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.

Reflections on the Major Groups and other Stakeholders Forum

Emanuele Taupau, Samoa Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organisations (SUNGO)

After the success of day one of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders Forum, participants began the final day in collaboration and discussion on the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway, the outcome document of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The group discussions centred on defining what are durable and genuine partnerships between civil society and other stakeholders, and government and the private sector. “What does ‘partnerships’ mean?” was the challenge for each region to discuss during the break-out session. The Pacific had the biggest group with many diverse issues put forth.

Hosts of the Pre-Conference Forum, the Samoa Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organisations (SUNGO), pointed out in the Pacific caucus discussions that the support of Government in providing a level playing field and an environment that is conducive to partnerships between civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector are needed, as well as capacity building to ensure sustainability and continuity. One of its member bodies – Adventists Disaster Relief Assistance (ADRA) identified that, for them, willingness to be transparent and proactively accountable to donors fostered effective donor partnerships, enabling them to strengthen existing relationships and have a stronger view towards potential partnerships.

The regions mutually agreed that addressing climate change and sustainable development through partnerships was a key issue to lobby for at the SIDS Conference in Apia, Samoa. Governments, the private sector and CSOs working collaboratively to bring focus to these two issues is vital to ensuring the continuity of this partnership approach.

Other issues that were tabled included gender equality, indigenous rights and health, in the context of sexual reproductive and health rights (SRHR), to name a few. Some of the topics discussed were not included in the outcome document and the participants had the opportunity to lobby this with the drafting committee of the Forum Statement. However, the general consensus was also the need to increase the time and number of days spent on analysing and reviewing key issues from all the regions and consolidating it into a document in which all participants felt well represented.

The drafting committee also proposed that the regions conduct a consultative process to determine a regional focal point to manage ongoing collaboration and partnership on the issues that were highlighted and reviewed. Chairperson Chantal Munro Knight highlighted that the only way forward for civil society, NGOs and the relationship with the private sector was the unity and solidarity that must remain an integral part of the Major Groups.

SUNGO and its members have demonstrated that success through partnerships is possible by having their affiliated NGOs and CSOs working together and alongside their international counterparts towards stronger connectivity and unity on an international platform. The general consensus at the close of the forum was that this was a great template for future collaborations.

SUNGO has been collaboratively working with PIANGO (its regional partner) on effective ways to push through civil society views and contributions at the SIDS conference here in Apia for the sake of the region’s CSO and NGO advancement.

Reflections from the Renewable Energy Forum

Amber Carvan, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)

Opportunity, innovation and urgency were key themes of the discussions at today's Renewable Energy Forum, an official SIDS pre-conference event presented by the Governments of Samoa, New Zealand and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

I had the pleasure of attending this Forum through my role in the communications team at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). We were blessed to have an array of knowledgeable, articulate and passionate speakers at the event – my fingers were certainly kept busy trying to jot down their words as faithfully as possible. Rather than provide a summary of discussions, I'd like to share some of my favourite messages from the day-long event. Apologies in advance if these statements are not a word perfect reflection of what was spoken at the event today.

The first of my favourite messages came from Samoa's Prime Minister, HE Mr Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, who stressed the importance of renewable energy initiatives to safeguarding the future of Small Island Developing States.

Renewable energy holds the key to stabilising the climate system. This is not just a matter of development and prosperity but also our survival.

Mr Adnan Amin, the Director-General of IRENA, did a great job of moderating the high level discussion on renewable energy and spoke eloquently about the important legacy that Pacific islanders have created as a result of mastering the tides and currents to explore the vast oceans that characterise our region.

The climate change challenge and adoption of renewable energy technologies gives Pacific islanders the opportunity to apply this same ingenuity to other aspects of the natural environment.

This navigation metaphor was further developed throughout the day and was picked up by a number of other speakers, including Ambassador Angus Friday from Grenada in the session about mainstreaming renewables in SIDS.

We have an opportunity here to navigate around the thorny issue of Small Island Developing States and renewable energy but it requires that we all row together.

The same speaker went on to deliver one of my favourite messages of the day. Ambassador Friday talked passionately about the critical importance of 're-framing' some of the challenges faced by SIDS in financing and implementing renewable energy projects.

We [the SIDS] don't just have to come to the table cap in hand. We have a magnificent offer to make to the rest of the world whereby we can serve as a petri dish for how to deal with these [climate related] issues. Truly, this is a magnificent offer.

Like many others, I'm very much looking forward to observing how the discussions on renewable energy develop and evolve through the course of next week's conference.

Reflections: Youth Forum

Kiara Worth, IISD

The Pre-Conference Forum on youth, hosted by the UN Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY) focused on identifying opportunities for young people from Small Island Developing States to engage proactively in opportunities relating to sustainable development.

The forum shared successful, innovative partnerships and initiatives to determine how these could be replicated to address development challenges. Interactive regional discussions took place to foster the development of partnerships within the Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Seas (AIMS), Caribbean and Pacific regions. Thematic sessions focused on climate change and biodiversity, water and sustainable energy, education, entrepreneurship and employment, and social development in SIDS, health and non-communicable diseases, and youth and women.

The session closed with the adoption of a youth oriented outcome statement that will be used during the main SIDS conference.

 

Reflections: Major Groups and Other Stakeholders Forum

It was great to be a part of yesterday’s Major Groups and other Stakeholders Forum and to see so many SIDS’ civil society and other representatives out in force. From optimism to frustration, a range of emotions were expressed in plenary and break-out sessions, no less in amazing impromptu indigenous songs to get everyone going after long conversations or brief pauses.

The key outcome of the day was due to be a collectively-agreed Forum Statement – no mean feat with well over a hundred people in the conference hall at any one time. As to be expected with many different issues and priorities to consider, the early drafts were lengthy, leaving the drafting committee with a tough task to develop a succinct final statement reflecting everyone’s positions, ambitions and energy.

I had to leave before a final statement was adopted but it was interesting to note the parallels with the processes of intergovernmental negotiations on sustainable development policies, in which the Major Groups and other Stakeholders are inevitably the voices piling on the pressure from the sidelines. Maybe some of the stakeholders present yesterday will even develop some empathy for governments, or just gain some extra practice in influencing and interrogating them; or maybe it simply highlights – given the energy, enthusiasm and expertise on display – that stakeholders should be an integral part of such processes from the off. No doubt the Forum Statement will become a key text throughout next week’s ‘main’ Conference, and well it should.

But once the Conference is wrapped up and – sadly – we have to leave Samoa, the challenge then comes in keeping up the momentum and the partnership working in what can and should become a truly powerful network of SIDS stakeholders.

A discussion on advocacy showed that many organisations are ahead of others in their campaigns or strategies, and that many feel that the time is no longer for advocacy but for implementation. However, no-one can really say they know all there is to know about advocacy. I hope that the SD2015 Programme’s Advocacy Toolkit and Media Guide (www.SD2015.org) can provide some of these stakeholders, or the network as a whole, with some ideas and guidance to keep up the conversation, take it to an even wider audience, and direct its key messages to the decision-makers that will ultimately have a political say on the future of SIDS and their vital place in the post-2015 development agenda. What is surely for certain is that by working in partnership, sharing experience and expertise and using tools such as the Forum Statement to direct collaborative advocacy, such an impressive array of voices and agendas can keep up the pressure and make an impact for everyone’s benefit.

Reflections from COP 19, Wednesday 20th November

Georgia Foddis, Youth Press Agency, Italy

What a sad coincidence that I, as a young woman from Sardinia, am here in Warsaw at COP 19. This year’s climate change negotations are a solemn event, however this has seemingly made it seem all the more important to take action against climate change as soon as possible, to raise awareness on the issue and to push the negotiators towards an agreement which can successfully tackle global warming.

This week my land has been hit by a violent cyclone and related flooding, which have already caused 16 deaths, left thousands homeless and wreaked widespread destruction. I am pleasantly surprised by the media attention the event has received, with the likes of BBC and CNN reporting on the Sardinian flood. I watched this coverage while having lunch, but was unable to finish my meal.

On the other hand, I am really disappointed: I feel like the climate change argument is on this occasion being improperly used in attempts to hide national and local politicians’ responsibilities. Phrases such as ‘apocalyptic storm’ suggest that there was nothing to do to prevent it. And this is not true!

The tragedy could have been avoided – we were not helpless. Instead, we have the moral obligation to focus on the lack of prevention instruments and on the indifference of our politicians with regards to the topic of soil management and protection. The national political agenda does not consider it as a priority, even though around 6 million people in Italy are exposed to the risk of floods. 80 per cent of Sardinian towns and villages are located in high-risk areas for flooding, as a consequence, these kind of deadly events regularly occur, but still nothing has been done to change the situation. What is even worse, is that the local funds aimed at protecting the soil and reducing hydrogeological risk were totally revoked last summer.

To conclude, speaking about climate change to describe these events may be a double edged sword. At a local level, climate change is still deemed to be a very far-off issue that is hard to deal with and is unfortunately often used as an argument to justify politicians’ deficiences and and lack of action.

So, let us get critical, let us fall in love with our own land, let us start acting in defence of it with the instruments we already have. Without doing so, our efforts on a higher level, such as those at COP 19, will not be enough.

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