Countdown to Critical Conference for Small Island Developing States

Pigeon Point in the north of Saint Lucia, one of 39 Small Island States which will be represented at the critical SIDS4 in Antigua. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS
Pigeon Point in the north of Saint Lucia, one of 39 Small Island States which will be represented at the critical SIDS4 in Antigua. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS
  • by Alison Kentish (saint lucia)
  • Inter Press Service

The Conference of Small Island Developing States takes place every ten years. This year will mark the fourth meeting. Known as SIDS4, the May 27–30 conference’s theme, Charting the Course Toward Resilient Prosperity, holds immense significance for the future of the world’s 39 SIDS.

Despite their minimal contribution to climate change, SIDS are particularly vulnerable to its impacts. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change warns that, in the absence of mitigation and adaptation measures, these islands could become uninhabitable due to the impacts of climate change.

SIDS grapple with limited financial, technical, and institutional resources, hindering their ability to effectively mitigate and adapt to the negative effects of climate change. Leaders like Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados have consistently appealed to the global community for innovative financing mechanisms for SIDS and for special agreements such as temporary debt repayment suspensions immediately following a natural disaster.

SIDS4 will explore opportunities for collective action.

“The 39 small islands, home to approximately 65 million people, are stewards of the ocean and gatekeepers to some of our planet’s most important biodiversity. However, these countries are grappling with a series of overlapping crises that threaten their very existence,” UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States Rabab Fatima said on May 24 in a statement.

“The case for ensuring enhanced global support for these vulnerable island nations is clear. It means building a more sustainable economy, creating a more robust resilience against climate change, building a state-of-the-art early warning system for all, and safeguarding biodiversity. This is not just about generating revenue through industries for SIDS but also helping prevent additional costs that can result from climate change, soil erosion, pollution, floods, or natural disasters.”

The High Representative for SIDS, who is also the Special Advisor for SIDS4, emphasized the need for ‘collective strength, partnership and collaboration, to help SIDS overcome their challenges.

“Everyone has a role to play to ensure that the SIDS4 Conference is a great success and a truly transformative event,” she said.

In some ways, the SIDS Conference is the Conference of the Parties (COP) of small island developing states. Every country will be represented at the talks. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will address the opening session. All major UN organizations will have a presence, along with the world’s largest development banks, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, youth, and gender advocates at the event. The conference calendar lists over 170 side events.

SIDS are located in the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Apart from the 39 UN member states , they represent 18 associate states. The UNFCCC states that the international community has long acknowledged that SIDS represent a unique case that requires special attention and support to address their specific needs and concerns.

In 1989, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution recognizing the potential adverse effects of sea-level rise on islands and low-lying coastal areas. The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development approved Agenda 21, a wide-ranging action plan for sustainable development that highlighted SIDS and urged the international community to consider their inherent vulnerabilities.

The May 27–20 SIDS4 marks a critical juncture for these countries to plan for the next decade. Through the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS), a new 10-year action plan, SIDS will attempt to shape global policies to boost resilience amid ongoing environmental, economic and social challenges.

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