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Opinion

Small Islands with Big Aspirations



President Michel giving voice to the cause of small island states at the UN conference in Samoa in 2014. (Photo from the personal collection of James Michel)

VICTORIA, Seychelles, Oct 2 2023 (IPS) - Everyone knows that small island states are on the frontline of global warming. Rising sea levels, acidification destroying fisheries and coral reefs, and changing patterns of rainfall are just some of the challenges. Some low-lying islands have already been lost to the ocean.

These challenges are real and can hardly be understated. Yet there is another side to the story, too: one that tells of a creative response and new opportunities. The fact is that small island states are on the frontline of the Blue Economy.

Several years ago, in 2016, I wrote a book (Rethinking the Oceans: Towards the Blue Economy) to show why urgent action was needed. The interconnected seas cover most of our planet and yet we have always treated them as second best, as if the riches that are found there will last forever. Instead, I have for long argued that our approach must be sustainable. It must serve not only today’s needs but also tomorrow’s generations.

A decade ago, the idea of the Blue Economy was poorly understood. Why, people would ask, is it any different from how the sea has always been used? Things have changed since then and the question is no longer ‘why’ but ‘how’. In my second book on the subject, Revisiting the Ocean: Living the Blue Economy, I show what progress has been made and where we can find some of the most important changes.

There is a great deal more to be done, not least of all in stemming the relentless flow of harmful practices. But there are already signs of progress. To show this, I look to local communities and business startups, to visionaries and philanthropists, as well as international bodies. Go to remote beaches to see how communities (often led by women) are taking matters into their own hands. Or to the workshops of inventive young entrepreneurs who are finding ways to do things better. I am a realist but also an optimist and in my new book, I try to balance a pervasive sense of impending doom with a strong message of hope.

Kentaste is a local company reviving the coconut industry along the Kenya coast. (Photo courtesy of Joanne Muchai)

COP28 will bring together the great and the good, drawn by the prospect of a new approach. But it will also attract those who are not so enamoured with a sustainable approach to the ocean. Fast-growing nations with, literally, billions of mouths to feed will not so easily be persuaded that sustainability is the right approach. Nor will commercial and other interests which are poised to scrape the ocean floor for rich mineral reserves. Yet, if we are not to destroy our planet, restraint has to win the day. In the crowded rooms of the upcoming event in Dubai, we must lose no opportunity to press the case.

My own nation, Seychelles, has one of the world’s smallest populations and yet, surrounded by a vast stretch of ocean, we have pioneered new ways to sensibly manage this immense gift of nature. Planning our marine space in a rational way is how we are making progress and I commend the lessons to other small island nations. We have also been innovative in attracting funds and the ways we have done this, too, is a shared resource.

Under the auspices of the European Union, Seychelles last year hosted an event where African entrepreneurs displayed their exciting ideas and projects. Fabrics produced from leaves and fish skin gathered locally, natural fertilisers from seaweed, productive ways to recycle fishing nets, and desalination units using renewable energy. With the help of large funding bodies like the UN and EU, much more can be done to unleash creative energy. Revolutions invariably start in small ways and nothing short of an ocean revolution is needed. Urgently!

I look forward to COP28 and I know that the host nation, the United Arab Emirates, will do all that it can to lead by example. Let us go to the conference with enthusiasm, welcoming every new initiative. I will be there, along with friends from other small island states and it is up to us all to make our voice heard.

Copies of my new book will be available at the event (as well as direct from https://www.jamesmichelfoundation.org) and I hope I can share with you some of my own ideas and a record of the wonderful efforts being made around the world to save our precious ocean.

James Michel is a former president of the Republic of Seychelles and a leading international advocate of the Blue Economy.

IPS UN Bureau

 


  
 
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