RMI Fisheries Director Tells SIDS Group To ‘Work Harder’

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Joseph says small islands can’t be pushed aside in negotiations

By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 24, 2013) – Small islands must work harder to avoid being "pushed to one side" in global climate change and sustainable-development negotiations, Marshall Islands fisheries Director Glen Joseph said Wednesday at an agenda-setting meeting for the Small Island Developing States, or SIDS, group at the United Nations in New York.

His talk was titled, "Beachfront Property," and while this may seem an odd name for a speech for a Pacific island strategy session, it is emblematic of Joseph’s appreciation of the David and Goliath battle small islands face.

"I thought this (title) relevant in the context of framing our SIDS global agenda," he said. "Developed nations view ‘beachfront property’ as an exclusive, premium property. In our case, (it is) inundation, overfishing, hardship, and challenging as we continue to live on it as ‘home.’"

Joseph sees the agenda of small islands — on fisheries, climate change and development — repeatedly undermined by the weight of policies from developed nations who have been reaping benefits at the expense of small countries. "We have all heard it from the international community on the wide-ranging issues affecting us," he said. "We have all seen it as first-hand victims of the effects of the global community on food security, overfishing and climate change. Yet SIDS is basically being pushed to one side while issues effecting them continue to be debated."

The Marshall Islands and other small islands need "to frame and agenda" to gain action from the international community "instead of just rhetoric," he said.

His talk on "ocean governance" this week was at the Expert Group Meeting on Small Island Developing States and Post-2015 Development Agenda held at the U.N. Headquarters.

Joseph said small islands have to develop strategies to keep their agenda at the center of global discussions and, at least as important, to get the bigger nations to support sustainable-development goals of SIDS.

"What are our rights and what are the obligations of the big developed nations?" Joseph asks. "We have been constantly and consistently undermined by (bigger nations in) our efforts to simply pursue a better life." Joseph has been an outspoken critic of distant water fishing nations that he says are not supporting the fisheries-management goals or development aspirations of small islands — even while they claim to be on board.

Joseph said he is not trying "to paint a beggar situation for SIDS," although he said problems faced by small islands are "dire."

The terms of the global discussion about sustainable development have to change and SIDS must be at the table influencing this, he said. But, so far, interaction between SIDS and bigger nations has been dominated by the agendas of developed nations, he said.

This week’s U.N. meeting is laying the groundwork for refocusing the SIDS agenda, he said in an interview before the meeting.

"A strategic approach needs to be developed in a way that SIDS can influence action-oriented decisions by the international community that deliver and support SIDS requirements and needs," he said. "No one knows SIDS issues better than SIDS themselves. We want to continue living on the ‘beachfront property.’"

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