Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – ‘The Sustainable Development of SIDS Through Genuine and Durable Partnerships’

Jay Owen Trendspotting, Earth Systems Science

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Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – ‘The Sustainable Development of SIDS Through Genuine and Durable Partnerships’

1-4 September 2014 | Apia, Samoa


The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) took place from 1-4 September 2014 in Apia, Samoa, on the theme of ‘The sustainable development of SIDS Through Genuine and Durable Partnerships.’ In parallel with plenary discussions, six multi-stakeholder Partnership Dialogues took place on the themes of: sustainable economic development; climate change and disaster risk management (DRM); social development, health and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), youth and women; sustainable energy; oceans, seas and biodiversity; and water and sanitation, food security and waste management. Many countries and organizations announced new pledges and partnerships. Forums organized by youth, Major Groups and other Stakeholders, the renewable energy sector and the private sector took place prior to the conference.


Twenty-one heads of state and government and 3,500 delegates attended the conference, including representatives from government, the private sector and civil society. Alongside the formal proceedings, many side events took place on issues of importance to SIDS, such as graduation from least developed country (LDC) status, concessional financing, scientific monitoring and assessment, and resilience building. The conference was also an occasion to highlight the cultural traditions of the host country, Samoa, and other island nations, with daily displays of traditional dance, textiles, woodcarving and other crafts in the ‘SIDS Village’ located at the conference venue.


The Third International Conference on SIDS produced an outcome document, titled ‘SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway.’ The document was negotiated during the preparatory process at UN Headquarters in New York and was adopted without further discussion during the closing plenary on Thursday, 4 September 2014.



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’Ua fetaui lelei fola o le ’alia.


– When the Planks of the Voyaging Canoe Fit Together Well, Great Feats Are Possible.


At the Third UN Conference on Small Island Developing States, diverse actors from SIDS, the developed and the developing world, civil society and the private sector came together, realizing that only in partnership could they hope to guide the world clear of threats and bring it closer to solutions and fulfilled commitments. Hosted by Samoa, the conference allowed SIDS to steer their partners out of a sea of inaction, by focusing on new partnerships to fulfill commitments made to them over the past twenty years.


In the middle a hectic calendar and flurry of UN activities, delegates met in the South Pacific at the largest global meeting ever held in this part of the world. Delegates flew long hours across the Pacific Ocean to reach Samoa, and found themselves simultaneously journeying the distance to a greater understanding of island communities. As participants remarked time and time again, the Samoan people and government put on an impressive and impeccable show; every colorful detail was carried out with care. Samoa and its island neighbors showcased their unique cultures, histories and abilities, from the hopeful melody of the conference theme song and artistic talents of Samoan youth on display, to the arrival of the traditional H?k?le’a and Hikianalia Polynesian voyaging canoes that sailed all the way from Hawai’i. But alongside their unique cultures, SIDS were also determined that their opinions and calls to action should be heard and experienced.


This brief analysis explores how SIDS seized the opportunities of the Samoa conference to forge new partnerships, and the challenges they face in attempting to navigate their way on the global journey ahead.


Taliu a e popo?e.


– One Who Is Afraid at Sea Bails Out the Canoe


Twenty years ago in Barbados, and eleven years later in Mauritius, SIDS captured attention when the international community recognized that a holistic vision of sustainable development was needed to counter threats to SIDS’ very existence and wellbeing. At both of these conferences, Member States realized that courage and cooperation was needed to build up, rather than bail out, the SIDS canoe of prosperity.


However, SIDS came to Samoa focused on their vital, though different, needs for sustainable development. With dire health issues, especially non-communicable diseases, depleting fish stocks and deteriorating ocean conditions, lack of access to assistance due to graduation from LDC status, and high levels of unemployment and national debt, SIDS face numerous social, environmental and economic roadblocks, in addition to climate change, hindering their efforts to develop.


But many of the calls for immediate action have gone largely unanswered, and SIDS must now tackle the realities that a changing climate poses to their development. Given recent catastrophic weather events, disaster risk reduction and preparedness was, appropriately, a central topic of discussion in Samoa, although some felt the controversial topic of climate-induced migration deserved more attention. While many of these issues have been on the agenda for at least twenty years, the time remaining for islands to prepare or adapt is running out. One group of countries, specifically low-lying atoll nations, is already feeling the devastating impacts of climate change, and cannot afford to wait for the world to take action. As President Anote Tong of Kiribati implored to his fellow delegates, “How many more COPs will it take to see global action on climate change? For us on the front line, it is already too late.”


?O le fogava?a e tasi.


– We are One Family.


Looking for the urgent implementation of past commitments, rather than sweeping new political agreements, SIDS made the decision to focus the Third International Conference on SIDS on building partnerships. Attempting to put “meat on the bones” of the two previous international conferences and on the SAMOA Pathway itself, the emphasis in Samoa was to incentivize governments and stakeholders to bring new initiatives to the table instead of new text. In fact, with no textual negotiations to steal the attention, the multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues became the central focus of the conference, and 297 partnerships were recorded by its close. Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of the Conference, remarked that never before had this call for concrete actions been so well integrated into a UN conference, stating that “it is the template of the future.”


Although some feared that a lack of high-stake negotiations in Samoa would detract from the importance of or attention given to the conference, island nations seized upon the relaxed atmosphere to present a more positive narrative for their development. Showcasing themselves as models for renewable energy development and energy efficiency, information and communication technologies, and biodiversity conservation, they were able to engage partners on these issues by touting high returns on investment. The need for partnerships between SIDS was highlighted extensively, with work of the Global Island Partnership and SIDS-DOCK driving these efforts forward, as well as initiatives at the local level, such as a new partnership to promote the use of traditional knowledge in resource management in the Pacific islands. The strong presence of civil society, the private sector and the international community across the conference and its multi-sectoral forums illustrated the recognition that partnerships with all stakeholders and actors, including at the local and community levels, is required.


While the announcement of so many commitments and pledges was energizing, whether or not they will be successfully and promptly implemented in the future remains to be seen. As one delegate put it, the process from project gestation to implementation is “tortuously long and laborious.” As the traditional body for following-up on the SIDS conferences, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, held its final meeting in 2013 and the new review process for the SIDS process is yet to be agreed, the accountability of these pledged partnerships and initiatives is murky. However, the SAMOA Pathway document does offer a few options in an UN-housed online platform, a mandated report of the Secretary-General to the 69th Session of the General Assembly on a potential partnership framework, and a call for the High Level Political Forum to devote adequate time to SIDS. But, concrete follow-up on the US$1.9 billion in pledges made in Samoa is still a distant goal given the uncertainty over details of the specific review mechanism.


When asked about prioritizing partnerships as the central theme of the conference, Permanent Representative Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia of Samoa had a simple answer: “Partnership is not a blame game, but a way to correct mistakes and share in success together,” he said, “We will always say thank you to our partners first.”


E tuai tuai, ta te ma?ona ai.


– It Is a Very Long Time Coming, but it Will Be Satisfying.


The Third International SIDS Conference came at an important time for SIDS to assert their needs and priorities on the world stage, and to finally inspire new actions on long-term challenges. In Samoa, SIDS strongly reaffirmed their categorization as a special group in need of special attention, but also showcased new leadership in presenting island partnership opportunities as exciting, valuable opportunities for the global community.


This is important, especially as the world coalesces around multiple processes and negotiations in 2015 that will have dramatic consequences for small islands— the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, the Third Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda in New York, US, and the UNFCCC climate change negotiations set to adopt a new agreement in Paris, France. In their statements throughout the week, many island countries expressed hope that they can “seize the moment” to build on the outcome and momentum from Samoa to fight for their priorities on the world stage. If not, some SIDS worried that the outcome of the 2014 Conference risks becoming overshadowed by the multitude of high-profile meetings to come.


The first test will be at the next big gathering of Heads of State and Government, the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit later this month, which will take the Samoan model a step further by focusing solely on the launch of new climate initiatives, partnerships, and national commitments ahead of COP 21 in Paris. SIDS called on their global partners to show up in full force at the Summit, and pledge actions building on the momentum started in Samoa. Some countries have responded to the link between commitments to SIDS and strong climate efforts, because, as the US remarked in plenary, “the best thing that we can do for our island partners is reduce our emissions at home.” Nevertheless, the difficult climate negotiations in the year and a half ahead threaten to drown out any pledges made in Samoa.


The negotiation of the post-2015 development agenda also offers a unique opportunity for SIDS to carry forward the weight of commitments made in Samoa to a larger scale and lay the groundwork for the means of implementation of new development goals, with innovative new partnerships driving forward progress. Or, will the lack of a coherent review mechanism for SIDS partnerships also plague the international development negotiations? There is much to be worked out in the year ahead.


If one thing is certain, it is that the people and the Government of Samoa were able to bring the international community to its shores in a historic fashion. “Only by making the trip over can you appreciate our reality,” said one SIDS delegate. And that reality, while it is one of trepidation and unease for the storms to come, is also one of colorful promise in island communities. The voices of the SIDS rose up in Samoa, making it clear that they would not be underestimated by their “small” or “developing” status. These islands, now connected to the world like never before, may also be its leader in the years to come. As their ships explored the world in ancient times with the stars and waves as guides, so now do the SIDS hope to lead their people and partners in a new direction.


This analysis, taken from the summary issue of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin © [email protected], is written and edited by Asheline Appleton, Kate Louw, Leila Mead, Kate Offerdahl, and Delia Paul. The Digital Editors are Langston James “Kimo” Goree VI and Kiara Worth. The Editor is Pamela Chasek, Ph.D. <[email protected]>. The Director of iisd Reporting Services is Langston James “Kimo” Goree VI <[email protected]>. The Sustaining Donors of the Bulletin are the European Commission (DG-ENV and DG-CLIMATE) and the Government of Switzerland (the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC)). General Support for the Bulletin during 2014 is provided by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, SWAN International, the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Japanese Ministry of Environment (through the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies – IGES), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Funding for coverage of this conference has been provided by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNEP, and the World Bank. Funding for translation of the Bulletin into French has been provided by the Government of France, the Wallonia, Québec, and the International Organization of La Francophonie/Institute for sustainable development of La Francophonie (IOF/IFDD). The opinions expressed in the Bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of iisd or other donors. Excerpts from the Bulletin may be used in non-commercial publications with appropriate academic citation. For information on the Bulletin, including requests to provide reporting services, contact the Director of IISD Reporting Services at <[email protected]>, +1-646-536-7556 or 300 East 56th St., 11D, New York, NY 10022 USA.

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