Reflections from the Third International Conference on SIDS
Amber Carvan, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)
Today was the highlight of my professional career. If, at some point in the past, I'd been told to visualise such a moment I might have imagined delivering a rip-roaring presentation to the resounding applause of my peers, or maybe attending the successful launch of a project that I had conceived and realised.
As it happened, the highlight of my career did not require any of the training, study, hard work or third-party recognition that I imagined it would. It simply involved sitting quietly on a seat. For 45 minutes I was asked to mind the designated seat marked 'Pacific Regional Environment Programme' in the first plenary session of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States.
As you've probably guessed, this is my first time at a United Nations Conference. I imagine that for those who do this sort of thing all the time my emotional response at sitting in an otherwise unremarkable seat may seem a little over the top. (If you're already rolling your eyes you might wish to stop reading at this point.)
For context, when I sat myself down at that seat in today's plenary – my senses on alert, desperately trying to absorb every aspect of the experience – I felt suddenly overwhelmed with memories of my 12-year-old self. At that young age – brimming with confidence, optimism and (undeniably) my own sense of self-importance – I would tell anyone who asked that when I grew up I planned to be the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
It goes without saying that this particular dream was never realised. But today, 30 years on and a changed person in so many ways, what I did realise is that, deep down, I still have that same underlying faith in what the United Nations has to offer. I still believe that, despite their flaws, conferences such as this one are places where good decisions can be made and lives can be changed for the better.
At times when the day is long – when concentration is lapsing and an inevitable discomfort begins to set in – I think that it's well worth reminding ourselves of the incredible privilege it is to be involved in this event, in any capacity...even as a seat-warmer. It may also be worth thinking about the 12 year old children that we once were. The children whose values may well have resulted in the pursuit of a line of work that has somehow led us here – even if, for most of us, the closest we'll ever get to Secretary-General of the United Nations is to sit for 45 minutes in the same room as Ban Ki-moon.