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Small island development ‘a test case’ for climate and financial justice, says Guterres

A view of St. John's, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, the host of the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4).
© UNICEF/Roger LeMoyne
A view of St. John's, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, the host of the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4).

Small island development ‘a test case’ for climate and financial justice, says Guterres

Economic Development

Good morning from the blue waters and lush green hills of the Caribbean where earlier we were reporting live from the opening of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) on the beautiful twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

Some of the key developments so far on day one of the conference where leaders from governments, the UN, civil society, business, academia and youth activists have gathered to chart a course towards resilient prosperity for existentially threatened island nations.  

Main points this Monday:

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  • UN chief António Guterres said it was time for both climate and financial justice across the vulnerable small island developing nations
  • This means an end to a “two-speed financial world” and SIDS paying the highest price due to climate change they played no part in causing
  • SIDS have born the brunt of global shocks due to COVID, extreme weather, and regional wars causing volatility in the global economy
  • The new Antigua and Barbuda Agenda “will outline steps to achieve resilient prosperity in partnership with the international community”, said Mr. Guterres
  • King Charles said in a video message that "your future is our future...ultimately all of us need bold and determined action"
  • Ignoring SIDS’ predicament “is to gamble with our collective future” warned Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne – we must act with conviction and unyielding resolve
  • President of the General Assembly Dennis Francis said without global financial reform, SIDS can’t unleash their full potential or reach the 2030 SDGs
  • DESA chief LI Junhua said the conference will be “a catalyst for new and reinvigourated partnerships” and ambitious action to realise that huge potential

For full speaker-by-speaker coverage of the SIDS conference, visit our Meetings Coverage Section here.

11:05 AM

‘Listen to us’

The opening session ended with a plea from young Lutrell John, who was one of the delegates to the SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit at the weekend.

Youth representative Lutrell John addressing the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4).
UN Photo

The fresh-faced Antigua and Barbuda resident told delegates his generation wants a better, safer future.

He recalled the “lifechanging devastation” of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and is increasingly aware of the worsening climate crisis.

“I love my country, it’s beautiful, it’s my home but I fear for my future”, he said.

If we really want sustainable development, the voices of children must be at the heart of the conversation. “You need to listen to us and respect our ideas and our solutions”, he said.

10:50 AM 

Turning the tide

Echoing the UN chief’s take, LI Junhua, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and Secretary-General of the SIDS4 Conference, said that the agreed ABAS commitment tells the SIDS’ story.

“But most importantly it shows the global community how we can together set out to support them. It offers an opportunity to turn the tide and set SIDS on the path to achieve resilient prosperity.”

He said that the conference will be “a catalyst for new and reinvigourated partnerships, financing and ambitious actions to support these extraordinary island nations to reach their potential.”

He called for everyone in the room to deliver the ambitious ABAS programme together.

10:40 AM

President of the General Assembly Dennis Francis – who hails from the nearby Caribbean State Trinidad and Tobago - said the long-awaited SIDS4 conference “offers a powerful once in a decade platform” for action, under the ABAS action programme.

"If we do not undertake substantive reform of the international financial framework and the multilateral architecture – and their governance – developing countries including SIDS, cannot unleash their full potential to mobilize much-needed resources to achieve the 2030 Agenda and it’s SDGs”, he told the conference.

10:30 AM

Small island States ‘a test case for climate justice and financial justice’

The world must not allow the loss of a single country or culture due to global warming or a continuation of a “two-speed financial world” where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, said UN chief António Guterres in his opening address.

Mr. Guterres said along with their exceptional beauty – be it the blue waters of the Caribbean, South Pacific or the Indian Ocean - SIDS are also exceptionally vulnerable. 

“Your unique geography puts you at the mercy of climate chaos, rising sea levels and land degradation. Climate change is an existential crisis for the entire human family, but SIDS are on the frontlines.”

Reliant on imports and complex supply chains, the global shocks of record extreme weather, the tourism destroying COVID pandemic and regional wars, many SIDS have been left reeling in rough waters.

Life rafts needed

“The new Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS outlines steps to achieve resilient prosperity in partnership with the international community”, said the UN chief. 

“The United Nations stands with you” in battling the climate crisis; building resilient economies; safe and healthy societies, biodiversity conservation; “and to protect and sustainably use the ocean and its resources.”

He called on SIDS to make bold and sustainable investments themselves – but they can’t succeed alone. 

“The international community has a duty to support you – led by the countries that have greatest responsibility and capacity to deal with the challenges you face”, he declared.

Justice at the core

SIDS are a test case for climate justice and financial justice”, he said, and with the 1.5 degree limit in temperature rise already fast approaching, “we cannot accept the disappearance of any country or culture under the rising waves.”

“The idea that an entire island state could become collateral damage for profiteering by the fossil fuel industry, or competition between major economies, is simply obscene." 

SIDS have led from the front for decades already, serving as the world’s conscience on the climate crisis – making the difference in Paris in 2015.

“Today, we need your fierce voices more than ever”, said the Secretary-General.

‘Sky high costs’

SIDS also need financial justice, he explained, urging leaders in Antigua to insist developed countries come through on pledges to double adaptation financing to allow proper defences to be built to save island nations from destruction. 

“You also have every right to call for new and significant contributions to the Loss and Damage Fund. Some of your countries have suffered damage worth more than half their GDP overnight, in cyclones and storms”, Mr. Guterres said. 

But we are in a two-speed financial world. To the rich – cheap loans and easy money. But the global majority – the countries that need financing for development – are paying sky high costs to borrow money.”

The millstone of debt is drowning SIDS economies as the ocean erode the shore: “This is creating a vicious cycle of stress and vulnerability and constraining your ability to invest in the SDGs.”

He highlighted the need for an SDG Stimulus and deep reforms to the “outdated, dysfunctional and unjust global financial architecture”, putting the needs of developing countries first.  

‘Almighty noise’

He said the temptation to turn inwards, and lower expectations must be avoided. 

“That is not the SIDS way.  Collaboration and mutual support will help SIDS to weather both geopolitical and physical storms.”

And when you speak together, SIDS can make an almighty noise. I urge you to do so at this critical time for our planet and our future.”

10:12 AM

Imperative to ‘act now’ and limit global warming

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne has just been elected to preside over SIDS4.

He said SIDS vulnerabilities placed them at a major disadvantage and large scale polluters should compensate countries for their exploitation. 

The relentless climate crisis has severely undermined efforts to meet the SDGs, making the search for solutions all the more critical he said. 

This year has been the hottest in history practically everywhere, underscoring the urgency of our predicament, he added.

"To ignore this is to gamble with our collective future. Continuing with business as usual is not just negligence, it is an active choice that invites disaster. Such indifference will reverberate disastrously affecting every nation, every community and every individual across the planet."

Putting profits over sustainability must end he said, calling for a global carbon tax to be levied on hugely profitable oil companies. "Failing to act will dictate the fate of SIDS...It is imperative that we act now, not tomorrow but today, with conviction and with unyielding resolve."

10:05 AM

'Your future is our future': King Charles

The SIDS4 conference is ALMOST formally underway. and there's a special message from King Charles, Head of State of Antigua and Barbuda.

In a video played to delegates, the monarch said that over decades, he has seen for himself the critical challenges faced by SIDS and how they can multiply to a horrifying degree.

He said he had been in awe of the climate action leadership shown by SIDS, which has been crucial to fight climate change during the 2015 Paris Agreement negotiations and beyond.

"However, I hardly need to tell you of all people that there is much further to go", to build new partnerships and make sustainable development a reality, he said.

"The issues before you could hardly be more important. Your future is our future...ultimately all of us need bold and determined action."

09:45 AM

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne was the last speaker in the cultural segment, in a video clip from the UN General Assembly, appealing for more support for SIDS in the light of corrosive climate change.

09:35 AM

Now it's a performance of pure joy, showcasing some of the great attractions of this jewel of the Caribbean. "Show me how much you're loving Antigua and Barbuda so far!", is the cry from the stage. It's a loud and celebratory welcome to islanders from across the world. 

09:25 AM

It's been quite a show: dancing, singing, dramatic video of beauty and human suffering due to climate change - and the spectre of natural disaster in the form of hurricanes that Antigua and Barbuda knows about only too well, having suffered through Irma and Maria in 2017.

Dawn breaks over Jolly Beach, Antigua and Barbuda, as nations convene for the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4).
UN News/Matthew Wells
Dawn breaks over Jolly Beach, Antigua and Barbuda, as nations convene for the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4).

09:14 AM

We were just treated to a performance from the Antigua and Barbuda Youth Symphony Orchestra. Now it's a theatrical performance focused on the dangers of climate change for the vulnerable nations gathered in the hall. We have trees, tropical sounds and a warning that the ecosystem is way off balance..."We must give the youth of these nations a chance", Mother Nature is saying:

"What affects small island States, affects us all. Respect all of nature or everything you know will soon disappear!"

Buses ready to ferry participants to the conference venue.
UN News/Matthew Wells
Buses ready to ferry participants to the conference venue.

08:45 AM - It all gets going in a few minutes’ time with a cultural opening event. Luckily the sun is shining this morning, in comparison with yesterday’s debilitating rain storms that reminded everyone here of the unpredictability of increasingly extreme weather that will be one of the chief talking points this week.

You can find full coverage of the entire week and special features leading up to the conference, on our landing page here.

'Resilient prosperity'

More than 20 world leaders, together with representatives from the private sector, civil society, academia and youth – close to 4,000 participants in all - have gathered at the verdant conference venue in the American University of Antigua close to the capital St John’s, to tackle critical issues impacting the future of SIDS. 

Under the theme Charting the course toward resilient prosperity, the four-day Conference (27-30 May) will showcase new innovations and develop practical solutions to address critical SIDS-specific challenges driven by the climate emergency, spiralling debt and health crises. 

For more on the conference, check out our curtain raiser story here. UN News was at one of the high level events over the weekend organized by more than 80 young changemakers from across the globe and you can check out their demand for action here.


The Conference will adopt The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS) – a Renewed Declaration for Resilient Prosperity, which sets out the sustainable development aspirations of small islands over the next decade and the support required from the international community to achieve them.

The SIDS across the Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea are home to approximately 65 million people. They manage 19.1 per cent of the world's Exclusive Economic Zones and the resources they hold.

Accounting for 14 per cent of the world’s coastlines, SIDS boast a high degree of biodiversity. SIDS have pioneered renewable energy solutions, championed sustainable tourism while spearheading conservation efforts and making major strides in developing ocean-based economies.