Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Small States Forum, in Washington, D.C., today:
I welcome this opportunity to address the Small States Forum. I would like to use the occasion to echo the strong calls made at last month’s Climate Action Summit and Review of the Samoa [Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action] Pathway for small island developing States.
The survival of many small countries, and particularly island States, depends on finding innovative and effective solutions to challenges that threaten their very existence.
I would like to mention three such challenges and solutions, starting with the climate crisis.
Over the past 20 years, more than 90 per cent of disasters — droughts, floods, hurricanes and fires — were climate-related. Economic losses alone are estimated at more than $2.2 trillion and the human toll falls largely on low‑income countries. These disasters constitute a major impediment to sustainable development.
For small States, recovery and reconstruction bills, including the cost of restoring people’s livelihoods, can total more than 100 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Successive storms can trap small island States in particular in an accelerating cycle of disaster and debt.
Small States cannot be expected to pay for climate disasters alone. The entire international community must invest in their future by funding disaster preparedness and risk reduction, and urgently needed adaptation measures including resilient infrastructure. Even more important, I urge the global community to increase the ambition of nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2020.
The second serious challenge these countries face is debt sustainability. Many small states, including middle-income countries, are highly vulnerable to external shocks of all kinds. As a result, the debt levels of small States are on average higher than other developing countries. Many are currently under debt distress or face a high risk of debt distress. The international development finance architecture needs to adapt to this new reality.
We have been working hard to win international support for the expansion of concessional financing to vulnerable small States, including middle-income countries. I encourage efforts to further expand access to concessional finance through the International Development Association, and where eligible, complementary resources from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as other multilateral financial mechanisms including insurance facility.
The extension of concessional financing to Jordan and Lebanon as they provided a safe haven for more than 2 million refugees from Syria shows what can be achieved.
Debt relief will also be needed. For example, recent research on Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines shows they will require major reductions in their debt in order to achieve economic growth.
The United Nations Regional Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has therefore proposed a Debt for Climate Adaptation Swap initiative, linking debt relief in these countries with investment in sustainable development. The initiative includes a Caribbean Resilience Fund aimed at attracting concessional and grant resources, and re-directed debt service payments from Caribbean countries.
We have presented a preliminary proposal to the World Bank, regional governments and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). There is strong potential for partnership on debt-for-adaptation swaps, in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
As concern grows over the possibility of a widespread debt crisis, the only way to address debt sustainability is through multilateralism and solidarity.
Third and finally, we urgently need to step up action to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in small States. Domestic resources will not be enough, and small States will need to rely on international public and private finance to fulfil the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in their countries.
I have reformed the United Nations development system to enable us to work better with your countries to reduce poverty, achieve gender equality, create jobs and opportunities for young people and prevent and address the catastrophic effects of climate change.
We will continue to deepen our partnership and collaboration with your Governments, and with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Working together, we must fulfil the pledge of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind.