Island Voices, Global Choices

Wendy Flannery

From Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014,

The third UN Conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) was held from September 1-4 in Samoa. All such UN conferences generate an "outcome document", which is subject to a series of negotiating meetings before, hopefully, being formally agreed at the event itself. In this case the final text of the so-called SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway was agreed well in advance of the conference, enabling more of a focus on generating new partnerships to enable action on the various focus areas seen as essential under the overarching rubric of sustainable development.

For the official participants, both government and UN, the proximity of the conference to the Climate Summit scheduled by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for September 23, served as an opportunity to indicate some of the strong themes they hoped would influence the call for serious commitments towards reducing carbon emissions and addressing unavoidable impacts.

Climate change gets significant attention in the preamble to the document, with the recognition that "sea-level rise and other adverse impacts of climate change continue to pose a significant risk to small island developing States and their efforts to achieve sustainable development, and for many, represent the gravest of threats to their survival and viability, including for some through the loss of territory." Attention is also drawn to the inadequacy of international financial resources "to facilitate the implementation of climate change adaptation and mitigation projects" as well as the complexity of accessing them. The preamble also notes the strong leadership of SIDS in calling for climate action as well as their own commitment to conservation and mitigation strategies.

The special section of the outcome document focusing on climate change touched on all the most ambitious of the current agendas under the UNFCCC negotiating process. Of particular note were:

  • The continuing global rise of greenhouse gases, the need for urgent and ambitious reduction strategies, and concern about the shortfall in pledges to date;
  • The unique and particular vulnerabilities and needs of SIDS in the face of increasing diverse impacts of climate change;
  • The insistence that parties to the UNFCC undertake their responsibility "on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities";
  • The call for capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund (with $15billion as the SIDS target for initial mobilisation in 2014);
  • Reaffirmation of the decision under the UNFCCC to "adopt a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force" at the 21st session in Paris in 2015; and
  • Implementing and making operational the 2013 Warsaw International Mechanism for loss and damage, of special relevance to "developing countries, including SIDS, that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change".

Completely omitted from the final outcome document but raised in the so-called “Zero Draft” issued in May 2014, is the use of references to “security” and an issue of key concern to the work of FoE’s Climate Frontlines group. In unusually strong language, the Zero Draft called for the need to: “Address the security implications of climate change, including violation of territorial integrity, more frequent and severe climate-related disasters, threats to water and food security, and forced displacement and the human dimensions of climate change, including, where necessary, initiatives for preparing communities for relocation.”

The "violation of territorial integrity" is replaced in the final text by a references to "grave threats to survival and viability, including for some through the loss of territory". Any reference to "forced displacement" or the need for community relocation has been excised. As one commentator from within the UN system remarked, two topics "toxic" to the Annex II countries in climate negotiations are compensation for "loss and damage" and climate-related migration!

The Outcome Statement of the so-called Major Group and Other Stakeholder Forum held the day prior to the official conference, while expressing strong support for many of the SIDS concerns and calls for action in the official document, added a call "to all SIDS members to prioritise climate-induced cross-border displacement in the human rights protection agenda, warranting urgent international attention".

Since Samoa, Pacific SIDS leaders have continued to articulate their issues in other international forums. In the recent UN Climate Summit, the President of Nauru, as current chair of the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), reiterated the urgent need for capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund and quick development of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage. And in the UN General Assembly immediately following, the Summit, King Tupou of Tonga called on Ban Ki-moon to appoint a Special Representative to research the link between Climate Change and Security.

Wendy Flannery is a member of Climate Frontlines, FoE Brisbane

Small Island Developing States conference website: