Opening Remarks by President James Michel on the occasion of the AIMS Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS): 17 July 2013

Wed, 24 July 2013 | SIDS

Opening Remarks by President James Michel on the occasion of the AIMS Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS)
Mahé, Seychelles
17-19 July 2013

Mr Under Secretary General of the United Nations and Secretary General of the Conference on Small Island Developing States,
Madam Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States,
Ladies and gentlemen,

As we prepare for the 3rd global meeting on Small Island Developing States in Samoa next year, Seychelles is proud to welcome fellow members of the AIMS grouping to this critical meeting where we must create a framework that goes beyond rhetoric, and provides a platform for concrete action.

Islanders around the world share an insular identity, a common heritage, and a similar vision for a sustainable future.  When we meet, we share a feeling of belonging and understanding.  And I know that we all believe passionately that in Samoa the promises of the Barbados Plan of Action and the Mauritius Strategy must be realized into something tangible for all of our islands, for all of our citizens.

We are also encouraged to have so many “friends of SIDS” with us at this moment.  We thank the United Nations for providing their high level support, as well as all the other international and regional organizations with us today.

We also appreciate the support of all the partner countries that, while not SIDS themselves, are with us today to demonstrate that the issues that matter to us are also those which define the governance of sustainability at the global level.

These partnerships are essential to our future, for the future of islands and for the future of our planet.

SIDS have the smallest populations, the smallest carbon footprints, the smallest trading impact. The development of SIDS is the barometer of sustainable development. We want to make more progress towards sustainability, but we can only do so if others – especially the bigger and more powerful nations of this world – partner with us in this venture. In terms of sustainability of our planet we may best assess our progress, or lack of it, by looking at SIDS. And frankly, we are not satisfied with what we see!

Ladies and gentlemen,
The first message we must take to Samoa is that we want a fair deal for SIDS. A fair deal for SIDS translates into a fair deal for our planet. And a indeed a fair deal for humanity.

We are small in terms of landmass. But we are big ocean states.  72% of our planet is covered by oceans, while they also house 95% of our biosphere.  They are the conduits for 90% of global trade. We cannot exist without our oceans. They are the cradle of life. It is the oceans which sustain our planet, indeed, humankind. This is why we insist as islands that the green economy cannot exist without the blue economy.

A fair deal for SIDS means a truly sustainable governance structure for oceans. 
When harvesting the oceans for fish or other resources, they seem to belong to everyone.  But when it comes to dealing with sustainability of resources, of marine conservation or pollution, of piracy … the oceans seem to belong to no one.

More than ever, it is imperative that we have coherent plans and a viable governance structure for our oceans. And we must lead the way.

The second message we must take to Samoa is that the Blue Economy is our shared opportunity, and our shared responsibility.

The Blue Economy is the theme that brings together the issues that matter most to SIDS.

It is about new energy possibilities. It is about protected areas that improve biodiversity conservation, climate change adaption, and provide increased food security.  It is about sustainable use of our potential mineral wealth on the ocean floor. It is about off-setting our own emissions, and those of our planet in the fight against climate change.  It is about building sustainable trade that can connect all markets, large and small, that creates opportunities and benefits for all, from multi-nationals to small community enterprises. It is about a sustainable space for tourism.  One which connects people, and creates even more opportunities.

The Blue Economy is about creating a new sense of ownership of oceanic spaces, so that fisheries resources can be developed sustainably by island states, and not just exploited by distant fishing nations.

The Blue Economy is about the future we want.  Sustainability for islands is all about our ability to use our oceanic space as opportunities for development.  As a consequence, achieving sustainable management of this oceanic space will be one which provides for the sustainability of our planet.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The third message which we must take to Samoa is that islands are at risk of being simultaneously disconnected from the benefits of the global economy, while also remaining the most vulnerable to the globalised economy.

This disconnection and vulnerability can be seen in the economic indicators in many SIDS:  limited growth, limited opportunities for economic diversification, high debt to GDP ratios, high costs of infrastructure investment and limited scope for additional FDI for example. Globally, FDI into SIDS has declined substantially.

Because of small local markets, SIDS economic sustainability is disproportionately linked to flows of FDI.  Seychelles has successfully emerged from the triple blow of the world financial crisis, oil crisis and food crisis in 2008, and we have been able to do so through strong performances of the tourism sector based on diversifying our core markets, coupled with high levels of FDI.

But we have been careful to try and ensure that this FDI is done sustainably. This is why we have protected under law over 50% of our land territory, the highest proportion in the world. In addition, we are working to commit significant portions of our oceanic space for the protection of our planet in line with our commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
We have also developed many partnerships with the private sector, and with tourism developments in particular to establish sustainable partnerships between protection and profit.

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) are critical for SIDS to be able to leverage new spaces for economic development, as well as new resources to ensure protection of sensitive areas.

We must further enhance these partnerships as part of our plan of action in Samoa.

SIDS suffer from the highest debt to GDP ratios in the world – many in excess of 100% of GDP.  This debt is effectively putting on hold the development potential of many SIDS. In addition, the increase in extreme events as a consequence of climate change, which necessitates the diversion of precious resources towards disaster recovery, aggravates the situation. The paucity of existing mechanisms to reduce this debt illustrates the challenges of sustainability associated with existing global financial governance.  The cost of refinancing existing debt is prohibitive to SIDS.

This “cost of insularity” is something which exists also on all infrastructure development and on all trade in islands.  But there is a failure to properly assess the value of SIDS as part of the global environmental commons.

This is why Seychelles has been championing the concept of “debt for adaptation swaps” whereby debt of SIDS nations can be written off as part of the effort to improve their resilience against climate change. But the mechanisms put in place so far are so constraining and so complex that it makes it almost impossible for us to benefit from them. They have to be simplified if we want to move from rhetoric to action.

Such initiatives can free SIDS to better protect their future and the common future of humankind.

Mesdames et Messieurs,
Le renforcement des partenariats régionaux est une des clés pour maximiser le potentiel des petits Etats insulaires en développement. C’est le quatrième message que nous devons porter à Samoa.

En effet, les regroupements régionaux peuvent faciliter l'investissement dans les infrastructures. Ils peuvent également aider à obtenir de meilleurs termes de l'échange. Toutefois, pour les petits Etats insulaires regroupés en AIMS, le défi de l'intégration régionale est que l’on se retrouve parfois dans des grands ensembles régionaux dont les programmes reflètent à peine les spécificités et les préoccupations de nos iles.

La Commission de l'Océan Indien est notre organisation régionale. Son  action consiste, entre autres, à  plaider la cause des iles de l’Océan indien et s’assurer autant que possible que les préoccupations spécifiques des iles soient intégrées dans les programmes d’intégration, que ce soit dans  l’Union Africaine  ou les autres institutions internationales.

Le traitement différencié des Petits Etats Insulaires en Développement a été justement au cœur de la présidence des Seychelles, en 2012. A cet égard, nous saluons les Comores pour tous les efforts qu’elles ne cessent de fournir pour  en faire de même, durant leur présidence.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The reinforcement of regional partnerships is key to enhancing the sharing of experiences, know-how and best practices between islands and coastal states.  Following the lead of the Micronesia Challenge and the Caribbean Challenge, Seychelles is steering the efforts, together with members of the Nairobi Convention, to put in place the Western Indian Ocean Challenge whereby like-minded states can mobilize more resources to improve the status of marine protected areas, and also improve support to coastal communities and fisheries.

The Global Island Partnership (GLISPA), is an excellent example of intra-island partnership that we believe we must champion in Samoa.  Connecting our islands, across our oceans, helps share ideas and also mobilise more resources for island initiatives.

In this context, an important partnership we must foster is connecting the young people from islands across the world.  I am pleased to note the input of the young representatives from the AIMS region who met in Seychelles last week with the support of UNESCO. Their ideas will be submitted to our conference.

Earlier this year I spoke about the need to have a regional youth initiative and within the Indian Ocean Commission, we are determined to foster a stronger network among our young people.  The opportunities for tomorrow will not be defined by any national boundaries.  Our young people are already more than aware of this.  As leaders, we must use existing networks, and also create new ones whereby we give our young people opportunities to define the governance of our planet

These partnerships must also focus on finding practicable solutions for our islands.

The high cost of the importation of fossil fuels represents one of the biggest challenges for islands’ economies.  Investment in renewable energies allows us to better insulate ourselves against the negatives of the world economy.  We do not have many areas with scope for economic expansion, but investing in renewables is akin to developing a whole new economic pillar. Our new wind farm is evidence of SIDS’ leadership in renewable energy.

Ladies and gentlemen,
As we prepare for Samoa, we are seeking the means to bring a new sense of momentum to the cause of SIDS.

We are bound together by the Blue Economy, a theme that brings together the issues that matter most to SIDS. We are bound together by our oceanic space. And this oceanic space is also one which provides for the sustainability of our planet.  It connects islands.  It connects continents.  It connects us to each other.

We look forward to further explore these connections with you over the next three days.

I have the great pleasure to declare this conference open, and I thank you for your attention.

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