By Julia Rawlins-Bentham
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- The effect of climate change on small island developing states (SIDS) is a reality experienced by those living in such territories daily.
From Monday through Wednesday of this week, SIDS countries will have their last opportunity to come together to discuss the agenda that will be presented to the international community next year during the third International Conference on Sustainable Development of SIDS.
Between 200 and 250 delegates will converge in Barbados for the Small Islands Developing States Inter-Regional Meeting for the Third International Conference on Sustainable Development of SIDS Global.
The high-level summit will also be one of seven meetings expected to be held ahead of next year’s conference, which is scheduled for September.
Prior to the start of the conference, senior environmental officer in the ministry of the environment and drainage, Travis Sinckler, explained the upcoming summit represented the final gathering of SIDS ahead of the Samoa conference.
Barbados played a key role in the process from 1989 when it made attempts to create a space on the international agenda for SIDS’ concerns to be addressed.
Now, the island is poised to take the lead once again with the hosting of this week’s conference.
“The government of Barbados has a responsibility to forge a consensus among SIDS on the issues of critical importance to their sustainable development,” Sinckler said.
He pointed out that the issues and proposals arising from next week’s conference were in response to the General Assembly resolution that provides the basis for the conference.
Sinckler said the resolution sought to address four issues -- assessing the progress made from 1994 to the present, with respect to implementing the Barbados Programme of Action for the sustainable development of SIDS; proposing concrete and pragmatic actions to close gaps identified in the implementation; identifying new and emerging challenges and issues that came onto the table since 2005; and identifying priorities for the upcoming post 2015 agenda.
The senior environmental officer pointed out that Barbados has made “tremendous” strides since 1994 in the social, economic and environmental dimensions of its development.
He noted that the country continued to make significant investments in the areas of health, education and transportation, while there were considerable investments made in marketing the island to new destinations over the last 19 years.
“We have also done tremendously well in terms of the actions on the environmental management side of things. We have seen a new physical development plan and that [was] promulgated by Parliament in 2008, and provides the framework for integrating the three pillars in our development.
"We have also seen a lot of progress on coastal conservation, and in the areas of pollution prevention and management,” Sincker noted.
However, despite its achievements, Barbados has already identified a number of key areas which it intends to place on the table next week. These areas include non-communicable diseases; the graduation issue for some SIDS and access to official development assistance; and the overall concept of financing for sustainable development in terms of access to new and sustainable resources to propel sustainability.
In addition, government officials will also be taking issues relating to the oceans to the table.
“The prime minister in 2012 at Rio identified this as a key area for Barbados, [and] we are seeing the Pacific SIDS continue to work to promote their oceans issues. The African and Indian SIDS have also articulated a proposal for the blue economy. These are issues that will feature prominently in the conference,” he added.
However, though next year will mark 20 years since the first meeting was held, technical advisor and negotiator for the SIDS +20, Gordon Bispham, said, “The scenario is still somewhat the same even though the challenges may be different in terms of the level of amplification.”
He explained that on the economic front the financial crisis was still plaguing SIDS today.
“A lot of small island developing states have graduated during the process, and do not have access to concessional financing through overseas development assistance, [and] Barbados is one of those countries.
“The majority of SIDS are classified as middle income countries, or high income countries and, therefore, do not benefit from concessional funds at the international level. That is a challenge for us,” he pointed out.
In addition, the technical advisor noted that there were also concerns with a food volatility pricing crisis where the commodities traded daily were becoming very expensive to import, and most of the SIDS were net importers of food.
He further indicated there were also questions surrounding the “rampant” volatility of fuel, energy, oil and petrol.
“Some countries are spending as much as 40 and 70 percent of their GDP [gross domestic product] trying to import fuel to run the various energy cycles. We have a serious challenge there. We have got to move towards renewables. This is the state of play – food security, fuel security, finance security – these are some very pressing issues for small island developing states,” he stressed.
Bispham noted that, by the end of next week’s conference, it was hoped that an integrated framework that sets the platform for cooperation between SIDS and their developing partners in the north, would be in place.
“We recognise that there is an implementation deficit at the national level… There are a number of gaps which need to be closed and the challenges have put us in a situation where we have to use all the resources available to us, as well as any technical assistance we may get from any of our developing partners, to try to arrive at a solution or national plan that could move us forward,” he said.
He further stated that they were also hoping to reach a consensus on the way forward in terms of what mechanisms or modalities could be used to ensure plans could become operational, and have a situation where there is a more predictable source and more stable source of financing for sustainable development.
“We also want to ensure that a number of pilot projects are put in place whether [they are] on the economic front, the social front or the ecological front. We have to do a lot of work in terms of our coastal management. We still have to do a lot of work with our agricultural sector; in terms of providing employment for young graduates that are coming out from the universities, colleges and schools. So we have a whole gamut of things… [to implement],” he said.
Representatives from the United Nations through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will also feature prominently in the conference. Deputy resident representative of the UNDP, Lara Blanco, explained that the agency shared the objectives that relate to climate change and the needs of vulnerable populations.
“We are also facilitating and offering support to the government’s objectives in terms of what they would want to achieve in this meeting,” she stated.
Following the Rio conference in 1992, the first SIDS conference was held in Barbados from April 25 to May 6, 1994.