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Mr. Wu’s Blog on Small Island Developing States
This September in Apia, Samoa, the United Nations will convene the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Preparations for the Conference are in full swing, with this week’s inter-sessional meeting in New York focusing on the outcome document of the Conference – “a concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented political document”, as called for by the UN General Assembly.

In my capacity as the Conference Secretary-General, I have been working with Member States, UN system entities, Major Groups and other stakeholders to mobilize support for the Conference. Many of them have been actively engaged in the preparatory activities and have expressed an interest to learn more as preparations accelerate. In response to their queries, I am starting a weekly blog as an additional channel for sharing information and updates. Readers are invited to send comments and queries to sustainabledevelopment.un.org/contact and I will respond to them in future blogs.

One of the most frequent queries addressed to the Secretariat has been about the number “Third” in the title of the Conference– why the UN should convene a conference the third time on small island developing States (SIDS). Indeed, a lot can be said about this number.

Many of the challenges facing SIDS are shared by the international community, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, oceans and seas, disasters, among others. The spirit of partnership has been strong in the preparatory process so far. So I am confident that whatever difficulties, Member States will reach agreement on a “concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented political document” and this Inter-sessional will be a significant step in that direction.

Wu Hongbo
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General & Secretary-General for the Third International Conference on SIDS

It was at the 1992 Earth Summit that the international community recognized the special vulnerabilities of SIDS – small size, isolation, exposure to disasters, to external shocks and to climate change impacts. Smallness constrains the achievement of economies of scale and economic diversification. Isolation hinders participation in the global supply chain while increasing costs of transportation. Disasters that frequently strike SIDS destroy their infrastructure and cause massive economic losses. These vulnerabilities also lead to difficulties for SIDS to benefit from trade liberalization and globalization, exacerbating their dependence on coastal and marine resources, on tourism and on energy imports.

The first UN conference on SIDS took place in Barbados in 1994 in a concerted international effort to address their special vulnerabilities. The Conference adopted the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA), a 14-chapter programme that identified specific actions for the sustainable development of SIDS.

Instead of significant improvement, the decade after the Barbados saw growing challenges facing SIDS, who were experiencing increased exposures to disasters and to external shocks while dealing with their unique vulnerabilities. Measured by frequency and severity of disasters, SIDS are among the top “hot spots” of the world, with economic losses per disaster often exceeding one percent of GDP or more. When disasters hit them, the SIDS debt to GDP ratio grows, by as high as 5 percentage points.

Member States decided to review the continuing challenge facing SIDS at a high-level meeting in Mauritius in January 2005 and adopted the Mauritius Strategy (MSI) for the further Implementation of the BPOA. The meeting recognized that there remained serious constraints on SIDS in fulfilling the objectives of the BPOA. The MSI set forth actions in 19 priority areas, building on the original 14 thematic areas of BPOA. The new additional thematic areas in the MSI included trade, sustainable production and consumption, health, and knowledge management – all of which were intended to support SIDS in achieving internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs.

During the years after the Mauritius high-level meeting, SIDS have intensified their efforts to promote sustainable development, mobilizing resources at the national and regional levels despite their limited resource base. The progress of SIDS has been achieved in partnership with the international community, which has played an important role in helping SIDS enhance their resilience.

However, a combination of unprecedented external shocks, natural disasters and loss and damage caused by increased impacts of climate change has slowed down progress. Many SIDS are confronted with new obstacles. Growth in SIDS has stagnated, triggered by loss of trade preferences, worsening terms of trade and the onset of the world financial and economic crisis. At Rio+20, Member States noted with concern that SIDS had made less progress in sustainable development than most other groupings. In economic terms, especially in terms of poverty reduction and debt sustainability, SIDS had actually regressed. They underlined the urgency of finding additional solutions to the major challenges facing SIDS and supporting SIDS in sustaining the momentum in implementing the BPOA and the MSI.

Member States reaffirmed that SIDS remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities. They decided to call for the convening in 2014 of a third international conference on SIDS, building on the outcomes of the previous two.

In response, the General Assembly, at its sixty-seventh session, adopted resolution 67/207 setting out the objectives and preparatory processes for the Conference. The Conference will assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in implementation; seek a renewed political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 UN development agenda. The overarching theme of the Conference is "The sustainable development of small island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships".

SIDS and the international community have enthusiastically welcomed this opportunity. They have embarked on a shared journey to Apia, Samoa, the host of the Conference. After intensive national, regional and inter-regional preparations, Member States met at the first meeting of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) on 24-26 February. The PrepCom focused on the zero draft of the outcome document and on the need for tangible results through partnerships. Many speakers stressed that the outcome from the Barbados inter-regional preparatory meeting should be an important basis for the zero draft. Almost every speaker underlined the importance of increasing the role of partnerships, scaling up their impact, accountability and review.

The Co-Chairs of the PrepCom (Permanent Representative of Singapore and Deputy Permanent Representative of New Zealand) announced at the conclusion of the first PrepCom that they would circulate a zero draft of the outcome document for the consideration of Member States by March 14, 2014, as mandated by the General Assembly. In circulating the zero draft on 14 March, the Co-Chairs further invited Member States to submit written comments to the Secretariat, which has incorporated these into a compilation text, now before delegations for consideration and negotiation at this week’s inter-sessional meeting.

Many of the challenges facing SIDS are shared by the international community, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, oceans and seas, disasters, among others. The spirit of partnership has been strong in the preparatory process so far. So I am confident that whatever difficulties, Member States will reach agreement on a “concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented political document” and this Inter-sessional will be a significant step in that direction.
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