Some of the outcomes of the recent Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa made for interesting reading. Having grown up on the Caribbean island of Barbados, the environment plays an absolutely crucial part of its existence, from the fishing, agriculture and tourism industries, to the food, climate and lifestyle of a family outing to the beach.
A beach and hotel along the coast in Barbados
Given their physical size and geographical locations, SIDS are prone to even ‘small’ climatic changes including sea level rises, natural disasters, water scarcity, urbanisation and resource security. Indeed, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates that collectively, climate change could cost the Caribbean around $US2B, by 2053, with the fishing industry losing $US140M, annually by 2015, and the main stay tourism sector losing around $US900M, annually, by 2050. The Caribbean Climate Change Centre and the World Bank argue that the ecosystems of Caribbean countries will suffer significantly, with for example, Jamaica being amongst one of the first countries to see a significant rise in temperature from the norm, within another 10 years. Crucially, most SIDS are essentially open economies, dependent on inflows of resources. Therefore any negative impacts on the environment have a ripple effect throughout the livelihoods and economies of these countries.
There was significant uproar about the recent introduction in Barbados of a Municipal Waste Management Tax, leading to calls for removal of the tax, provision of extensions or exemptions. Government did shift somewhat by providing exemptions for some segments of the population.Whether a direct tax is the most appropriate way is open to debate. However, there has to be some way of ensuring that Governments in SIDS have sufficient resources to manage the environment in a sustainable manner.
One of the outcomes of the Somoa Conference was the signing of a partnership agreement between Barbados and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mr Freundel Stuart reported stated would help the country in its development priorities in “building a resource efficient green economy”. UNIDO noted that the partnership would have a number of benefits, for example, the facilitation of ‘low carbon’ solutions’, promotion of opportunities for entrepreneurs, and the strengthening and building of links with technology and research institutions.
There is no doubt that some progress has been made since the deliberations of the Rio Summit of 1992 and the First International Conference on SIDS, which led to the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy of Further Implementation. However, there are a number of strategies that might be employed to enable further progress to be made. Indeed, there should be:
(1) Increased opportunities for capacity building through the provision of scholarships and grants to enable individuals from SIDS to gain higher qualifications in relevant disciplines. If the countries are to progress further, then there is a need for competent and qualified individuals at the local level, in a range of areas including ecological economics, water and food security, climate mitigation and resilience, and sustainable resource management (particularly water).
(2) Greater provision of international funding. This is not to say that there are not already existing sources of funding. Indeed, there are funds available from sources such as the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UNIDO, the IDB, the European Development Fund (EDF) and the Green Climate Fund. However, the existing funding is not commensurate with pollution levels, and often comes with severe restrictions. Former Caribbean diplomat and now researcher Sir Ronald Sanders, in a column for the Barbados Advocate on January 5, 2014, argued the case for SIDS taking international legal action to ensure compensation against countries that pollute most. This is an issue that is gaining some momentum, but several logistical barriers to overcome, not least cohesive and decisive leadership.
(3) Provision of support to enable the productivity and competitiveness of local companies and organisations involved in sustainable development. In order for initiatives to be sustainable (i.e. long-term) it is important that organisations (including micro-enterprises) should be self-sustaining. Grants and loans bring with them short mentalities (and debt repayments). If solutions are to be truly long-term then they should be in a position to not only deliver their environmental goals, but also be generate their own funds and be financially viable. While there is often the fallacy that non-profits and charities should not make money, this is certainly not the case. Some of the profits from successful could be reinvested in future initiatives, growth and capacity building.
(4) A realisation that SIDS also have to help themselves. While it is true that most have limited financial resources and these are even more stretched with the current financial crisis, there is a need for countries to set aside a percentage of GDP to support the development of sustainability initiatives. This should be seen as an investment in the development of sustainable ecological economies and resource management, which can result in significant socio-economic and environmental returns. Indeed, it would also be cheaper to spend on mitigation and resilience building initiatives such as capacity building, waste minimisation, water conservation and coastal protection, than on rectifying a damaged and polluted environment.
(5) Greater SIDS-SIDS cooperation. More formalised agreements and pooling or expertise and resources would enable strengthening of capacity and economies of scale to be realised. While on their own, geographically they are small, collectively, they can not only assist each other, they can also have greater political and economic clout.