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SIDS Advance UNCSD Preparation at Inter-Regional Meeting

1 September 2011: The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) convened a senior expert-level meeting to prepare the input of small island developing States (SIDS) for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20).

The meeting advanced consideration of draft AOSIS elements, which aim to capture common views of SIDS on the objectives and themes of the UNCSD, for submission to the preparatory process. The deadline for all submissions is 1 November 2011.

The SIDS interregional preparatory meeting on the UNCSD convened at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 1 September 2011. It followed three sub-regional preparatory meetings of SIDS (Caribbean; Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Seas (AIMS); and Pacific) in June and July 2011. The SIDS Unit of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) co-organized the interregional, which brought together delegates from SIDS' capitals.

Dessima Williams, Permanent Representative of Grenada to the UN and chair of AOSIS, led delegates in a review of the draft elements prepared by the AOSIS Working Group on Sustainable Development, which is co-chaired by representatives from the Maldives and Grenada. The paper aims to capture the elements put forward by the sub-regions that enjoy consensus support from all SIDS. Williams noted that the G77/China, which includes most AOSIS members, has already prepared documentation of its views on the UNCSD's objectives and themes, and that AOSIS prefers to submit its views through that Group. She indicated that AOSIS would engage with G77/China colleagues to secure inclusion of SIDS language following the interregional meeting.

On the objectives of the UNCSD, implementation of previous commitments was a prominent theme in the interregional meeting. Several participants called for the elements paper to note SIDS' concern about inadequate implementation to date. Speakers suggested that capacity-building and technology issues require a clearer framework, and underscored the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities as the basis for international cooperation.

Also under UNCSD objectives, delegates highlighted food prices, piracy, drug trafficking, fuel import costs, drought, Law of the Sea issues, and climate change challenges as emerging issues for SIDS. The "blue economy" was discussed as an emerging issue, but participants did not agree on whether the concept added value. Some emphasized management and governance of oceans, especially by protecting marine biodiversity, over adding a new term, and noted the ongoing oceans processes in the UN General Assembly's Second and Sixth Committees. Others, however, wished to use the term “blue economy” to draw attention to the common priority of the sustainable development of marine and ocean resources. Some noted the need for the AOSIS position to fit with the G77/China's framework in order to be represented at the UNCSD. At the end of the meeting, it was determined that SIDS considered “blue economy” a critical component, in substance and/or in name.

On the UNCSD theme of green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, discussion emphasized that: a clear definition of a green economy was needed; a green economy must complement SIDS' efforts to overcome sustainable development challenges, and a formal link was needed between poverty eradication and the possible establishment of a green economy; country-specific green economy plans should be based on national country analysis; and there is a need to enhance SIDS' capacity to benefit from green economy, including through financial and technical support, which could be catalyzed by SIDSnet and other platforms. Regarding the Pacific sub-region's plans to develop a roadmap on green growth, a delegate reiterated that any road map should focus on advancing implementation of the 1992 agreements, and green economy is only part of this discussion.

On the UNCSD theme of institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD), delegates discussed coordination at all levels of governance. They noted the lack of an AIMS-wide institution, while in the Caribbean, by contrast, they noted that a multiplicity of institutions has created overlapping roles and inefficiency. The role of national sustainable development strategies was highlighted as a framework for integrating a green economy. At the intergovernmental level, regarding the five proposals given by the G77, one delegate favored the merger of two current institutions, the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) and Global Environment Ministerial Forum (GEMF) of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), to create a Global Environmental Sustainability Forum, with a mandate to address both policy and implementation, located in New York and reporting to ECOSOC, supported by the Secretariats of DESA and UNEP. Delegates planned to further discuss the proposal in the Working Group. Also outstanding for discussion in the Working Group is a recommendation from the AIMS sub-region to create a special UN category for SIDS. Finally, delegates wished to reaffirm the 1992 Rio Principles and three documents – the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA), and Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation (MSI) of the BPOA.

On the process of submitting SIDS' positions to the G77/China and the UNCSD Compilation Paper, several delegations asserted that the SIDS' position should be agreed independently of the G77's preparations. One delegate emphasized that it is particularly important to assert islands' views and positions, as some countries present in the meeting were “dealing with the end of their histories.” It was stressed that the New York-based process must be informed by the regional and country levels.

The meeting also included a statement by Nikhil Seth, who on 1 September took up the position of Director of the Division on Sustainable Development (DSD) of DESA. Seth urged participants to focus on two “I's” – implementation of policies, in order to affect changes at country-level, and integration of environmental concerns into national policymaking. The ability to put these two concepts into practice will determine whether Rio+20 can mark a “step change,” he said. On green economy, Seth urged that the political outcome document of the UNCSD, while seeking to be focused and concise, should include enough detail to clarify the needed follow-up work. On IFSD, he suggested that rather than “tinkering at the margins” to make small improvements to institutions, the Conference should provide a sense of broader direction, and ensure that any strengthening leads to tangible results.

On the development of a proposed sustainable development road map, a delegate highlighted that the biggest issue before SIDS in the context of the UNCSD is the implementation of existing commitments and strategies, and that the intended concise, political outcome document of the Conference would not allow this to be addressed in sufficient depth. A roadmap would address gaps and common barriers in the three SIDS sub-regions. Another delegate emphasized that any roadmap should focus on securing implementation of commitments, and noted that the gap was in resources for implementation, not documents showing the way.

On a proposed Third Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of SIDS in 2014, several delegations welcomed the proposal. Some suggested that outlining an agenda for a future Conference should not undermine SIDS' messages for the upcoming UNCSD.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) held a side event on its efforts (jointly with DESA) to support national preparations for the UNCSD. According to UNDP representatives, the project offers support of approximately US$15,000-20,000 for developing countries to: conduct stocktaking of each country's progress since 1992; hold a two-day, multi-stakeholder workshop; and prepare a synthesis report to serve as the basis for national participation in the Conference.

As the next step in the SIDS preparatory process, the AOSIS Working Group will take account of the views expressed in the meeting and finalize the elements for submission to the G77/China, for incorporation in their UNCSD position documents. Should SIDS' most important positions not be taken up, it was noted, AOSIS would “retain the right to make a separate submission.” [IISD RS Sources] [DESA Story]