SIDS Conference in Samoa: A Lead-In to the Climate Conference in Paris?

Nosh Nalavala interviews Ronny Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and Small Island Developing State Issues in the Seychelles Government

Ambassador Ronny Jumeau:  Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are low-lying coastal countries that are facing insurmountable challenges, including small but growing population, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters and fragile environments. What outcome do you expect from a UN conference focused on SIDS?

Nosh Nalavala: Now is the time for SIDS. The conference in Samoa follows on from the first conference in Barbados in 1994 and the second in Mauritius in 2005, but what makes Samoa stand out even before it is held is that it is taking place not only during the International Year of SIDS, but also the same month as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in New York, and on the eve of the 2015 climate agreement in Paris, and the launching of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Q: What are your expectations?

A: Rather than expectations, what we would hope to hear from Government leaders for the future of SIDS is a commitment to establishing and reinforcing sustainable partnerships that truly deliver in the lead up to, and in, the post-2015 era. There are two post-2015 processes ahead of us: the Post-2015 Development Agenda with the SDGs at the centre, and the implementation of the new climate agreement that the international community is expected to reach in Paris.

Q: Do you see Samoa as a lead in to the Paris Conference?

A: Yes, in Samoa you will hear the SIDS positioning themselves on the road to the Paris agreement and the launch of the post-2015 sustainable development process, how we would like to see ourselves in them and what we hope to get out of them. The negotiations at the United Nations in New York on the outcome document for the SIDS conference gave a clear indication of other priorities we would like our development partners to address in Samoa.

Q: A two-day Private Sector Partnerships Forum is being held at the Conference. In your experience as a long-serving diplomat, have you seen the private sector playing a lead role in the economic, technological and environmental growth of small islands?

A: The role of the private sector in small islands has and continues to grow rapidly, particularly in recent history.  Traditional North-South aid and cooperation no longer suffice to meet the sustainable development needs of developing countries, hence the partnerships theme of the SIDS conference in Samoa. The message is that the private sector, not-for-profit or non-governmental organizations and civil society have to play an even greater role in national economies and regional initiatives if the post-2015 sustainable development process is to succeed.

Q: And where does Seychelles fit into the process?

A: For Seychelles, foreign direct investment (FDI) is the key driver of the tourism sector, which is our biggest provider of jobs and the biggest contributor to the country’s GDP. We are keen to develop this all-inclusive development paradigm further, utilizing and strengthening public-private-civil society partnerships, to address some of our key sustainability challenges.

Q: Any tangible examples?

A: Take for example our nationwide scheme to enable and encourage the whole population to produce energy from renewable sources and lower the country’s fuel import bill. The government is underwriting soft loans from commercial banks to homeowners who wish to produce their own electricity from renewable sources and sell the surplus to the national grid.  The government, which in the past was the sole producer of electricity, is also facilitating an enabling environment for small and medium private enterprises to rent the roofs of homeowners to produce renewable energy and sell it to the grid.

Q:  How do you see the role of the private sector being expanded to foster partnerships towards sustainable development?

A: As I indicated, the Government has to be more effective and enthusiastic as an enabler to help not just the private sector, but the not-for-profits/NGOs and civil society to do what they do best. There needs to be a continuous dialogue between Government and all stakeholders and carefully thought out incentives should be provided when required, however these should not distort the true value of the partnerships and the services, goods and outcomes delivered.

Q: SIDS are amongst the most vulnerable nations prone to coastal degradation. Do you foresee any solutions towards public and private sectors coming together to solve these critical issues?

A: It is imperative that we integrate civil society, as well as the private sector, consistently and coherently into the solution-making process. Through working together and learning from each other, amazing things can happen, take the Micronesia Challenge.  This has inspired the Caribbean Challenge Initiative, which has recently seen massive private sector involvement, and the two of them together inspired Seychelles and its island and East African neighbours to start working on our own Western Indian Ocean Coastal Challenge, the WIO-CC.

Q: Seychelles has been a magnet for tourists, but not all islands benefit from an influx of tourists. What steps would you advocate towards sustainable tourism?

A: First of all, tourism is not just about sun, sand and sea, as spectacular as they may be in the context of Seychelles: it is about people, the people who visit and the people who receive and welcome them.  It is also about the cultures, the lives and livelihoods of the people whose countries you visit.

Q: Tourism in your country is a success story. What attracts tourist to the island nation?

A: Seychelles is internationally renowned both as an upmarket tourism destination and a world leader in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.  This is not a coincidence; the two go together, complement each other.  Tourists are attracted to Seychelles by its unmatched natural environment, and in turn we take care of our environment to keep the tourists coming.  So the more discerning tourists we get, the more we feel the need to conserve and sustainably manage the environment and biodiversity that attracted them in the first place.

Q: Small islands can face external shocks if they build resilience. Do you visualize governments, private sector and local communities coming together to reduce disaster risk?

A: Disaster Risk Reduction is a growing global issue, and islands are at their strongest when they stand tall together. Islands face unique challenges and are best placed to unite in helping other islands find island solutions to island challenges.  No island is alone, no matter how isolated it is or may feel.  There are thousands upon thousands of us around the globe.

Q: Could you illustrate these partnership efforts?

A: An example of how partnerships between governments, the private sector and local communities can come together to strengthen both human resilience and the nature that surrounds us, is the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA), for whom I am Chair of the Steering Committee.  GLISPA is a voluntary gathering of islands, irrespective of their political status, countries with islands, and friends of islands in the United Nations and global non-governmental and not-for-profit communities. Countries with islands which help fund GLISPA are Italy and the United States. Our mission is, among others, to promote action for island conservation and sustainable livelihoods, including through ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change, thus strengthening resilience to climate impacts, disasters and external shocks.

More importantly, GLISPA, which is led by three island states; Seychelles, Palau and Grenada, is showing the world through its “Island Bright Spots” initiative how islands are taking action and paving the way to effectively conserve island biodiversity and livelihoods while also building resilience to climate change.

Q: Many SIDS now recognize the need to move towards low-carbon, climate resilient economies. Do you feel that instead of relying on fossil fuel imports, renewable technologies will make SIDS more sustainable?

A: Absolutely.  In fact, it is an untold story that the SIDS have emerged as world leaders in renewable energy and energy efficiency through their SIDS DOCK ( initiative. The key to this transition is resilience and innovation. Out of small islands come big ideas, I always say, and it is from this creativity to develop sustainable, low-carbon energy and economies that a shift away from fossil fuel imports is already taking place. Indeed, SIDS are often an innovator in this field.

Q: Is Seychelles leading in adaptation strategies?

A: For Seychelles, with 3,000 times as much sea territory as land area, ocean energy would have be our first and most obvious choice if was not the least developed source of renewable energy for the time being. Last year we launched our first wind farm, however putting it out at sea would have resulted in us having fewer turbines for the same amount of investment.  So we set it up on an uninhabited artificial island that we had reclaimed from the sea for other development purposes as we ran out of flat coastal land to build on. The turbines are around the edges of the island and our next step is to fill the interior with solar PV panels, thus creating one of the first, if not the first, island entirely dedicated to producing energy from renewable sources.  How symbolic it will be of the SIDS’ accelerating transition to renewable energy and low-carbon economies.

Q: What are your thoughts on blending adaptation techniques with disaster risk reduction (DRR) for both Pacific and Caribbean island nations?

A: Combining adaption techniques and DRR is essential, as Seychelles has learned from personal experience when in January last year a huge storm linked to a cyclone in the region slammed into our main island of Mahe. It hit only a relatively small part of the island, but the severity of the damage it caused forced Seychelles to call for international help to meet the costs of recovery and rehabilitation.

We had a rude awakening to the fact that a few hours of strong winds and torrential rain could have reversed five years of painful comeback from economic crisis. Unless the small island countries and territories get the assistance our fragility requires post-2015 and become better equipped internally to deal with economic and environmental shocks, our unique vulnerability to climate change will only get worse in the years ahead.


Interview first appeared in the UN publication THE COMMITMENT

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