Secretary-General: World Must Stop Accelerating Cycle of Disaster, Debt Afflicting Small Island Developing States
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the high-level midterm review of the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action (Samoa Pathway), in New York on 27 September:
Welcome and thank you for your engagement and commitment on behalf of small island developing States. Many of the issues we have discussed this week have a disproportionate impact on these countries, so this is a welcome opportunity to focus on them.
The climate emergency represents the single biggest threat to their survival. In small island countries, one natural disaster can erode a generation of development gains. I have seen this in Barbuda and Dominica, and most recently in the Bahamas. Hurricane Dorian was pure hell on earth. Around a quarter of the people of small island developing States live five metres or less above sea level. Relocation could severely impact their societies and way of life, and even raise questions of sovereignty and national identity.
Small island developing States have led the world in ambition and effort on the climate emergency, consistent with the 1.5°C warming that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has advised is the upper limit for adaptation. On Monday at the Climate Action Summit, small island States together committed to carbon neutrality and to move to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030, again leading the world in the right direction.
But the climate crisis is piling injustice upon injustice. Despite contributing very little, practically nothing, to global warming, small island developing States are paying the highest price. And because of their middle-income status, many are trapped in an accelerating and unsustainable cycle of disaster and debt. The world must step up and stop it.
It is time to make big decisions and big investments in small island developing States.
Today’s political declaration calls for ways to help small island developing States to manage disaster risk, invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and transition to renewable energy.
It also urges international institutions to help small island developing States, particularly highly indebted middle-income countries, to access finance.
Solutions exist, and it is time to implement them.
Small island developing States are on the frontlines of protecting and conserving the oceans that are the lifeblood of our planet.
The latest special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released this week, confirms that the oceans are already suffering the “sweeping and severe” consequences of the climate crisis.
Extreme sea level rises that used to happen once per century could occur every year by mid-century in many regions. The report warns that without major investments in adaptation, some island nations are likely to become uninhabitable.
Pollution, overfishing and acidification are taking a massive toll. We have lost half of all living coral in the past 150 years, while plastic pollution has increased ten-fold in the past four decades.
Demands from industry, shipping, mining and tourism are decimating resources, including the fishing grounds that sustain many island communities.
Small island countries also face high costs for transport, energy and infrastructure. They depend heavily on a few external markets, putting them at the mercy of price rises. Some are struggling with the security impact of illicit trafficking in people, weapons and drugs.
Many years ago, I trained as an engineer, and I learned an important principle: by solving a problem in its most challenging context, you solve it everywhere. Supporting small island developing States to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will provide us with tools, lessons and examples for the entire world.
Today’s global review is an opportunity for the international community to take stock of progress made on implementing the Samoa Pathway and identify challenges. It should help Governments to chart a way forward based on strong partnerships with the private sector, civil society, academia and others.
It is an important chance for the international community to demonstrate the necessary solidarity.
The Samoa Pathway is a global effort based on a collective vision. All countries must meet their commitments.
The United Nations system will continue to support the Governments of small island States in expanding their activities and partnerships for sustainable development.
Small island developing States are a special case for sustainable development. They require concerted long-term attention and investment of the entire international community.
The Samoa Pathway will guide us as we work together for a better future for small island developing States, and lives of dignity and prosperity for all. Thank you.