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Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Ambassador Lois M Young, is Belize’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
NEW YORK, Jul 7 2020 (IPS) - Our world is transfixed by the great human toll and economic impact of the worst global pandemic in a century. For the 65 million inhabitants of small island developing states (SIDS), the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is reminiscent of the worst forms of extreme weather events that SIDS contend with annually. Such events cost lives, undermine our hard-earned development gains, and hamper the aspirations and quality of life of our people. Our governments are routinely compelled to shift already scarce resources from social and economic investments to recovery and sustenance in the aftermath of disasters. For decades islands have been treading a development tightrope, which is increasingly precarious with the intensification of adverse climate impacts.
The acute vulnerability of small islands to sudden systemic shocks is now being experienced by the world collectively. Ultimately, the hard decisions and tradeoffs that nations must make to secure human health are akin to the decisions that small islands have made to tackle the root causes of climate change and to advocate for planetary health. The one difference is that there is no potential vaccine to eradicate climate change, only global respect for and adherence to the Paris Agreement.
From the perspective of islands, the immediate responses to both the COVID-19 and climate change must reflect their intricate connection and profound compatibility. The current crisis is a compelling global reminder that our shared development aspirations and the climate emergency are inextricably linked. Emblematically, the world’s foremost authority on climate science, the United Nation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warns that inaction on climate change is likely to pave the way for more frequent pandemics and a panoply of vector-borne diseases. Much like the existential climate crisis we face, the spontaneity of more frequent and global pandemics, will be of greatest detriment to the most vulnerable – both directly through infections and by dwindling public support as governments struggle to shift resources from long-term development to crisis responses. Undoubtedly, these uncertainties are stark reminders that crisis financing is insufficient and too often pulls from development financing, leaving countries unable to address development in a sustainable way.Our partners and the international financial institutions must be bolder. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented economic crisis for islands. We need dedicated and predictable financing for SIDS. Now more than ever, the 65 million people across SIDS, the majority of whom live in 25 Commonwealth States, call upon our Commonwealth partners and the wider global community, to affirm the special case of SIDS and support a holistic approach to the criteria for all SIDS to access concessional or grant finance. Such an approach hinges upon much needed reform of the global economic and financial system to make it responsive to anticipated and unanticipated challenges associated with economic shocks and climate change. On behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Honourable Dean Oliver Barrow, has appealed to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to, inter alia, establish a special window for SIDS, expand eligibility for all SIDS irrespective of income classification to access immediate support for the health crisis, and support the call to bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments. As AOSIS Chair, I have also supported the call by the Secretary-General of the United Nations for debt relief to our countries. While these measures most immediately address the health crisis, they will also enable SIDS to focus on the climate crisis. As we have seen, debt relief can be turned into a positive incentive for ambitious action.
The Commonwealth family is invited to support islands in addressing the climate emergency by embracing the SIDS climate and oceans agendas. There is no scientific doubt that the climate emergency and ocean crisis are intricately linked. SIDS are custodians of 15 of the 50 largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), which account for nearly one-third of all oceans and seas. SIDS have a record of sustainable use and, as responsible stewards, are primed for direct engagement and support for the conservation and sustainable use of our Ocean. Emblematically, the United Nations Environment Programme found that SIDS are disproportionately more likely to enact bans on single-use plastics. Our strong connection and dependence upon the marine environment have inculcated in us a commitment to maintain equilibrium between economic and social progress and environmental sustainability. AOSIS, as a SIDS advocacy mechanism, has embarked on an ocean agenda that foregrounds and transcends conservation – we want the activities of SIDS to unleash economic growth and diversification. It is for this reason AOSIS strongly champions a “think blue’ strategy and amongst our members you find early pioneers of the blue economy.
The blue economy simultaneously promotes economic growth, environmental sustainability, social inclusion and the strengthening of ocean ecosystems. The value of sustainable fisheries can be seen in our artisanal fishers and in broader sectoral actions. One such instance is the declaration of no-catch or no-take zones, referred to as replenishment zones in Belize. This along with several other initiatives, in Belize and in many other SIDS, has led to historic levels of fish stock replenishment and continues to be a significant source of high value fisheries-based sport tourism and general exports. SIDS are also leading on balanced approaches to sustainable use of marine resources. My country, Belize, which chairs AOSIS, is the world’s first to ban offshore oil exploration. Belize achieved this feat with popular nationwide support and a bottom-up approach. Our actions are indicative of a trend across SIDS. Several SIDS have already adopted national blue economy strategies. In 2013, Mauritius launched its oceans’ economy road map to tap into the potential of its EEZ by consolidating existing sectors, such as tourism, seaports, and fishing, and developing emerging sectors such as aquaculture, marine biotechnology, and renewable energy. Similarly, in 2018, the Seychelles launched its blue economic roadmap using an integrated approach to the sustainable development of ocean resources. The strategy is complemented by a marine spatial plan (2014), which plans for the sustainable management and health of the Seychelles’ 1,374,000-square-kilometer EEZ. In addition to national plans, the Pacific Small Island Developing States(PSIDS) have also developed regional policies and plans, committing to sustainable ocean management, and building sustainable blue economies in the region.
Small island and low lying coastal developing states are resolutely leading the charge in innovative approaches on climate and oceans. We need innovative financial approaches to unleash SIDS’ blue economic potential and advantage. Dear partners, we welcome you. Please seize the opportunity to engage with us.
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