UN Conference on Small Island Developing States delivers new era of resilience amidst SIDS’ crippling debt crisis


The Fourth United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) wrapped up on Thursday 30 May 2024 in Antigua and Barbuda with unanimous support for a bold new 10-year plan of action that will deliver meaningful change for this group of vulnerable countries.

Small island developing States (SIDS) remain a special case for sustainable development because of their unique challenges, from their small size and geographic remoteness to their narrow resource and export base, which makes them vulnerable to shocks and crises.

Many SIDS are still reeling from the double shocks of the global financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, with the recent confluence of global crises further exacerbating the situation. Over 40 per cent of SIDS are now on the edge of, or already grappling with unsustainable levels of debt, with resources often diverted from investments in health and education to service unsustainable debt.

Additionally, SIDS are on the frontlines of the global climate crisis, despite contributing just 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions. International pledges to help SIDS develop their adaptation and mitigation efforts have fallen short, with SIDS only having access to USD 1.5 billion out of the USD 100 billion in climate finance pledged to developing countries in 2019.

The major outcome of the SIDS4 Conference, The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS) – a Declaration for Renewed Prosperity – puts forth a new, ambitious pathway for SIDS’ sustainable development.

At the closing ceremony, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed emphasized the need for investment in SIDS: “Over the course of the last four days many of you have made commitments to make the ABAS a reality. We recognize the commitments from the European Union, Germany, Netherlands, and the United States. We hope others will also step up.”

Going forward, she added that “No effort should be spared to ensure that the voices of vulnerable and marginalized groups in SIDS continue to be heard, including persons with disabilities, older persons, and indigenous peoples.”

About 3,000 participants, including 22 Heads of State and Government, attended the Conference, advocating for the priorities of small island nations to be at the forefront of the global development agenda. Over four days, world leaders together with the private sector, civil society, academia and young people spotlighted challenges, presented innovative and practical solutions and delivered a host of new commitments to accelerate sustainable development in SIDS.

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

“The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS, adopted here today, outlines a clear pathway for SIDS to develop smart, context-specific, and inclusive development strategies,” said Li Junhua, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the SIDS4 Conference. “The Agenda has the potential to transform the economies of SIDS and put them on a clear path towards sustainable development. Now the real work begins. We are committed to working alongside SIDS to implement the ABAS comprehensively, and with no time to waste.”

To help SIDS meet their ambitions for resilient prosperity, countries agreed to facilitate easier access to affordable and concessional finance, increase the effectiveness of development finance, scale-up biodiversity climate finance, in line with existing obligations and commitments and urgently accelerate climate action.

Other areas of focus included the ocean-based economy, science, technology and innovation, and monitoring and evaluation, including improving data collection and analysis in SIDS.

Countries also stressed the value of the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index, which measures a country’s vulnerability to help paint a more comprehensive picture of its development and encouraged international financial institutions to integrate it into their existing practices and policies.  Mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and strengthening disaster preparedness, including multi-hazard early warning systems and the UN Secretary-General’s Early Warnings for All initiative, were also key priorities.

“SIDS4 is indeed an important moment on the SIDS development journey. Antigua and Barbuda will now be synonymous with the progress and prosperity of Small Island Developing States across the globe – for the next decade and beyond,” said Rabab Fatima, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. “As we conclude this momentous event, let us carry forward the inspiration, ideas and resolve that have defined our time here.”

Snapshot of Commitments

Antigua and Barbuda launched a Center of Excellence for SIDS and Debt Sustainability Support Service.

The United States announced its commitment to scale-up international public climate finance to over USD 11 billion annually by 2024, quadrupling the previous level.

The EU pledged to mobilize EUR 300 billion in public and private investments by 2027 to involve the private sector in sustainable development through its Global Gateway investment strategy, with several initiatives underway in SIDS.

Barbados announced the launch of a UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)-Barbados Global SIDS Hub for Sustainable Development.

UNDP announced a new $135 million Blue and Green Islands Integrated Program, launched jointly with UNEP.

The Green Climate Fund presented its “50by30” vision to manage USD 50 billion by 2030 and the Fund’s efforts to strengthen the network of entities it collaborates with to better enable countries to put forward ambitious programs.

The SIDS4 Conference has set the stage for the Summit of the Future taking place at UN Headquarters in New York from 22 to 23 September 2024. As a critical moment to renew multilateralism and deliver on the promise to leave no one behind, the Summit will be an opportunity to further address the concerns of SIDS and help ensure the most vulnerable countries can access both the finance and technology they need to support the Sustainable Development Goals.

World leaders at the Summit will agree on a Pact for the Future that is well aligned with SIDS priorities. This includes addressing the significant financing gap to meet the Goals and incorporating measures of vulnerability into the allocation of concessional finance. The Summit calls for the reform of the international financial architecture to strengthen the voice and representation of developing countries; and to improve the global debt architecture to promote debt sustainability.