The small islands of the Pacific continue to lead the world in efforts to unite climate change and disaster risk reduction initiatives under one development agenda.
“Sustainable development for us is a matter of national security,” said David Sheppard, the Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), before a packed forum entitled ‘Meeting the sustainability challenge in the post-2015 era: A vision for resilient nations, large and small’.
“We are working to protect people and the environment and that means we have to support livelihoods in a way that reinforces sustainable development and builds on the rich tradition of human settlement in the Pacific. There are many examples of Pacific solutions being tailored for Pacific problems.”
Such experience will be a rich resource when the UN stages the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa, in September 2014.
Sheppard said the Pacific’s 30,000 islands had launched several innovative initiatives, including Tokelau, in the South Pacific, becoming the world’s first state to meet all its electricity needs from solar power; and New Zealand taking the lead to host a renewable energy summit in March 2013.
The forum’s other keynote speaker, Ambassador Moses Kouni Mosé of the Permanent Mission of the Solomon Islands, said working towards sustainable development was the right goal, albeit a challenging one.
“Climate change is an issue of survival rather than adaptation. It is a question of whether we will still exist,” Ambassador Mosé said. “We can adopt best practices from around the world but we will struggle to prepare for storms beyond our preparatory capacity. It is a serious worry.”
The Solomon Islands has a population of 500,000 people, about 80 per cent of whom live in rural areas as subsistence farmers. The country’s several islands have a combined coastline of 4,000km.
The Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR),Margareta Wahlström, chaired the discussion and noted how the issues raised are relevant in ‘real-time’ for millions of people in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
“Many of the things we have seen this past week or so in the Philippines are in parallel to what could happen in many of the world’s small islands, including those in the Pacific,” Ms Wahlström said.
All the speakers agreed that resilient communities and nations are founded on broader and innovative partnerships that address social, economic, health and environmental issues.
The New Zealand Permanent Mission in Geneva hosted the event at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva, as part of a regular series of “Library Talks”, which gather members of the international community to discuss subjects of key importance for the United Nations.