small island states
Running from event to event to partnership dialogue here in the beautiful island of Upolu, Samoa, while listening to delegates to the 3rd annual Small Island Developing States Conference, two things ring loud and true: Small islands need ocean-based economic growth to diversify their economies, attract investment, grow their GDP, increase jobs, and end pockets of extreme poverty. And strong ocean-based economies need healthy oceans.
Great ocean states know this. They know that they cannot afford the boom and bust cycle that emerges as natural capital is liquidated and the ocean emptied and trashed. But small islands cannot forsake growth in the name of conserving natural resources either. We can fish the oceans empty; but we mustn’t. The future of growth, jobs, resilience all depend on the sustainable management of the resources of the ocean. For small islands, blue growth is critical; done smartly, blue collapse is avoidable.
On Sunday in Apia, the capital of Samoa, I saw the results of the World Bank Group’s work with coastal communities that were devastated by the 2009 tsunami and by Cyclone Evan in 2012. Working with the Samoan government and partners, we built coastal roads and a new system of access roads that leads into the hills away from the seashore. Many families rebuilt their homes in the hills, and the new road system helps bind those new households together as well as providing safe escape routes should a tsunami or major storm hit the coast again.
The hard infrastructure construction is interesting; the community conversations about next steps for protecting the coastlines are even more so. The government is launching a series of community consultations that will bring together village mayors, women leaders, government agencies, and NGOs to decide how best to climate-proof their coastlines. The communities are set to decide if sea walls or mangrove plantations will best protect their land and livelihood.
I’m in Apia with a team from across the IFC and the World Bank to represent the World Bank Group at the 3rd UN Conference for Small Island Developing States and took the opportunity to learn more about climate and disaster risk management at the community level.
For island nations, the small size of their land and their economies comes with a set of unique vulnerabilities that makes climate change a major determinant of their ability to thrive and in some cases even survive.
Today was an exciting day in Cancun. For me, it marked a break from the rhetoric of negotiations to focus on the reality of action on the ground to combat climate change. This morning’s weather was picture perfect as the World Bank’s President, Bob Zoellick arrived at the Press Conference Centre in the Moon Palace to voice the Bank’s support for the concrete actions of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
AOSIS consists of 43 island and low-lying countries that encircle the tropical belt around the globe. Given the very real threat posed by climate change, they have been attending international meetings on climate change for the last 20 years and are frustrated at the pace of progress and the lack of ambition. They are here in Cancun to fight for their survival and to call upon their partners and the international community to be ambitious. In the negotiating text, they want to see reference to 1.5 degrees, “loss and damage” and a legal form to the agreement. After 20 years of talks, AOSIS is going beyond negotiations and embarking upon concrete actions to lead by example: They are intent on entering an era of renewable energy and energy efficiency—hence today’s press conference.
Amidst a blaze of flashing cameras, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the Prime Minister of Grenada in his capacity as chair of AOSIS, Dr. Lykke Friis, the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Gender Equality, Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP and the World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Simon Billett of UNDP who had been stellar in his efforts joined me on stage as we facilitated the signing. This MOU calls for the introduction of renewables and energy efficiency into these island states with an initial injection of US$14.5 million from the Danish Government as part of their Fast Start financing pledge.
The World Bank employs a variety of specialists in different disciplines, often with abstract and hard to understand titles. Not me. When people ask what I do for the Bank I say “I build roads”. This often brings laughs from other Bank staff, but it’s true.