Ahead of Samoa conference, island nations gather in New York to discuss partnership opportunities

Digue Island, Seychelles.
Digue Island, Seychelles.

Ahead of Samoa conference, island nations gather in New York to discuss partnership opportunities

Preparations are well underway for a United Nations conference on the challenges and opportunities of partnering with small island developing States, a top UN organizing official today said as representatives are gathering in New York to agree on what will be the outcome of the conference.

“By attending the meeting in Samoa, delegates will exercise and experience the reality of a small island developing States, its vulnerabilities as well as its resilience,” the Conference’s Secretary-General, Wu Hongbo, told journalists in New York.

Representatives of attending Member States are meeting at the UN Headquarters this week for the preparatory meeting ahead of the Third UN Conference on Small Island Developing States, to be held in the Samoan capital, Apia, starting 1 September.

The Conference will be a “unique opportunity for world leaders to focus the world’s attention on a group of countries that remain a special case for sustainable development,” Mr. Hongbo said, adding that what happens to small islands has a global impact and is central to the post-2015 agenda.

The group of States shares similar sustainable development challenges, including small but growing populations, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, excessive dependence on international trade, and fragile environments. Its economies face challenges from high costs in communication, energy and transportation, as well as lacks of infrastructure and little to no opportunity to create economies of scale.

At the same time, these nations are also at the forefront of finding innovative solutions to global challenges like climate change, access to energy and environmental degradation.

The Conference is meant to give countries an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity and partnership with small island developing nations, said Mr. Hongbo, who is also UN Under- Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. He added that the conference would offer a platform for launching new and concrete partnerships in areas of sustainable tourism and disaster risk reduction, for example.

The Permanent Representative of Samoa to the UN, Mr. Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia, said that his Government, as well as those of other similar island nations, are looking for partnerships that are specific to their contexts, able to be implemented within a timeframe, and reportable.

“No partnership is insignificant,” Mr. Elisaia told the press. “Everything is relative.”

The UN has said it expects more than 200 “concrete partnerships” to be announced at the Conference “for lifting islanders out of poverty and braving challenges such as rising sea levels, overfishing, and typhoons and tsunamis.”

In addition to partnerships, the Conference outcome, which representatives are meeting this week to draft, will outline the main challenges and priorities for small island developing states.

Among topics to be discussed this week will be tourism, food security and sustainable energy alternatives. Side events will be organized at the UN headquarters by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

A photo exhibit featuring images submitted by islanders through social media is also on display. Images can be viewed at http://ow.ly/yeFP6.

The Conference in Samoa will take place during the same month that the UN General Assembly will devote its annual high-level segment to deliberations on the sustainable development agenda beyond 2015, the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

It is also during this time that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host a climate summit to raise the level of ambition towards a universal legal agreement in 2015.

This year is also the International Year of Small Island Developing States, the first time that the General Assembly designated an international year for a group of countries.