Antigua and Barbuda. Source: United Nations SIDS4 - Photo: 2024

UN Conference to Assist Small Island States to Defy Multiple Crises

By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN | 4 May 2024 (IDN) — “Charting the Course Toward Resilient Prosperity” is the overarching theme of the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) to be held from 27 to 30 May 2024 in St John’s, Antigua and Barbuda at the American University of Antigua.

The Conference has been convened to assess the ability of SIDS to achieve sustainable development, including the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. It is expected to result in “an intergovernmentally agreed, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented” political outcome document.

The members of the Bureau of the Preparatory Committee are: Barbados, Cabo Verde, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Italy, Latvia (Rapporteur), Maldives (Co-Chair), New Zealand (Co-Chair), Romania and Seychelles. Antigua and Barbuda (as host of the Conference) and Samoa (as Chair of AOSIS) serve as ex officio members.

A regional preparatory meeting in each of the three regions of small island developing States, as well as an interregional preparatory meeting for all small island developing States, were held in 2023 to prepare for the conference.

The UN Secretary-General has appointed the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Li Junhua, as the Secretary-General of the Conference responsible for guiding the intergovernmental and logistical preparations for the Conference; and the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Ms. Rabab Fatima, as Special Adviser for the Conference responsible for leading the advocacy and fundraising efforts.

UN DESA together with OHRLLS will also coordinate the inter-agency preparations and contribution of the United Nations system to the Conference.

Across three key regions

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) comprise 37 UN member nations and 20 associate members of regional commissions, uniquely and unfortunately positioned at the forefront of multiple global crises, particularly climate change. The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development  in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, formally recognised these remote economies, prone to natural disasters, as a special case for their environment and development.

SIDS occupy less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s surface, spread across three key regions: the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea (AIS).

They are confronted with escalating global crises, including climate change and COVID-19, and find themselves on the frontline, constantly navigating through a cycle of environmental disasters and recovery efforts, which tests their resilience and ability to sustain their communities and economies.

SIDS grapple with high import and export costs, heavy reliance on external markets and limited natural resources. Tourism, a vital sector constituting about 30 per cent of their GDP, was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extensive marine areas surrounding SIDS serve as vital resources but also increase their vulnerability. Population density in the SIDS is significantly higher than the global average, which makes them acutely susceptible to the catastrophic effects of natural disasters, resulting in annual damage costs ranging from one to eight per cent of their GDP.

Abundant challenges

Fiscal challenges such as high debt, costly debt servicing and limited access to concessional financing due to their middle-income status further exacerbate their situation, which is compounded by factors such as limited population size, isolation from international markets, elevated transportation costs and exposure to external economic shocks. Subsequently, these states face heightened risks to their fragile land and marine ecosystems, making them particularly prone to biodiversity loss and the impacts of climate change.

SIDS contribute less than one per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and disproportionately suffer from climate change impacts. Climate change threatens around 75 per cent of their coral reefs. The annual cost of environmental adaptation is estimated between USD 22 billion and USD 26 billion, which underscores the need for urgent global cooperation and support.

The United Nations supports SIDS through UN entities within country and regional level presence, including through the UN Resident Coordinator Offices. The Regional Commissions also support the sustainable development of SIDS at the regional level. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States support SIDS at the global level.

Furthermore, intergovernmental organizations and agencies at the regional and sub-regional level, such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the Council of Regional Organizations of the Pacific (CROP) Agencies also support them. The Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) have also been lending their support to countries in the AIS at the regional level from time to time. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Antigua and Barbuda. Source: United Nations SIDS4

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