Fourth international conference on SIDS to deliver bold new transformative plan of action on SDGs, others


The fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) opened on Monday 27 May 2024 in Antigua and Barbuda to deliver a bold new and transformative plan of action to help SIDS build resilience, tackle the world’s most pressing challenges and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

World leaders, together with representatives from the private sector, civil society, academia and youth, have gathered at the Conference to tackle critical issues impacting the future of SIDS. Under the theme “Charting the course toward resilient prosperity”, the four-day Conference (27-30 May) will showcase new innovations and develop practical solutions to address critical SIDS-specific challenges driven by the climate emergency, spiralling debt and health crises.

The Conference will adopt The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS) – a Renewed Declaration for Resilient Prosperity, which sets out the sustainable development aspirations of small islands over the next 10 years and the support required from the international community to achieve them.

“The new Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for Small Island Developing States outlines steps to achieve resilient prosperity in partnership with the international community,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. “I urge SIDS governments to back up these words with bold investments and sustained engagement across all sectors of sustainable development. But SIDS cannot do this alone. The international community has a duty to support Small Island Developing States – led by the countries that have greatest responsibility and capacity to deal with the challenges they face.”

Echoing this, Li Junhua, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the SIDS4 Conference highlighted: “The Agenda tells the SIDS story, their journey, their hopes and challenges. But most importantly, the Agenda shows the global community the specific actions that Member States, development partners, financial institutions, the UN system and stakeholders must take to deliver and follow-up on SIDS’ aspiration for prosperity and a sustainable future for their people and our planet.

“Together, we will use this Conference as a catalyst for building and renewing partnerships, innovative financing mechanisms and concrete actions that will support these extraordinary island nations and their people to build a more resilient and sustainable future that leaves no island behind,” he added.

The SIDS across the Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea are home to approximately 65 million people. They manage 19.1 per cent of the world’s Exclusive Economic Zones and the resources they hold. Accounting for 14 per cent of the world’s coastlines, SIDS boast a high degree of biodiversity. The people of SIDS have pioneered renewable energy solutions, championed sustainable tourism while spearheading conservation efforts and making major strides in developing ocean-based economies.

Yet these small island nations remain a special case for sustainable development given their small size, remote location, narrow resource base and unique vulnerability to external shocks, including climate-induced disasters. With SIDS still reeling from the double shocks of the global financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, amid the rapidly accelerating impacts of climate change, the SIDS4 Conference takes on even greater urgency.

SIDS are at the frontlines of the rapidly accelerating impacts of climate change despite only contributing to 1 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Climate change is threatening around 75 per cent of SIDS’ coral reefs, which are some of the planet’s most biologically diverse and valuable ecosystems. And for low-lying SIDS like Tuvalu, Maldives and Kiribati, sea-level rise represents an existential threat. These islands may be uninhabitable by the end of the century which could cause mass population displacement. Despite this vulnerability, SIDS had access to only US $1.5 billion out of US $100 billion in climate finance pledged to developing countries in 2019.

Many SIDS also remain dependent on imported fossil fuels, curtailing both their environmental and economic efforts. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), some SIDS would need an investment of around US $5.9 billion annually to achieve their renewable energy targets by 2030 and reduce their fossil-fuel dependency.

The COVID-19 pandemic deepened existing fragilities and triggered the most acute economic contraction across SIDS, increasing their debt burden and depleting resources. Over 40 per cent of SIDS are now on the edge of or are already grappling with unsustainable levels of debt. Between 2000 and 2019, the external debt of SIDS rose by 24 percentage points (of GDP). The total public debt for SIDS now stands at approximately US $82 billion dollars. Many SIDS continue to rely on Official Development Assistance (ODA). However, ODA to SIDS remains comparatively low, standing at just under US $3 billion in 2020 for all SIDS. Approximately two-thirds of ODA-eligible SIDS are currently classified as lower-middle or upper-middle-income economies and are at risk of becoming ineligible for concessional financing.

Plagued by gaps and inefficiencies, the current outdated global financial system has failed to serve as a safety net for these countries. SIDS are paying more to service debt than invest in healthcare and education. In response, SIDS are calling for increased access to concessional finance, through expanding multilateral lending. They also want representation of SIDS in international financial institutions and the incorporation of vulnerability into the allocation of concessional finance, accompanied by support to sustainably manage their debt levels.

As a critical moment to renew multilateralism and deliver on the promise to leave no one behind, the upcoming Summit of the Future, taking place at UN Headquarters in New York from 22 to 23 September 2024, will be an opportunity to further address the concerns of SIDS. The Summit will help to ensure the most vulnerable countries can access both the finance and technology they need to support their development goals – including climate mitigation and adaptation.

“Small Island Developing States face critical existential challenges. The overlapping crises of COVID-19, climate change, and conflicts in different parts of the world, have seriously jeopardized their journey toward sustainable development,” stated Rabab Fatima, the UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Small Island Developing States. “The adoption of the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS) ushers in a new era of hopes and aspiration for transformative changes in SIDS in the coming decade. I call on the international community to demonstrate strong commitment at SIDS4 to supporting SIDS on their journey toward sustainable and inclusive development to ensure full and effective implementation of the ABAS.”