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Climate Change: the Partnership with Asian & Pacific Small Island Developing States

The village of Melsisi in Pentecost, Penama Province, was all but destroyed during Tropical Cyclone Harold in Vanuatu. Credit: UNFPA Asia and the Pacific

BANGKOK, Thailand, Apr 2 2024 (IPS) - Stories of growing vulnerability make regular headlines across all Asian and Pacific small island developing States (SIDS). With tens of thousands of people displaced every year due to climate and disaster-related events, there are continued concerns about the costs of climate-related hazards.

For people in the communities, climate change, post-pandemic recovery and geopolitical tensions are raising the cost of living and slowing efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

With the upcoming Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States to be held from 27-30 May in Antigua and Barbuda, the time is right to seize the opportunity to secure a future for the people of more than 20 countries and territories in the region considered as SIDS.

The acceleration of policy shifts to advance the development aspirations of the people and protect the planet are at the heart of sustainable development efforts.

Island futures at risk

The latest ESCAP assessments show that the Asia-Pacific region is regressing on Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate action. Regional net zero emissions targets are also assessed as falling far short of the reductions needed to keep warming within 1.5 degrees.

At the same time, SIDS are facing the brunt of a climate emergency with some of the most exposed and vulnerable countries in the world.

Estimates show that Pacific SIDS have suffered the greatest economic losses from climate-related hazards, with average annual losses of up to 9 per cent of GDP between 2015 and 2020. ESCAP projects that Pacific SIDS will continue to face similar levels of annual losses as they bear the negative impacts of climate change.

New assessments also highlight that the Pacific SIDS are among the countries with the most significant losses in mangrove cover in the Asia-Pacific region. Degrading mangrove coverage reduces protection from surges and tides as sea level rises, and harms coastal fisheries.

The sense of urgency goes beyond socio-economic loss – it is an existential threat, as reflected in the 2023 Pacific Islands Forum Declaration on the Continuity of Statehood and Protection of Persons in the Face of Climate Change-Related Sea-Level Rise. This declaration was endorsed by all the Pacific leaders.

Championing SIDS priorities

As countries focus on SIDS priorities related to socio-economic resilience and sustainability, the options and sequencing of efforts need to be considered to guide the way forward. In the Pacific, the main priorities resonate well with the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.

There is some way to go towards such a vision. Investing in transformative adaptation now can mitigate future losses. Maintaining healthy oceans and ecosystems for the viability of island nations and communities will be vital for successful climate action.

Delivering on the SIDS’ ambition will require the international community to mobilize its technical resources and bring all governments together with key stakeholders to find the right solutions. New partnerships, as well as sound and timely data and agile finance options to power them, are needed. ESCAP is working with SIDS to support their aspirations.

The fundamental priorities for Pacific peoples are to stay in their homes, protect their traditional practices and cultural heritage, and maintain their identities. In this context, partnership, political commitment and solidarity led to the endorsement of The Pacific Regional Framework on Climate Mobility by Pacific leaders in 2023.

This remarkable example of a collective regional commitment to be “future-ready” seeks to enhance people’s resilience and well-being by adopting a proactive and planned approach to climate-related human mobility.

This is also an example of ESCAP and other UN and regional partners including the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat working together to collectively support this Pacific regional initiative. This collective approach can be an inspiration for other SIDS to explore and adapt to their own country and regional contexts.

Social accountability measures are needed to overcome the considerable development challenges, promote effective development partnerships, strengthen governance and public service delivery, and empower citizens.

Engaging stakeholders in tracking progress towards the SDGs remains an important priority. With urbanization – an emerging trend across the Pacific SIDS – platforms such as the Pacific Urban Forum can promote localized climate action.

Strengthening policy coherence and institutional mechanisms at the national level helps mobilize resources and expertise. Technical assistance can increase the robustness of sectoral strategies and frameworks. Through the Risk and Resilience Portal, ESCAP has supported Maldives to downscale climate data to localize and analyse climate impact for critical sectors, and create the potential for extended risk analysis.

Better data and more transparent access to information and analytics will ensure that the right investments are made to mitigate climate risk. Effective development planning and coordination approaches are critical elements to deliver the next SIDS programme of action and to advance sustainable development.

What’s next for SIDS?

As SIDS take the next big steps in working to chart a course to resilient prosperity, new partners and networked collaboration are essential for mobilizing resources and sustainable capacity. South-South and triangular cooperation provide an important way – including for SIDS – to connect with other countries to help meet needs in ways that are tailored to local conditions.

South-South and triangular cooperation are important drivers of regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific and has resulted in increased volumes of South-South trade, foreign direct investment flows and technology transfer.

ESCAP is working with national entities responsible for international development cooperation to unlock the potential of sharing lessons learned, capacity development opportunities and technologies, and matching offers and demands for development cooperation assistance. Its newly-established South-South Cooperation Connector holds the potential to accelerate cooperation in support of a new future for Asia-Pacific SIDS.

The authors also acknowledge inputs from ESCAP’s Subregional Office for the Pacific; the Capacity Development and Partnerships Section; and the Disaster Risk Reduction Section.

IPS UN Bureau


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