SIDS Conference Could Pave Way For International Climate Action

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UN meeting will allow Pacific to put case before the world

By Jemima Garrett

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, August 22, 2014) – The United Nations is hoping the Small Islands Developing States conference which gets underway in Samoa next week will lead the way for international action on climate change.

Heads of state and ministers from around the world are attending the once-in-a-decade conference, which runs September 1-4 with pre-conference activities from August 28-31.

The event is significant for the Pacific but also has the potential to give a significant boost to UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon's push for more action on climate change.

The meeting is the last high-level United Nations event before Mr Ban's September Climate Summit and will be an important input into General Assembly discussions in New York.

The conference will bring to Apia some 3,000 delegates from 193 members states as well as NGOs, the private sector, inter-government organisations, academic institutions, the media and many others.

The third UN Conference on Small Island Developing States is an opportunity for the Pacific islands and their vulnerable counterparts from other regions of the world to put their case for action to address their needs on everything from jobs to climate change.

Nikhil Chandavarkar from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York told Pacific Beat this SIDS Conference is already showing itself to be an innovator, with groundbreaking new partnerships in sustainable development.

"What makes this conference different is we already have a meeting of minds - 193 member states - because the outcome document has quite exceptionally been agreed in principle before the conference so now we can focus on the practical side which is partnerships," he said.

Partnerships of all kinds - involving communities, churches, women, the private sector, science organisations, governments and donor agencies - will be built to tackle six key priorities ranging from sustainable economic development and climate and disaster preparedness and health to protection of oceans and biodiversity.

Mr Chandavarkar says 350 partnerships have already been registered.

"I think the small islands are hoping that in a world in which official aid is declining, that public private partnerships can somehow fill the gap of resources that these countries need to meet their sustainable development needs," he said.

Mr Chandavarkar is hoping existing partnerships such as the Sandwatch environmental monitoring project will attract more resources and newer ones such as the campaign for a Tobacco Free Pacific by 2020 will get the backing they need.

"They typically will not be large investment projects although some of them might be," he said.

"They tend to be more in the line of information sharing, awareness raising.

"They are not really spectacular as they might be if you look at a development bank meeting where they speak of hundreds of millions of dollars.

"We probably won't see the dollar figures that we might see elsewhere but very interesting qualitative experience sharing, which is what makes this different."

Heads of state, ministers and many of the United Nations' most senior staff will be attending.

Later in September, Mr Ban will host a special climate change summit which he hopes will jump-start the world onto a path towards more action.

Daniel Shephard, the environmental focal point for the United Nation's Department of Public Information, says the SIDS conference is vital to the success of the Secretary-General's initiative.

"The Small Island Developing States conference sort of sets the stage. It alerts the world that these are the problems that we have to deal with," he said.

"One of the reasons that Samoa wanted to host the conference was that they wanted to show the world, they wanted to demonstrate what the impacts of climate change are," he said.

"They also wanted to show the world that small island states are in fact taking steps to address climate change - they need assistance.

"So this is an opportunity for these states to show the world what is happening, to put it back on the top of the international agenda and have people look up and say 'Hey, we've got to move on this'."

The United Nations says it places such importance on the challenges affecting SIDS that it's sending the heads of 19 of its agencies including the head of the UN Development Program and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark.

Conference organisers say all sectors of Samoan society will be taking part in one way or another in hosting the historic event over two weeks - from the farmers supplying the restaurants and hotels to the entertainers and the services industry.

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