Island states splits may sap their bargaining power

fisheries_SIDS report
Copyright: Jamie Oliver/WorldFish

Speed read

  • The nations clashed at a meeting over issues such as how to request funding
  • The disputes may undermine their position at a 2014 SIDS conference in Samoa
  • But the nations have agreed to prioritise climate change at the Samoa conference

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[SANTIAGO] Severe tensions among small island developing states (SIDS) at a preparatory meeting have weakened their position for next year's third UN conference on SIDS in Apia, Samoa, according to those at the meeting.
The inter-regional meeting in Barbados from 26-28 August was suspended when country representatives failed to agree on the outcome document after "three days of fractious, closed-door negotiations", the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) reported.
The meeting resumed in New York, United States, on 5 September and a consensus on the document was finally reached on 16 September.
Delegates from the 52 members of the three SIDS regions — the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Seas (AIMS), the Caribbean and the Pacific — went to Barbados in August to agree a common position for the Samoa conference on 1-4 September 2014.
The Samoa conference will assess the progress made on the actions and policies on environment and development  adopted at the first global SIDS conference in Barbados in 1994, establish priorities for the post-2015 UN development agenda and deal with new challenges.
The outcome document of the Barbados inter-regional meeting — as well as the ministerial declaration adopted there — will be the roadmap for the island countries' negotiations for the global preparatory process for Samoa.
Success at Samoa requires the SIDS "to speak to the world in a singular, unified voice", as a delegate at the Barbados meeting was reported as saying by the IISD report.  
"SIDS delegates have always had a difficult time agreeing on their priorities. They work better as a coalition lobbying for climate change and other big issues that affect them all," an expert who was at the meeting but who wants to remain anonymous, tells SciDev.Net.
The IISD report said the difficulty the SIDS had in reaching consensus was because, despite superficial similarities, they are at varying stages of economic and social development, and they have differing environmental problems, natural and human resources, vulnerability to climate change and to external trade shocks and cultural attitudes.
"They do not have much in common aside from the fact that they are small island states. Look at Singapore versus Haiti," says the expert.
One conflict at the meeting, according to the IISD report, was over the concept of the 'blue economy', that prioritises fisheries and oceans, proposed by the AIMS and Pacific SIDS. Various Caribbean SIDS saw blue economy as ambiguous, not urgent and potentially covered by other treaties and agreements.

“Not only are SIDS acutely vulnerable to the effects of climate change … but for some of us the threat is to our very existence.”

Josaia Bainimarama, Prime Minister, Fiji

Another disagreement was a reference in the outcome document to 'large ocean states', which aims to recognise that many SIDS oversee huge ocean territories, but which some delegations argued might exclude some states. A third was how to convey SIDS's need for extra funding.
"The road to Samoa will not be easy," Maxine McClean, Barbados's minister of foreign affairs and trade, told a meeting on SIDS on 25 September, convened on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.
She added that the UN's first International Year of SIDS, in 2014, will help the nations "to elevate our voices and embark on new development collaborations and partnerships".
The SIDS's priority for the Samoa conference is to discuss climate change.
The group maintains that global warming must be kept well below a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase since industrialisation. Any increase beyond that would leave them at the mercy of sea-level rise, more frequent extreme weather events and ocean acidification from higher atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.
"Not only are SIDS acutely vulnerable to the effects of climate change … but for some of us the threat is to our very existence," Fijian Prime Minister Josaia Bainimarama told the UN General Assembly on 25 September.
According to the IISD, a sea-level rise of one metre would submerge the Maldives. Some climate scientists predict that Tuvalu will be the first nation to disappear due to a rise in sea levels.
Ocean-related issues also focus prominently on the SIDS agenda for Samoa.
These include: the conservation and use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions; setting global networks for monitoring ocean acidification and managing biodiversity; and including SIDS scientists in international ocean research teams.
At the Samoa event, the SIDS will also restate the plea made at the first SIDS international conference in 1994 in Barbados for new and additional funding from UN sources and other, mainly developed, countries.
The nations are seeking such commitments in order to carry on implementing actions included in the 1994 Barbados action programme, for example, on technology transfer and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The outcome document for the Barbados meeting also asks for help in setting up regional oceanographic centres, protecting coral reefs and managing ecosystems, coastal areas and fisheries.
But an expert who was at the Barbados meeting says: "Funding for the process of implementing the action programme has been hard to come by".
Link to the outcome document
Link to the ministerial declaration