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Small Island Developing States: A Special Case



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Small Island Developing States have gained formal international recognition that the adverse effects of climate change are seriously affecting their continued existence and, for some, their very survival. Newswatch Editor Sarah Granich reports.

Over 2,000 participants attended the United Nations International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States. The conference was held in Port Louis, Mauritius between the 10th and 14th of January 2005.

Though delegates departed with varied opinions regarding the Meeting's success, Small Island Developing States can take satisfaction that, ten years after the Programme of Action was agreed upon, the international community now recognizes the special circumstances of both their fragile environments and their fragile economies.

The Mauritius Declaration, which includes the Mauritius Strategy for further implementation of the Programme of Action, was formally adopted.

The Mauritius Declaration did compromise on a number of issues, but all delegates agreed that they were, overall, highly satisfied with the result. In particular, there was agreement that Small Island Developing States should be treated as a "special case" in regards to sustainable development and commitment to full implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and further promotion of international cooperation on climate change.

The Declaration calls on the international community to give "necessary support" to all efforts made by Small Island Developing States in their drive towards sustainable development and called for greater support in coping with climate change, sea-level rise, and natural and environmental disasters.

Delegates could not but be affected by the December earthquake and ensuing tsunami that devastated so many islands and coastal areas of the Indian Ocean. In recognizing the tragic impact of the tsunami as well as the recent hurricane season in the Caribbean and the Pacific, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for a global early warning system to be set up as soon as possible.

The early warning system would cover not only tsunamis but also all other natural hazards such as storm surges, cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons. The setting up of this early warning system is to be initially undertaken by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization with the World Meteorological Organization.

Although the Mauritius Declaration was adopted finally to the reasonable satisfaction of all, there had been contention and disagreement in the negotiations. Tuvalu, in particular, expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the United States over its position in refusing to formally participate in the global strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States did agree to the Declaration, perhaps because, as Kofi Annan noted, the small islands' position carried more weight now because of the "shift in sympathy" by the international community in response to the magnitude of the tsunami tragedy. "Even those who had been a bit sceptical about the impact of global warming cannot say that they have no idea of the damage water can do," said Kofi Annan at a press conference.

Gordon Bispham, Director of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre said that "finally, all parties have agreed that climate change is having an effect on small islands right now and that we need to put policies in place to reverse this."

Apart from the adverse effects of climate change and sea-level rise the other key issue at the Mauritius Meeting was that of trade.

Small Island Developing States have argued for many years that there should be international agreement on the return of trade preferences for them due to their isolation and limited resources. These nations have also argued that for years they have been hampered and constrained by their limited capacities and have had little assistance from the global community in being integrated fully into the global economy.

In recognition of these concerns, the Mauritius Declaration notes that, "Many Small Island Developing States either are not represented in Geneva, or are still grappling with the process of accession to World Trade Organization membership. Most Small Island Developing States also experience serious capacity constraints in meeting World Trade Organization obligations."

Although trade was not as fully acknowledged in the Declaration as many delegates would have liked, the Mauritius Declaration does also note that, "Attention should be focused on the specific trade and development-related needs and concerns of Small Island Developing States to enable them to integrate fully into the multilateral trading system."

"Without some kind of recompense for the erosion of the trade preferences, we may as well close shop. It is impossible for small economies such as ours to compete internationally," said the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce representative, Hamid Jhumka. Kofi Annan noted that Small Island Developing States would prefer to "trade themselves out of poverty instead of living on handouts."

UN Works for Small Island Nations

UN Works
for Small Island Nations



The Mauritius Strategy states that the 10-year old Barbados Programme of Action will remain the "blueprint" for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States.

While many island nations would have liked to have more definite and precise financial commitments made by the global community, industrialized nations took the stance that small islands must focus on national actions. The Strategy document does, however, call on the international community to give "necessary support" to efforts by Small Island Developing States towards sustainable development.

The Strategy contains 20 general headings under which it proposes a variety of actions to be taken. These are:

  • climate change and sea-level rise;
  • natural and environmental disasters;
  • management of wastes;
  • coastal and marine resources;
  • freshwater resources;
  • land resources;
  • energy resources;
  • tourism resources;
  • biodiversity resources;
  • transport and communication;
  • science and technology;
  • graduation from Least Developed Country status;
  • trade;
  • globalization and trade liberalization;
  • sustainable capacity development and education for sustainable development;
  • sustainable production and consumption;
  • national and regional enabling environments;
  • health;
  • knowledge management;
  • culture; and,
  • implementation.

At a side event, the Climate Institute launched the Endangered Islands Campaign, which intends to build international support for actions being taken by Small Island States.

Tom Roper of the Climate Institute said, "We seek input from other like-minded organizations in developing this campaign, and our aim is to work with Small Island Developing States governments, the World Bank, non-governmental organizations and regional organizations, such as the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center to boost their measures to adapt to climate change, to add value while avoiding duplication."

He continued, "The Mauritius conference has shown the urgent need for planning and action and identified the possibilities that exists for links between non-governmental organizations' expertize and government and community activities."

At the concluding session, the Secretary-General of the International Meeting, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, repeated his call for a dynamic system of monitoring the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy.

"Monitoring should not conclude with simple stocktaking, but should be a process by which implementation loopholes, failures or slackness can be identified and corrective measures taken," he said. "With the outcome document now in our hands, we have to look forward towards the road to implementation. How we will accomplish this process is in the hands of the stakeholders - the donor community, the multilateral financial institutions, civil society, private sector, regional organizations and the Small Island Developing States themselves."


Further information
Francois Coutu, Development Section, Strategic Communication Division, UN Department of Public Information, Room S-1040 G, United Nations, New York, NY 10017, USA. Email: coutu@un.org. Web: www.un.org/smallislands2005/.
Nosh Nalavala, Communications and Media Officer, UN Office of the High Representative, 336 East 45th Street, UH-807, New York, NY 10017, USA. Fax: +1-917-3673415. Email: nalavala@un.org. Web: www.un.org/ohrlls/.

On the Web
To mark the Mauritius meeting, Tiempo Climate Newswatch interviewed Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury and has made available a series of related articles and documentaries.

The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary lists sites covering Small Island Developing States issues.

A full report on the proceedings of the International Meeting is available from Earth Negotiations Bulletin. The conference website contains webcasts, press releases, background material and other resources.

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Tiempo Climate Newswatch
Updated: April 12th 2013