs with the urgency they warranted.  The Organization could help change the attitude of partners from one of “compromise” on meeting needs to one of “commitment” to do so.  For small island States there was no conflict or competition for resources between climate change mitigation and adaptation versus fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals.

“For us, climate change is a development issue,” Mr. Beck emphasized, calling for greater linkage of Alliance issues to the wider United Nations system agenda.  Mr. Lima, meanwhile, emphasized clean development.  Mr. Friday, in turn, stressed the importance of small island States in the development of renewable energy.  Under the principle of no island State left behind, “small islands can be laboratories for renewable energy”, he said.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.