At the recently concluded global launch of the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), to be celebrated throughout 2014, Ronald Jumeau, Ambassador of Climate Change and SIDS, Seychelles, who served as Master of Ceremonies, noted that the occasion marks the first time the UN has dedicated an International Year to a particular category of countries. The launch ceremony took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 24 February 2014.
John Ashe, President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), said that while SIDS are seen as exotic, tropical paradises, they face limited human resources and institutional capacity, and extreme vulnerability to exogenous shocks and natural disasters. The Year provides opportunities to: celebrate SIDS’ contributions to the global family; address their environmental degradation, social and economic marginalization; and harness fresh commitments and energy for the tasks ahead. Recalling the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA) and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20), Ashe said it is time for “political commitments and political will to converge.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the importance of climate change for SIDS and the Climate Summit he will convene in New York on 23 September 2014. He also recalled the theme of the Third UN Conference on SIDS – ‘island voices, global choices’ – and urged governments to heed SIDS’ calls in their global discussions. He also stressed the need to achieve the remaining MDGs by 2015, noting SIDS’ lack of progress on sustainable development and even regression on poverty eradication and debt issues. Ban added, “Planet Earth is our shared island.”
Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo said SIDS have made inspiring progress in addressing their vulnerabilities. He expressed hope that at the Third UN Conference on SIDS in in September 2014, world leaders will renew their political commitment to SIDS, tackle challenges through partnership and agree on SIDS’ priorities for the post-2015 development agenda.
Baron Waqa, President of Nauru, said island people have “forever enriched the tapestry of the human experience,” but their progress did not come easily, and their work is far from complete, due to the “cruel indifferences of a globalized economy and political system,” among other factors. He said the International Year is celebrated with the somber knowledge that unless action is taken soon, some islands will not make it to the end of the century.
Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of Samoa, said some SIDS are even worse off than when their ‘special case’ status was assigned 20 years ago. During the Year, SIDS will command the attention of everyone with an interest in sustainability. He highlighted additional reasons for the importance of 2014: the creation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Climate Summit, the process to agree on the post-2015 development agenda, and the SIDS Conference.
The launch event also included remarks by Barbados’ Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Maxine McClean, who recalled her country’s hosting of the first SIDS Conference in 1994, and Warren Chanansingh of Trinidad and Tobago on behalf of all nine Major Groups, as well as a video presentation highlighting islanders’ leadership in safeguarding their environments. Among the cultural performances was a youth dancer from Kiribati, Josephine Baaro, who represented impacts of sea level rise.
Also coinciding with the International Year of SIDS, this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May) will take up the theme of ‘Island Biodiversity.’
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