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Small Island Developing States Face ‘Unique’ Sustainability Challenges Requiring ‘Special’ Attention to Meet Post-2015 Agenda Goals, High-level Forum Hears
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1 Jul 2015 - Small island developing States’ narrow resource base, remoteness and heavy dependence on volatile export markets were just part of the reason why they required “special” attention in the broader development discourse, the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development heard today, as representatives of Governments and civil society explored the themes of partnership and outreach in the post-2015 era during three panel discussions.

In the morning panel, titled on “The Samoa Pathway: translating vision to action”, four panellists discussed the importance of strong partnerships in meeting commitments agreed upon in the outcome document of the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, held in 2014 in Samoa. The focus on inclusive economic growth and job creation offered a good starting point, some said, but progress would falter without investment in strong, modern infrastructure.

Indeed, small island developing States dealt with “unique and particular” vulnerabilities, speakers said, that hindered their ability to meet goals in the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Their size meant they had limited options for diversifying their economies, while their export volume was often too small to achieve economies of scale. Coupled with their isolation and risk for environmental shock, they struggled to attract investors, some said.

“This Forum will be key for translating our vision and partnerships into action,” said the representative of Vanuatu on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States. The partnerships framework called for in the Pathway was essential and he supported engaging the Forum in that regard. Equally important, said the representative of the Maldives, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, was structuring programmes and outcome documents through a “SIDS lens”.

In the afternoon, experts on a panel titled “Reaching out to the world: Communicating the agenda” emphasized the importance of communication strategies for informing people from all walks of life about the agenda’s goals, purposes and values. Tailored approaches at global, regional, national and levels were needed to ensure the agenda was well understood and supported by Governments, international organizations, civil society, business and societies at large.

In a final panel on “Reaching out to the world: training and learning for sustainable development”, speakers emphasized that people everywhere should be aware of how their actions and choices impacted humanity and the health of the planet. They must be equipped to make informed choices in their personal and professional lives. In many parts of the world, including the wealthiest, schools, universities and training institutions were underfunded and lacked the capacity to impart adequate knowledge about sustainable development. Speakers weighed options for bridging the many gaps and shortcomings to building awareness.

The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 2 July, to continue its annual session.

Panel I

The High-level Political Forum opened today with a panel discussion entitled, “SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway: Translating vision to action”. Moderated by Ronald Jean Jumeau, Ambassador for Climate Change and Small Island Developing States Issues (Seychelles), it featured four panellists.

They were Azeema Adam, Governor, Maldives Monetary Authority; Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia, Permanent Representative of Samoa to the United Nations; Andrew Downes, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Office of Planning and Development, University of the West Indies, Barbados; and Ben Glass, Chief Executive Officer, Altaeros Energies, Boston, United States.

The panel also featured two lead discussants: Gustavo Fonseca, Director of Programmes, Global Environment Facility, Washington, D.C.; and Florence Pignolet-Tardan, Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development, La Réunion, France.

Launching that discussion, MARTIN SAJDIK (Austria), Chair of the Economic and Social Council, said that the Samoa Pathway adopted at the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States represented the programme of action for the further sustainable development of such States for the coming decade. It recognized, as a core theme, that genuine and durable partnerships were essential to the sustainable development of those isle countries. The Political Forum had an important role to play in reviewing the implementation of the Samoa Pathway. As decided by the Assembly, the sustainable development challenges facing the world’s most vulnerable States would be a priority for the Forum. The issue was one which the international community would have to tackle with great concentration and dedication.

Mr. JUMEAU said that it was critical to translate the vision of the Samoa Pathway into action. The creation of that document sought dynamic and innovative solutions to that special case for development; strong partnerships were needed in that respect. More than 300 partnerships were announced in Samoa, but what had become of them, he questioned. Tenacity and commitment were needed. “Small States like the [small island developing States] must speak with loud, clear voices,” he added in that respect.

Taking the floor, Ms. ADAM said that the Pathway’s emphasis on inclusive economic growth and creating employment for youth created good starting points. However, no progress would be made unless the gap between commitments and action was closed. Focusing on generating finance for infrastructure projects, she said that strong modern infrastructure was a perquisite for economic resilience and connectivity. In Maldives, physical infrastructure was necessary for the development of that country’s economy; the local workforce must be mobilized to work in the creation of infrastructure. Financing was crucial. Economic resilience could help build resilience in other areas, such as on the political front. Partnerships built on mutual respect with mutual benefits were needed. There were few innovative financing options available to small island developing States, as they were not able to borrow in the international markets due to high risk ratings. Better financial and economic data were needed; outdated labels such as “tax havens” tarnished the image of those States for a long time.

Taking the floor, Mr. ELISAIA said that the importance of the Samoa conference could not be overstated. The formal adoption of the Samoa Pathway and its sequencing within a number of other major international conferences was critical. The voices of the small island developing States rose up in Samoa, emphasizing the need to bring new initiatives to the table instead of new negotiating texts. “Small island developing States felt they were connected to the world like never before,” he said. The evolution of the post-2015 agenda presented an opportunity to create new partnerships and to recognize the vulnerabilities of small island developing States in the sustainable development goals. However, concrete follow-up on the pledges made in Samoa remained a distant goal. Among other things, an Office of Internal Oversight Services review found that the Assembly should ensure system-wide coherence and adequate support for small island developing States and proposed concrete measures to strengthen the interagency coordination group on those States. In addition, he said, a Security Council Arria formula meeting yesterday had addressed the challenges of those isle States. The review mechanism for the Samoa Pathway should be finalized and integrated into other major international processes.

Focusing on the Caribbean small island developing States, Mr. DOWNES said that those States were usually regarded as high or medium human development countries. However, they faced serious challenges, including a slow pace of economic growth, limited economic diversification, high rates of youth unemployment, high cost of energy and regional transport and vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Education, research partnerships and capacity development were needed to accelerate the modalities of action of the Samoa Pathway. Higher education was crucial as it provided the higher order skills required for development and growth. Several higher education institutions existed in the region and assisted with knowledge creation and transfer. A series of institutes and centres related to the Samoa Pathway’s goals had been created, including an institute for sustainable development; however, regional enrolment remained relatively low. Such institutes were working with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat on its Strategic Plan with the theme of building resilience in the Caribbean. The University of the West Indies, in particular, planned to further capacity in such areas as agro-technology, food security, energy systems, human security and others. It was working to create a greater public discourse on those issues, share knowledge and develop creative ways of funding research.

Representing the private sector, and in particular start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises, Mr. GLASS said that his company was started in 2010 with the goal of providing a low-cost, reliable platform for energy and mobile connectivity to remote communities. There was a natural fit between mission-driven start-ups and small island developing States. Altaeros provided energy solutions and disaster relief to off-grid communities. However, there were challenges, including the lack of global reach and recognition, lack of awareness of developing market needs and business growth risk. There was a need to figure out how to connect the right small company to the needs of the small island developing States. Vehicles such as the SIDS Global Business Network could encourage collaboration and facilitate cooperation.

Mr. FONSECA said that, regarding the Samoa Pathway, there was a need to “jump-start” cooperation so that the obstacles to partnership could be removed. It also was important to find ways to streamline the Pathway into the post-2015 agenda. As a financial mechanism for developing countries, the Fund looked forward to harmonizing the modalities and indicators so that assistance packages matched country needs. Nowhere was the need for integrated partnership models more needed than in small island developing States. The Fund was the first financial mechanism with a staff dedicated for that purpose. Its grant to the Cook Islands, for example, sought to reduce diesel consumption by up to 95 per cent, in line with its support to reduce fossil fuel reliance and free up Government funds. It hoped to replicate that programme in other similar States.

Ms. PIGNOLET-TARDAN described the largest global citizen consultation on climate and energy, co-initiated by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The results would be presented at “COP21”. Partnerships created included the Commission of the Indian Ocean. Also, in January, the energy “HUB R20” was created, bringing together non-governmental organizations, businesses and others to implement “green” projects, and to share both technology and training. Noting that the island of Réunion was now electricity independent, she stressed the need to place people at the centre of all such efforts.

When the floor was opened for questions and comments, speakers called on the Forum to devote adequate space and attention to the priorities and challenges of small island developing States, as outlined in paragraphs 1 through 3 of the Samoa Pathway. Many laid out why their “unique and particular” vulnerabilities made them “a special case” for sustainable development, a cause that must be borne in mind amid post-2015 agenda negotiations.

Their small size, many said, meant they had limited options for economic diversification, increasing their dependence on trade and commerce, and by extension, market gyration. Exports were too small to achieve economies of scale, which, when coupled with isolation and risk for economic and environmental shock, hindered their attractiveness to investors. A lack of capacity to engage in multilateral negotiations often left them out of decision-making rooms, while their small missions to the United Nations made it nearly impossible to deal with simultaneous processes.

The representative of Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said all those challenges would remain. The Forum was best placed to measure progress on partnerships, identify gaps and propose solutions. It should measure how partnerships were impacting the communities of small island developing States and analyse whether they were meeting needs. A change in thinking about those States was also needed, he said, with both programmes and outcome documents structured through a “SIDS lens”.

With that in mind, the representative of Vanuatu, speaking on behalf of Pacific small island developing States, said the Forum should not only be used to monitor implementation, but also to assess progress. “This Forum will be key for translating our vision and partnerships into action,” he said. The partnerships framework called for in the Pathway was also essential and he supported creating synergies with the Forum in that regard.

The representative of Barbados, speaking on behalf of CARICOM, emphasized the need for capacity-building for those isle States in carrying out monitoring and assessment, and strengthening statistical systems in support of evidence-based decision-making. She would have appreciated a “ventilation of views” on data collection, disaggregation and interpretation during the Forum’s session.

South Africa’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said reaffirming the “special case” of small island developing States was important for “real recognition” of their challenges. Such issues necessitated specific actions. “We need reinvigorate global partnership in support of sustainable development,” he said, noting that South-South cooperation was a complement to North-South cooperation.

On that point, the representative of the European Union said the bloc was a lead donor and trade partner with small island developing States, with 21 bilateral cooperation agreements signed, amounting to €340 million. It also had allocated €2 billion to support national programmes over six years. It was reviewing how such efforts related to specific commitments in the Samoa Pathway, which would “take some time”. As for strengthening partnerships, he supported the multistakeholder dialogues held under the regional commissions, which should link with the regional reviews of the post-2015 agenda.

The representative of the Russian Federation added that assistance to small island developing States in the areas of climate change and disaster risk reduction must be priority.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Italy, Sweden, Norway, Kazakhstan, South Africa (national capacity) and the United States.

A representative of the major group on children and youth also spoke, as did a representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Panel Discussion II

In the afternoon, the Forum held a panel discussion, titled “Reaching out to the world: communicating the agenda”. Moderated by Cristina Gallach, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, United Nations, it featured the four panellists.

They were Francis Lorenzo, Ambassador and Honorary President of South-South News, Dominican Republic; Grammenos Mastrojeni, Coordinator of environmentally sustainable development initiatives, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy; Mitchell Toomey, Director, United Nations Millennium Campaign; and David Droga, Advertising executive and founder of Droga5, New York.

Serving as lead discussants were Edie Lederer, Senior Correspondent, Associated Press; Maria Melinda Ando, Programme Manager for Information and Communications, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, Philippines; and Mary-Jane Ncube, Executive Director, Transparency International, Zimbabwe.

OH JOON (Republic of Korea), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the scope and ambition of the post-2015 development agenda meant that it could only succeed if it was understood and actively supported by governmental and non-governmental actors alike. The political declaration that would be part of the post-2015 development agenda would have an important role in that respect. It must be used to communicate the agenda and its determination to “leave no one behind”. The session would explore communication opportunities and challenges related to the post-2015 development agenda and reflect on ways to address them.

Ms. GALLACH said that the Department of Public Information worked to ensure visibility of the post-2015 agenda and sustainable development goals by reaching out to the world via various communication products. She showed a video clip showing efforts for promoting those goals.

Mr. LORENZO said more producers, editors, photographers and others in the areas of journalism and communication must be given tools and training to be able to understand the sustainable development goals and communicate them. A New York University professor in television journalism noted the importance of story-telling and bringing human faces to the fore of content. Capacity-building among journalists and Member States was vital with regard to techniques for reporting on negotiations and the Summit in September. He suggested art as a universal language and a powerful messaging tool and said there was a need to consult with youth on how best to distribute content.

Mr. MASTROJENI said because people were central to the new agenda, it was imperative to get people on board. He analysed various methods of communication and messaging, such as appealing to empathy or stirring fear, giving as an example a doomsday clock. People tended to show empathy with an image of polar bear or a starving child. That approach was used in many fundraising campaigns. But, research showed that solidarity based on empathy faded away after two minutes. Therefore, many commercials showed the images for 30 seconds and injected a short message, like “donate”. A message, such as “I can make the difference; what’s good for my planet is good for me”, would get people on board.

Mr. TOOMEY stressed the importance of engagement. A small-scale campaign could go viral and become transformative. By building partnerships and networks, online and offline engagement would increase. The United Nations global MY World survey relied on youth volunteers and eventually gathered several million votes. It turned into a data collection exercise and the network that had been created as a result of the survey became a feedback loop. Development was not only a global issue, but a personal issue. Citizens were willing to engage, and with new technologies it was possible to reach any community in the world. It was important to ensure that the voices that were collected were “celebrated” by showing how their voices were making a difference.

Mr. DROGA said that “what you have to say is not what the person you are trying to speak to wants to hear”. As an advertising professional, he believed that making emotional connections was crucial. The 17 goals must resonate with people so that they could champion themselves. They must be talked about at the kitchen table. Asking what the singular purpose behind which people could rally, he offered the example of the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge, which went viral on social media, becoming one of the most successful advocacy campaigns in the past 20 years. His company had been asked to make advertisements for the United States’ affordable health-care initiative. Because mothers care about their family members’ health, the ad had mothers speak about the importance of signing up for the health-care programme.

Ms. LEDERER said that at the World Economic Forum in January 2014, Bono shouted out “I hated it”, when he was asked about the name “sustainable development goals”. The United Nations should run a worldwide campaign to come up with a new name for those goals. In today’s world, everything was competing for time. Major news organizations were now using much shorter stories than in the past, she pointed out, asking how journalists could write about 17 goals in a 400-word story. The new agenda was a “hard sell” and, instead of focusing on 17 goals, the United Nations should pick out 4, 5 or 6 goals that were critically important.

Ms. ANDO stressed the importance of “leaving no one behind”. Communication had an important role to play, but it must be open and transparent. Rights, such as freedom of speech and access to information, were not universally available. There were 4 billion people in the developed world who remained offline. Governments must ensure inclusive participation, including indigenous peoples, women and young people, and must invest in it. The 17 goals were all interconnected, so there must be a way to effectively communicate that.

Ms. NCUBE said that the issue of participation was important to leave no one behind. The political declaration should be communicated in simple terms. Tangible data was also key. The goals and targets must be understood by all groups, particularly by young people who had the energy to take action.

In the ensuing dialogue, Mr. DROGA agreed with Ms. Lederer that the name of the sustainable development goals was not “consumer-friendly”. He advised not to cram too much in and if “you do so, you’ll achieve nothing”.

Mr. LOSENZO said that to achieve one goal, the other goals must also be achieved because they were all interconnected.

Mr. TOOMEY said that the global launch of the new agenda required careful consideration as each country had specificity. Warning against over-emphasizing its global nature, he said that the complexity of the goals was a better reflection of today’s reality.

Mr. MASTROJENI said that many people understood the sustainable development goals. What was needed now was a campaign to listen to what people said about them.

The representative of Mexico asked about the role of communication experts in disseminating Government efforts to communicate the sustainable development goals.

The representative of Germany asked what would be a common message that the Heads of State and Government should jointly convey when they gather in September.

Mr. DROGA said that it was important for them to convey that the challenges were solvable and the goals were something people could contribute to. People must be inspired to take action.

The speaker for the European Union Delegation said that, at an event in which nearly 2,000 young people participated, they were able to express those goals in their language. Using youth as actors in communication was key.

The delegate of the United Kingdom said that the Global Sustainable Development Report was not “a light read”, asking about the role of communication in maintaining a momentum over the next 15 years.

The representative of France stressed the importance of multilingualism, so that the goals were disseminated to the relevant groups. Multilingualism was costly, but there was a need to find ways to reduce costs via better coordination.

Norway’s speaker said that he had not heard the word “poverty” during the current panel discussion and noted that, while there was no need to communicate all goals, fighting poverty was, indeed, the overarching theme.

Liberia’s delegate said that the United Nations must help to break the mindset of people who did not understand real poverty.

The representative of the major group on children and youth said that young people made up 50 per cent of the population, expressing hope that the new agenda was comprehensible enough to them.

The representative of the major group for women stressed the importance of inclusiveness in communicating the agenda.

Mr. TOOMEY said that it was a people’s agenda and that September was to be “a moment of celebration”.

Mr. MASTROJENI said that communication must help create grass-roots advocacy and to build a chain reaction in participation.

Panel III

The day’s final panel discussion was titled, “Reaching out to the world: training and learning for sustainable development”. Moderated by Jafar Javan, Director, United Nations System Staff College, Turin, Italy, it featured Hans Winkler, Director, Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, Austria; Romain Murenzi, former Rwandan Science Minister and Executive Director, The World Academy of Sciences, Italy; and Marianne Beisheim, Senior Researcher, Global Issues Division, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Germany.

Opening the discussion, Mr. SAJDIK said training, learning and education should help to ensure that all human beings understood and strived for sustainable development. “People need to be aware of the way their actions and choices impact on the well-being of humanity and the health of our planet,” he said. Education for sustainable development could also promote critical thinking and help people to imagine future scenarios, helping to ensure that decisions were made with economic, social and environmental dimensions in mind. Ultimately, that could spur the right kind of policies and decision-making based on evidence, science and the engagement of all relevant stakeholders.

Mr. JAVAN said that today was an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the role of education in sustainable development. Innovative approaches and techniques were critical elements to finding solutions to emerging challenges. The panel would focus on two questions: how educational and training institutions should change themselves to adapt to the sustainable development agenda and how interdisciplinary learning could be ensured to help to implement that agenda.

Taking the floor, Mr. WINKLER said that the first target group for education on sustainable development should be future decision makers. Other people, however, such as those in business and enterprise, also needed to be trained. “We also have to train and reach legislatures,” he said, adding that not everyone in Parliaments were always abreast of sustainable development questions. There should be a mix of students from developed and developing countries and activists, including non-governmental organizations and civil society, should also be trained. Such training should be conducted in an interdisciplinary way. At his institution, that meant a mix of law, economics, political science and history. There should be a balance between academic professors and practitioners. He went on to describe the sustainable development-related programme at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, which had been open for eight years.

Mr. MURENZU said sustainable development aimed at meeting the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of new generations to meet their own future needs. “Today’s world is a divided world,” he said, noting that many countries lagged in development, science and technology. For those countries, the sustainable development goals would be very challenging. Research, science and training institutions in developing countries were not ready to support the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. At the higher education level, those countries lacked sufficient degrees and scientific infrastructure, such as laboratories. “This is problematic because these are the nations most in need,” he said. Interdisciplinary training would be a prerequisite for training in sustainable development; institutions in the developing world must adopt expertise in that orientation.

Addressing the issue of training and development in the context of partnerships, Ms. BEUSHEIM said that the optimum scenario was that training and learning could be done through partnerships. Different actors could pool their resources, with such partnerships requiring a needs-based approach and institutionalized bottom-up learning. “Best practices” could be gleaned from previous efforts, however, there had been little systematic or critical evaluation to feed lessons learned back into the next generation of partnerships. The High-level Political Forum would be a platform for partnerships, she said, adding that more thought needed to be given on how to use learning and partnerships to promote sustainable development.

In the ensuing dialogue, a number of delegates stressed that sustainable development should be integrated into education at all levels. The representative of South Africa added that green job creation should accompany the learning that was being discussed. Meanwhile, the representative of Kazakhstan said that it was important to develop complex training programmes — and not just diplomatic training programmes — in order to create a future generation of leaders that truly understood sustainable development.

The representative of the major group on non-governmental organizations asked Ms. Beusheim about her emphasis on a “bottom-up approach”, questioning how grass-roots groups around the world could link their work to the United Nations sustainable development agenda.

Taking the floor, the representative of the major group on children and youth said that children did not feel empowered to change the world, and asked for details on the role of formal and informal education.

The representative of Liberia said that, in the past, developed countries had encouraged their retired teachers to go to developing countries to teach. He urged a return to that kind of relationship, which had led to a large number of qualified teachers. Such practical action would help people to change their lives, he said.

Responding, Mr. WINKLER agreed that education might look different in developed and developing countries. Partnerships within different academic institutions, as well as those with civil society and the private sector, were very important.

Stressing that education at the highest levels was very expensive, Mr. MURENZI said that scholarships now existed for training on sustainable development. He asked countries with the means to do so to establish such scholarships, allowing students from developing countries to return to their home nations with high levels of skills and knowledge.

Ms. BEUSHEIM said that, with regard to bottom-up partnerships, “you don’t want to be too prescriptive”, but that certain standards needed to be met. One positive example was the SEED Initiative run by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which worked with local entrepreneurs from the early stages of their efforts.