On February 24, the UN made its official launch calling 2014 the International Year of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). John William Ashe, President of the UN General Assembly declared the year as an opportunity to “celebrate the beauty, diversity & the myriad of contributions” by SIDS nations.
People of SIDS are acutely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and global dialogues on sustainable development necessitates a higher degree of urgency in enabling the communities to be resilient to unprecedented challenges in the future.
Ban Ki-Moon urged world leaders that “we need to heed calls of [SIDS] in discussions on global actions”. In 2014, both the Ban Ki-Moon summit and UNFCCC COP-20 Climate Negotiations in Peru mark important milestones where SIDS’ priorities need to be taken seriously.
As we near the 2015 Climate Treaty expected to be agreed upon at COP-21 in Paris, it is expected that raising the profile of SIDS will give them more leverage at the negotiations.
In addition, the UN launch also marked the announcement of the 3rd International Conference on SIDS in Samoa (September 2014) which will be an opportunity to build partnerships for sustainable development and celebrate the unique heritage and cultures of these low-lying islands. These states will also take this occasion to make progress on outlining their proposed Sustainable Development Goals ahead of 2015.
Baron Waqa, President of Nauru, reflected that “we celebrate this special year with the somber knowledge that unless action is taken soon some islands won’t make it to the end of the century.” Unfortunately, many islands are already under threat of being submerged in the near future. Under Fiji’s climate change programme, it has already contributed significant capital to relocate the people living in Vunidogolo. More than 80 % of Maldives islands are less than 1 metre above seal level. The 2013 latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects a sea level rise of 26 to 82 cm by 2100 which will contribute to increased climate refugees.
Waqa also added that “while the SIDS year may call attention to the danger facing small islands, never forget that by protecting us we safeguard the whole world.” So, one of the main advantages of this designation may be that it will help us contextualize and prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable populations and commit to more rigorous solutions than business-as-usual scenarios.
“There is a mismatch in timescale. Climate change is decade-long or more but political timescales are four to five year. But you need to survive to enjoy those benefits. Just because you are not dead now doesn’t mean you are not dying.” — Mohamed Aslam, former environment minister Maldives.
The lowest lying country in the world, Maldives is build on sand and coral reefs; rising sea levels with increased ocean acidification destroying these endangered ecosystems.
At the Blue Economy Summit in January 2014, UNGA President John Ashe asserted that as negotiations for the post-2015 development agenda continue, “the nations of the world are all in agreement that preserving and protecting oceans and seas is crucial for the health of our planet.”
“The world needs a new philoshopy, not a philosophy of competition but a philosophy of co-operation” — Nana Nketsia, Ghana
Stemming from the Barbados Programme of Action (BPoA) in 1994 and the 2005 Mauritius Strategy of Implementation, coalitions such as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) & the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) have helped represent voices of SIDS people and push for collective action.
The Majuro Declaration accepts a collective responsibility to act with urgency. The Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum presented it to the UN General Assembly in September 2013 committing to climate leadership and called on countries to list specific pledges to reduce pollution. President Loeak hopes that the Ban Ki-Moon summit in September will reinforce leaders to announce initiatives and partnerships in a “Year of new climate action.”
My land is my home, my heritage and my identity in ways that the English language cannot capture,” he said. “This is my country and I will always stay here. If water comes, it comes. — Marshall Islands president Christopher Loeak (September 2013)
“For those of us in the Pacific, climate change is not some complex game; it is a lived reality and one that at its heart is about humanity itself … We must now use and every opportunity, big or small, to call to the attention o political leaders to the dilemma we face. … This is not just an issue for the Pacific.” — Senator Tony de Brum, Minister in Assistance to the President of the Marshall Islands.
The truth is, we are not drowning, we are fighting. The thing you have to understand about us Pacific Islands is that we don’t see ourselves as separate of our islands and oceans. My island is part of me. The ocean is part of me.. Therefore if we lose our land, it is like losing a part of us.” — Pacific Communications Coordinator, 350.org
At COP19 Warsaw, Poland, I had the opportunity to visit the “Portraits of Resilience” exhibit organized by Many Strong Voices (MSV). A room filled with photographs and stories by young people from SIDS and Arctic communities to share perspectives that transcend boundaries. I saw the President Anote Tong planting mangoves with Kiribati youth. My friend Charlie Nakqashuk shared his portraits showing how glaciers and the permafrost are melting away in his community Pangnirtung, Nunavut. Takiyah Mussington’s exhibit talked about how “climate change is destroying what makes [the island] Barbuda special”. Speakers included Mary Robinson, Ronny Jumeau, and John Crump who further congratulated the efforts of the young people and why these stories need to be told. What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. If this statement is understood and coupled with the realization that SIDS are at most risk to the adverse impacts of climate change, I think there’s a really powerful narrative to jolt the international community into action.
Those following COP19 are aware of how Typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines fuelled civil society actions to contextualize the importance for negotiators to reach the necessary agreements. The typhoon, however, picked up speed by hitting islands including Palau and Micronesia on its path. We should not end up in a reactionary state where we wait for disasters before we make a move. So, in considering how to craft a powerful narrative, 2014 can be critical to profiling the importance of SIDS. By sharing their stories with integrity and purpose, I think there may be immense opportunity to keep us connected to the vision of these high level climate treaties and agreements. 2014 should help us realize how “Planet Earth is our shared island” as Ban Ki-Moon mentioned during the launch.
For Storify of curated tweets from the UN Launch of International Year of SIDS, click here.
You can find me on twitter at @fatinic