Over 3,000 To Converge On Samoa For SIDS Conference

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Planning includes chartered cruise ship for lodging purposes

By Lealaiauloto F. Tauafiafi

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, April 2, 2013) – A United Nations (UN) high-level team is arriving in Samoa tomorrow.

Their arrival starts a series of events that will focus the world’s attention on Samoa, when it plays host to a major global conference in 2014.

Headed by UN undersecretary General, Wu Hongbo, the mission this week begins preparations for the "Third Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Global Conference" set to bring thousands of people to Samoa.

It is historical because it will be the first time the SIDS global conference will be hosted in the Pacific. The first was in Barbados 1994 and the second in Mauritius 2005.

Hosting the SIDS conference will mean all 193 member countries of the UN will send representatives to Samoa.

That’s an estimated 3,000 delegates, not including media and support personnel.

And even though Samoa will not have enough hotel rooms to cater for such a big conference, PM Tuilaepa lobbied and got his way at the Rio+20 conference held in Brazil, in June last year.

His agenda for lobbying and winning hosting rights to the conference are many but there are three main goals.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Samoan in Auckland, New Zealand last week, he outlined the three goals in why he fought so hard to win. One of the goals he said is that the conference will showcase Samoa as the Pacific destination for hosting large-scale international meetings.

If the preparations and hosting of the 2014 event are done successfully, the increased profile will raise the country’s international appeal and make it easier to leverage its tourism industry.

Success is crucial because in 2015, Samoa will also host the Commonwealth Youth Games. Both events will use the sports facilities at the Tuanaimato complex.

"All the preparation and hosting of this meeting will be utilized for the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2015," he said. "My aim is that when these two big events have been done, it will showcase to the world that Samoa can host any size meeting."

According to Tuilaepa, 80 to 90 percent of meetings currently hosted by the country are small to medium, "which are usually below a thousand people and uses between 200 to 300 rooms. We’ve shown we can do those, no problems.

"But we have avoided these big meetings in the past unless they are of exceptional importance, like this one [SIDS Global conference]. So now that we’ve got it, we must now go all out to make it a success."

By going all out he means that a special National Task Force has been established which he would chair.

"And we have appointed Ms. Fa’alavaau Perina Sila as the National Coordinator for the SIDS conference with all heads of government agencies at her disposal."

It is this Taskforce that will meet with Mr. Wu starting on 2 April.

One of the key results Tuilaepa is looking for from the meeting with Mr. Wu’s delegation is to finalize the dates for 2014 conference.

"Finalizing the dates is significant because hotels can then reserve their rooms for that time."

And because there will not be enough rooms by 2014, those dates are important for another reason.

"We are looking at chartering a 2,000 room cruise ship to place on standby to cater for the shortfall. So the date is very important as we need to make an advance booking for the cruise ship," said Tuilaepa.

Chartering a cruise ship is not new he added. "It was done for the Barbados meeting in 1994."

The second reason for hosting the meeting is it will give Samoa the opportunity to share with the international community its graduation story from a Least Developing Country (L.D.C.) to a developed country.

Samoa graduates in January 2013. It is a story Tuilaepa said could be replicated anywhere.

In his address at the Rio+20 global meeting, Tuilaepa said Samoa’s graduation "is about the primacy and importance of successful partnerships, which supported Samoa’s development progress. Samoa wishes to demonstrate that being a SIDS and an L.D.C. should not discourage poor and vulnerable nations from advancing to achieve economic, social and political progress."

But it is Tuilaepa’s political nous and experience as the longest serving Pacific leader that got Samoa the nod to host the SIDS conference.

At the Rio+20 meeting, the final group of bidders came down to three countries, Samoa, Fiji and Barbados.

In the end, Samoa’s 2013 L.D.C. graduation milestone knocked out Barbados bid, while Fiji conceded after getting hosting rights to the smaller part of the 2014 SIDS conference, the Officials segment, which takes place before the conference proper shifts to Apia.

In conceding their bid, Fiji’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabole said in a joint statement, "Fiji’s endorsement of Samoa as host of the SIDS Global Conference was made in the spirit of solidarity and mutual support that exists within Pacific SIDS."

The 2014 conference will again focus the world’s attention on SIDS, a group of countries that remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities.

For leaders of SIDS they have stated the aim of the conference is to make partnerships a cornerstone of the 2014 conference. They are calling for the "strengthening of collaborative partnerships between SIDS and the international community" as one of the important ways and means to address new and emerging challenges, and opportunities for their sustainable development.

Tuilaepa said he knows well the importance of the conference to SIDS beyond the benefits to Samoa from its hosting rights and international exposure.

And although he agreed with the leaders, he still feels that climate change is one of the key issues that need to be prioritized.

"Although the meeting will focus on issues that are dear to the hearts of the forty SIDS, the rest of the U.N’s 193 members are expected to send their representatives. So this meeting is very important to come to an outcome to tackle the issue of Climate Change because it is an issue that affects the whole world," he told the Samoa Observer.

"What I would like to see is that we reach an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. So the major focus is to come up with a framework that will drive ways to stop and reduce the impacts of Climate Change specifically on the most vulnerable states which are the SIDS"

And therein lies the third of Tuilaepa’s goals.

"It is very possible that the agreement from this meeting will have a Pacific name," he said. "Right now, there is no global UN agreement that has a Pacific name so it may well be that Samoa will be the first from the Pacific."

The 1994 Barbados conference produced the Barbados Programme of Action (B.P.O.A.).

While the Mauritius conference yielded the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation (M.S.I.). It is very probable that the 2014 conference will produce a plan of action with the name Samoa.

What that ensures is whenever or wherever in the world that SIDS and Climate Change issues are discussed, that the name Samoa will appear on papers, be on people’s lips, appear on media screens, and translated and interpreted into the UN’s five official languages of English, Chinese, French, Arabic, Spanish and Russian.

It is a global exposure of immense proportions.

But Tuilaepa’s aspirations are higher.

He feels the timing is right for the 2014 Samoa meeting to deliver an agreement that will spur developed countries to sign up to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, a key global treaty that will bind developed countries to ensure the protection of SIDS from the effects and impacts of climate change.

Currently there is hope that a new binding treaty to be signed in 2015 to come into force from 2020.

And Tuilaepa is quietly confident, the Samoa, 2014 meeting will be a key player in making that happen. If it does, PM Tuilaepa’s legacy will take on truly global dimensions.

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