Why is AOSIS Important?

Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) – A voice for the vulnerable

To be a small island and/or a low-lying coastal state is to be vulnerable to a host of challenges—from the environmental to the geo-political to the social, which have only grown more severe over time. Many of these nations walk a tightrope, developing new strengths and marshalling existing ones to help them reach towards the—seemingly unattainable—goal of sustainable development. 

These countries were among the first to grapple with the concept of climate change nearly 30 years ago, witnessing the alarming consequences of global warming firsthand. Living at sea level, they were impacted by worsening storms and floods, the loss of once vibrant fisheries, and the intrusion of salt water into land used to grow food. 

As small, developing economies on the margins of globalization, few had sufficient resources to defend against these impacts. Due to their small sizes in comparison to the more powerful developed and emerging nations, the interests of these states were often marginalised in major international geo-political fora—and they still are today. They had to make their voices heard and the most impactful way to do so was to band together. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) was born out of this need and since 1990, has worked to give voice to the vulnerable, drawing the attention of the world to the moral imperative of climate action to meet the needs of not only the most powerful, but of all people, and particularly those at the greatest risk. 

Today, AOSIS is a coalition of 44 small island and low-lying coastal states, along with five observers. As a voice for the vulnerable, its mandate is more than amplifying marginalised voices. It also advocates for these countries’ interests, as seen in the timeline above. In terms of size, AOSIS closely resembles the countries it represents on the global stage, but often punches far above its weight,  negotiating historic global commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, among other achievements.

To achieve its goals, AOSIS often draws on partnerships, including with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Commission, to bolster its capacity to effectively influence climate negotiations, some of the most complex and difficult in the world. AOSIS also makes vital contributions by helping its members to pool their resources and amplify their collective voice in climate talks. This goes beyond just speaking up to securing ambitious agreements with tangible benefits for vulnerable communities.

Historically and contemporarily, AOSIS centres its advocacy on three key areas—climate change, sustainable development and ocean conservation. 

Climate change

Climate change is one of the first issues AOSIS tackled when the coalition was formed 30 years ago. It has been instrumental in shaping the outcomes of COP 23 and the Paris Agreement, ensuring a strong focus on SIDS in the context of the Agreement. Following the entry into force of the Paris Agreement and formulation of the operational guidelines, its main priority is to ensure that global emissions pathways are consistent with reducing temperature rise well below 1.5oC, especially in the context of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5oC.

Sustainable development 

As SIDS have been globally recognized as a special case for sustainable development, AOSIS has been striving to ensure that the specific challenges they face are addressed, particularly through the implementation of the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway. 

Ocean conservation

Historically, SIDS have been stewards of large expanses of ocean, and in this regard recognize the significance of the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean. AOSIS was a strong proponent of the UN Oceans Conference in 2017 and continues this role in the lead up to the UN Ocean Conference in 2020.

Going forward, AOSIS will continue to seek international cooperation and partners to maintain its capacity and build new capacity to address new challenges in these key areas and others as we help SIDS and other vulnerable states amplify their voices and make lasting environmental, socio-economic and geopolitical impact.

“The beauty of St. Lucia and the uniqueness of the voice and way of life of each of the Caribbean islands is threatened”, said Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday at the Conference of Heads of CARICOM Governments gathered to focus on obstacles to sustainable development. 

Mr. Guterres recounted his visit to the South Pacific in May where he saw how “Pacific island nations are addressing the climate crisis” by focusing “a climate lens” on development investments. He also recalled his visit two years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc in 2017, when “in only a couple of days”, years of “hard-won development gains” were destroyed in Barbuda and Dominica.

“Hurricanes Ivan and Thomas – and the many others that came before Irma and Maria – are still etched in the memories of Caribbean people” he noted. 

As climate-related natural disasters grow in frequency and severity, the UN chief pointed out that “the risks to families and to development overall will only intensify”. 

What the Caribbean has endured makes “abundantly clear” the urgent need to “reduce global emissions and work collectively to ensure that global temperature rise does not go beyond 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels”, he continued, inviting government and private sector leaders to come with concrete plans to the UN Climate Action Summit in September, at UN Headquarters, which could result in a 45 per cent cut in greenhouse emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. 

“We must massively increase our ambition to advance low-emission and resilient development, including addressing loss and damage from climate impacts”, he stressed, saying “we need all hands-on deck”.