UN High-Level Meeting Addresses Climate Change in Small Islands

Amidst the eloquent, impassioned speeches from a globally recognized 16-year-old activist; the roaring plea from a Hollywood actor and the contemplative dialogues from small island Prime Ministers, one thing became increasingly clear during last week’s 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the High-level Midterm Review of the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway: climate change is on everyone’s minds. Well, almost everyone.

After plentiful orations from leaders around the world during the UN Climate Action Summit and the SAMOA Pathway, the final message was clear: the world, especially small islands, will no longer stay silent on climate change. Perhaps the recent heartbreaking island wide devastation of the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Dominica, and Barbuda over the last few years have struck a chord, but regional leaders are adamant that SIDS islands will be a bigger part of the climate change conversation moving forward.

Speaking at the Climate Action Summit, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley stated, “If it was up to our community of small nations to solve the problem of climate change, it would have been solved three decades ago when we raised it. We refuse to be relegated to the footnotes of history and to be collateral damage for the greed of others, for we have contributed less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions. We have brought our plans as small nations, we are implementing them and we have fully embraced the responsibility to act.”

Later that week at the Midterm Review of the SAMOA Pathway, Mottley continued, stating, “I believe we have what it takes to halt climate change. It is not beyond human ingenuity, but our priorities are wrong.”

Highlighting further the issues the small island developing states (SIDS) face, Mottley expounded by adding the financial resources SIDS require are “small to you, large to us” are necessary to address the effects of climate change and aid in their ability to recover after natural disasters.

“I ask myself how many times must we continue to spend the tax payers’ money to come here and to hear the same things over and over…This charter that created this institution [SAMOA Pathway] promised us that each would have the opportunity to be able to be respected. Each nation would have the opportunity to plot their destiny in accordance to the values we hold dear. Isn’t the first value we hold dear the right to life? We go back to small states and we have to transition our own people with less opportunity and less fiscal space.”

Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness in his address also posited the same, “How much money do you have in your budget to allocate to various goals? The answer is, simply put, not a lot.  Debt swap for climate action is a possibility, he said, adding, “We in the Caribbean do not have the luxury of debating whether or not climate change is real.”

Adding to the PM’s inspired speech was actor and activist Jason Momoa’s equally passionate presentation, “Oceans are in crisis. We are diseases infecting the planet.  Small island states are drowning in the sea.  We are doomed,” he warned.

Despite the gloomy predictions, there is ray of hope that has come out of the 74th UNGA and the Midterm Review of the SAMOA Pathway. According to Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamnu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) in her closing address, “Nowhere is the Organization’s sustainable development‑related work higher than in the most vulnerable countries, which include Small Island Developing States.

The United Nations will spare no effort to ensure that all partners and stakeholders, from international organizations to financial institutions, hear and are fully aware of their needs and priorities.  We will continue to help bring Small Island developing States to the decision‑making table,” she promised.

The climate conversation continues at the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change this December in Santiago, Chile.