19 February 2019
A couple days ago, I was asked by a journalist, why Belize and it occurred to me that perhaps this may not be a question confined to this one journalist.
Indeed Belize, like Guyana and Suriname, is continental with the Caribbean Sea bordering our low lying coast and the reclaimed land of much of Belize City itself. Belize has at any one time close to or over one thousand islands (or as we call them “Cayes”) that dot our life sustaining barrier reef, which has been declared a World Heritage Site. A vast majority of our 350,000 people look to the Reef and the sea around it for their livelihoods whether in fisheries or in tourism and to the land for produce. We are a small natural resource-based economy, with a small population, and as a result acutely vulnerable to exogenous shocks. We are in essence a reflection of what defines the unique characteristic of small island developing states, and we proudly contribute to the rich mosaic of this 30 years strong Alliance.
Our Alliance is a diverse group of forty-four countries spread across all the regions and oceans of the world! Economically diverse with countries found anywhere along the development spectrum, we share nonetheless some very impressive things in common – a resilient and innovative people, the greatest share of world’s protected areas, and the determination to remain and survive in our own respective countries.
Our countries also share the challenges of the vulnerable. We face: severe financial debt burdens and limited fiscal space, small and unpredictable markets, threats to our biodiversity, and the increasing effects of climate change coupled with more severe natural disasters. We have all heard the dire warnings – we have just over a decade to safeguard our future or face the threat of an unrecognizable planet.
And yes, if we stand still we are at risk of losing our coasts, our reefs, our land and our food. If we stand absolutely still, within the next thirty years we will lose many of those impressive things that bind us. This is as much a reality for SIDS as it is for the world.
So we choose to act instead and in the multilateral tradition of AOSIS, we do so with the conviction that others will follow.
Our vision is guided by a simple intrinsic notion, that we can forge our own future. There are actions that we can instill to build a better community, a more sound system of governance, a more profitable economy. As the SG rightly noted in his report for the 73rd Session, many of us have already advanced action to increase the use of renewable energy to end our dependence on fossil fuels, and use our vast marine resources sustainably and innovatively to boost economic growth, employment and food security.
And so, we intend to maximize AOSIS’s involvement and influence across several spheres this year.
We are about to undertake the Mid-term Review of the SAMOA Pathway, our sustainable development blueprint. SIDS from every region have concluded their preparatory processes producing outcomes that define the nuances of their sustainable development exercise. At the inter-regional preparatory meeting held in Samoa last October, we adopted the Apia Outcome that defines how we want to engage to accelerate implementation of the SIDS Agenda together with other global agenda from this point forward. We see the synergies between our Agenda, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the Ocean Agenda and the Climate Change Agenda as an opportunity to forge a transect of critical action for SIDS that all leaders can commit to in September at the triumvirate of summits culminating in the Mid-term Review itself.
To this end, we intend to convene a series of discussions to prepare the groundwork for those decisions in September, which will chart the future global engagement with SIDS.
A central objective of the discussion series will be to test new ideas drawing on a range of expertise and stakeholders. Two themes that we wish to explore in this AOSIS@30 series are financing and youth engagement.
In our discussion on financing, we will explore options for re-envisioning development financing looking across the conceptual divide of climate finance and development finance as well as explore options for SIDS to access finance capacity building and technology in a timely manner and at the scale needed notwithstanding our extreme capacity and human resource constraints.
In many ways, answers to some of these complex questions can be drawn from engagement with the youth who often find themselves marginalized in the discussion of their own development even as they face growing insecurity from increasing violent crime to high unemployment. Securing their future secures our own collective future. We want to use the platform of the mid-term review and the culmination of the four-year cycle of the GA High-Level Political Forum to drill down in conversation with our youth to engage them as essential partners in development.
Genuine and durable partnerships remains an essential theme for SIDS. It is entrenched in the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway. It is the raison d’etre for the first of its kind SIDS Partnership Framework and the foundation of the recently adopted Global Pact for Partnership with SIDS.
We are looking to the occasion of the High-level Political Forum under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, not only to hear from eight of our members who will be presenting their Voluntary National Reviews of the 2030 Agenda but also to reinvigorate the ECOSOC as the principal forum for the monitoring of the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway through a dedicated day for SIDS. On that day, we need to take stock of achievements and gaps, as well as celebrate a Global Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue to identify partnerships to bridge the gaps between aspiration and accomplishment.
We count on your support and that of the United Nations through our interlocutors, the SIDS Unit and the OHRLLS, to amplify our voices through these various platforms as we work towards global solutions.
When we gathered in June 2017 for the first ever Ocean Conference spearheaded by one of our own small island developing states, Fiji, SIDS could not have expected the level of success it achieved in serving as a global breakthrough for action to conserve and sustainably use our ocean.
Thus, AOSIS fully supports the Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean and the engagement of the Communities of Action to advance the implementation of SDG14. We also commend the President of the General Assembly for her emphasis on the need to eradicate ocean plastic pollution.
A significant number of small island developing states have already taken the bold step to ban single use plastics including my own country of Belize. Recognizing that in tackling the issue of ocean plastics, there is no divide between developing and developed countries, Belize, in its capacity as Chair intends to work across partners to examine what can be done at the international level to support efforts to address this environmental blight.
AOSIS will continue to expand the spheres of global responses to ocean management. We will do so through active engagement in the intergovernmental conference on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction with the aim of concluding the international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and operationalizing in that context the special case of SIDS. We will also actively engage in the preparation for the 2020 Ocean Conference to ensure that the SIDS who have vast ocean areas within their jurisdiction can serve as exemplars of responsible ocean stewards.
I now turn to the defining issue for the origin of AOSIS – climate change. The adverse impacts of climate change affect our ability to develop sustainably, is destroying the ocean as a sustainable resource, and threatens our very existence.
From the outset of the negotiations of the framework convention on climate change, the international community recognized small island states as the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. At that time <in 1990>, SIDS advocated for an international insurance mechanism to cover losses that could be attributed to climate change and sea level rise. This was essentially a push for recognition that much of the damage and loss to us from the level of greenhouse gas emissions is irreversible.
Regrettably, that concept was not included in the final UN Convention on Climate Change. But AOSIS remained sanguine and fastidious. In 2013, we accomplished the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) and in 2015 we made a further coordinated push with fellow developing countries for loss and damage to be incorporated as a third pillar of the global response to climate change. Article 8 of the Paris Agreement as it stands focuses on measures to avert loss and damage but it lacks the essential component of support when permanent loss and damage occurs.
Thirty years later our case still stands and the October 2018 IPCC Special Report on 1.5 vindicates that case. In simple terms, it states that SIDS are even more vulnerable now than our leaders could have contemplated when AOSIS came into being in 1989. Even at a 2°C trajectory for global warming, SIDS will exhaust adaptive capacities and suffer permanent loss and damage. It is high time that the case we filed some thirty years ago is finally dealt with.
To have a fighting chance of survival, global emissions must be cut dramatically and loss and damage must finally be fully integrated into the global response to climate change.
AOSIS will employ its advocacy through the climate change process, the PGA’s High-level Event on Climate and Development and the Climate Summit. We are committed to spare no effort to do our part to push for action and for the highest possible ambition. We extend our hands to you to join us in this endeavor.
Our calendar this year is full. But we are confident that the many processes that lie ahead will strengthen our resolve and bring forth the right blend of bespoke global commitments and individual country action that will advance the work of SIDS.
We seek out partners who value home-grown solutions to our real world challenges. Over the past 30 years we have formed formidable partnerships for which we humbly thank you. Many of these have advanced our development.
To borrow from Margaret Meade, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed (islands) can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Charting a course for our own survival is no easy task. In fact, it might as well be a task for giants. We are giants with the simple notion that we too can work to guarantee our own survival, and moreso, our own prosperity.
Finally I wish to thank all of you who have extended your support to AOSIS over its 30 years of existence. We want to continue our partnership so that together we can build resilience and expand our development horizons.