This week nations gathered for the implementation progress review of the Samoa pathway, a collection of concerted actions to guide actions and address the common vulnerabilities and challenges SIDS face. Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe


Small Island Developing States’ (SIDS) communities have long been blessed with vast ocean and island resources, inspiring rich heritages and cultures. But this geography also exposes them to common challenges, vulnerabilities, indebtedness and dependencies that make their paths towards sustainable development even more complex.

For this reason, nations gathered in Samoa at the 2014 International Conference on SIDSreaffirmed commitments to the sustainable development of SIDS,  identifying 17 priority action areas to help achieve the 2030 Agenda. These priorities range from climate change, to sustainable and inclusive economic growth, gender equality and partnerships.

This week I joined the implementation progress review of the Samoa pathway, which emphasizes concerted actions at the national, regional and global levels. These action areas mirror the common vulnerabilities and challenges SIDS face and provide guidance for the needed joint actions thereafter.

The landscape of SIDS’ vulnerabilities is constantly changing along with the world’s development dynamics. In the recent special report by the IPCC, the vulnerabilities of SIDS were projected to be significantly exacerbated by a 1.5 C warmer climate - threatening SIDS population’s health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, infrastructure, human security, cultural heritages and economic growth.

The anticipated decline of marine fisheries of 3 million metric tons per degree warming would have serious impacts for the Indo-Pacific region and the Arctic. Yet, simultaneously, various development opportunities are in play to help mitigate vulnerabilities and dependencies. Tourism, one of the world’s fastest growing sectors, is becoming the main economic activity for many SIDS, creating employment and generating income and foreign exchange earnings that are equivalent to over 20 percent of GDP in two fifths of the SIDS (where data is available).

Additional public sources of environmental financing, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), are also changing SIDS’ state of affairs. In June 2018, 15 projects totalling $786 million, or 21.4 percent of the total GCF approved funding, began implementation. The projects will increase SIDS’ resilience to the environment and economic shocks and improve the management of their natural resources.

It is critical to recognize that today’s SIDS have evolved away from 2014’s SIDS. Through innovation and the amalgamation of technologies, SIDS are paving a way towards enhanced productivity, resilience and inclusion, by turning some of the challenges they face into opportunities and re-conceptualizing the traditional perceptions of SIDS. The ideas of “smallness” and “remoteness” of SIDS are giving rise to “agility,” “potentiality,” and what we call “large ocean states.”

  • Utilizing innovative financing mechanisms – Caribbean and Pacific SIDS are leveraging resources from visitor entry fees to safeguard marine protected areas. For example, Belize’s tourism entry fees amount to more than $2 million to fund conservation projects; Palau utilizes fees to improve wastewater management, thereby protecting coral reefs.
  • The blue economy approach is being tested and implemented across several SIDS, seeking to balance growth with sustainability. The Seychelles launched the ‘Blue Bond’ to leverage capital markets to fund ocean-related environmental projects, moving beyond the usual trade-offs between economy and the environment and strengthening the country’s artisanal fisheries sector to attract new investments.
  • When taking the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) into account, SIDS’ vast ocean spaces - on average 28 times more than their land space, or in the Cook Islands’ case, 7500 times more than the land space - can bring a significant source of nutrition and revenue from sustainable harvesting of marine resources, thus contributing to inclusive economic growth and development.
  • With the concept of “smart” taking the world by storm, SIDS are showing initiatives of “smart islands” and “smart nations.” Following Singapore’s example, Mauritius, in early 2018, launched its Smart City Scheme for the Moka region. It offers modern and multicultural living and business facilities and is leading by example on building sustainable, inclusive and resilient cities as well as liveable smart nations.

Regionalism plays an important role in this evolution, as shared responsibilities, challenges, complex vulnerabilities and opportunities within a SIDS region can often foster joint efforts to innovate towards the SAMOA Pathway.

  • The Pacific SIDS concurrently adhered to the Pacific Roadmap for Sustainable Development as a regional approach to the need to boost partnership and innovation to implement the various global agreements on sustainable development such as the 2030 Agenda and the SAMOA Pathway.
  • In the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS) region, SIDS are looking beyond Overseas Development Aassistance to increase domestic investments, foreign direct investment (FDI) and private sector engagement, while considering influences on debt sustainability.
  • In the Caribbean region, initiatives to address high debt and fiscal stress, such as debt-for-climate swaps, were welcomed within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The CARICOM Strategic Plan 2015-2019 and the business plan for the UN agencies in the Caribbean are fully aligned with the SAMOA Pathway priorities.

Fulfilling the call of the SAMOA Pathway, in the next four years, will require stronger partnerships and a renewed impetus to work together. UNDP has been privileged to be part of the many partnerships working with SIDS – with large coalitions such as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA), with regional organizations and agencies such as CARICOM and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and with funding architectures such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Least Developed Country Fund (LDCF), Adaptation Fund, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and other multilateral and bilateral donors, to name but a few.

South-South and North-South Partnership will remain crucial for SIDS as we continue to pursue the key tenant of the SAMOA Pathway – Durable Partnership for SIDS. A laudable initiative in this regard is the SIDS Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development of SIDS in Aruba, established in 2015, as a partnership between the Government of Aruba, UNDP and the Kingdom of Netherlands. The Centre of Excellence aims to leverage best practices and provide a platform for strengthening innovation in areas such as energy, public-private partnerships (PPP), water management, environment, tourism and health.

At the global, regional and national levels, UNDP renews its commitment to continue the partnerships and policy and programming support that are instrumental in accelerating progress towards the SAMOA Pathways. We stand ready to continue to work with SIDS to address the structural challenges they face and pave a road towards sustainable development through enhancing resilience, productivity and inclusion.

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