Tackling World’s Water Crisis, Addressing Small Island States’ Resiliency Impeded by Extreme Weather Events, Mounting Debts, High-Level Political Forum Hears
Against the backdrop of intensifying climate change, conflicts and loss of biodiversity, the world is experiencing a water crisis, and small island developing States’ resiliency is profoundly impeded by extreme weather events and mounting debt, making achieving the Sustainable Development Goals more challenging than ever, speakers stressed, as the high-level political forum on sustainable development — held under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council — continued its discussion today.
Convened under the theme “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”, the forum — which runs until 20 July — will explore policies and transformations needed to overcome the multiple crises that continue to threaten decades of progress made in development around the world. Particular emphasis will be placed on trends and policies related to Sustainable Development Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation); Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy); Goal 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure); Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities); and Goal 17 (partnerships for the Goals and their linkages to other Goals).
“Water is a connector, linking many sectors and all aspects of life,” said Jaap Slootmaker, Vice Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management of the Netherlands, in his keynote address. Recalling the positive energy generated by the almost 10,000 participants of the recent United Nations 2023 Water Conference, he said it delivered a concrete result in the shape of the Water Action Agenda, with more than 800 commitments with game-changing potential. “Change is possible,” he declared, pointing to the synthesis report on Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation), which describes good examples of countries that are making progress, like Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Rwanda, Chile and Croatia.
Also delivering a keynote address on small island developing States’ resilience, Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Co-Chair of the High-Level Panel of the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index, said small island developing States are “literally drowning in debt” and the global financial system is not the life jacket that it pretends to be. More debt is not the answer, he asserted, noting that these States need debt forgiveness and restructuring. Wealthy countries — whose economies are supported by small island developing States — have an obligation to help build their capacity.
Presenting highlights regarding Goal 6 from the Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (document E/2023/64), Daniel Eshetie, Statistics Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, reported that between 2015 and 2022, global access to safe drinking water increased from 69 per cent to 73 per cent, while access to sanitation services rose from 49 per cent to 57 per cent. However, Northern Africa and Western Asia experienced a concerning 18 per cent increase in water stress from 2015 to 2020, while 2.4 billion people worldwide lived in water-stressed countries in 2020.
Also offering highlights of the report, Rola Dashti, Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, voiced concern over a growing competition for increasingly scarce water resources in African, Arab, and Latin American regions, which poses a risk of conflict within and among communities and countries. Extreme weather events and climate change have resulted in water-related loss and damage across all regions, burdening countries already struggling with high debt. She called for adequate adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures, strong transboundary water cooperation and mobilization of financing for water-related initiatives.
Panels were also held throughout the day, including “SDG 6 and interlinkages with other SDGs — Clean water and sanitation”; “Transformation from the ground up: Acting at local level” and “Small Island Developing States: From recovery to resilience in the face of multiple shocks”.
Many speakers said that the world is facing a profound water crisis, connected to other crises such as climate change and biodiversity loss. They also emphasized that the international community can no longer ignore the plight of small island developing States which are inevitably struck by crises beyond their control.
Karin Gardes, Acting Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute said that, despite criticism, the Water Action Agenda is a hugely valuable mosaic of water action already happening throughout various multi-stakeholder partnerships. “We must prioritize political will and partnerships to benefit people and planet,” she said, stressing that water is not sufficiently valued by those who require it for their productive activities.
Along similar lines, Joel Kolker, Water Global Lead for Finance, the World Bank, said billions of dollars are invested both in the public sector and private sector every year in the water sector around the world. Unfortunately, it is not going to all countries. “We talk a lot about public-private partnerships, but the reality is that over 85 per cent of the money going into infrastructure goes in the form of bonds and commercial loans, very simple instruments that have been around for over a century,” he said.
Renee Atwell, Dean of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Youth Ambassador Corps, Trinidad and Tobago, youth speaker, said that 175 disasters occurred within the 2020-2022 period in Latin America and the Caribbean, 88 per cent of which had climate origin, accounting for more than 70 per cent of economic losses. There cannot be any conversation on climate change without speaking of climate finance, she said, adding that small island developing States’ largest human capital — the youth — should be included in the process.
Highlighting concrete measures, Amit Prothi, Director General, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, drew attention to the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States facility, launched by the Coalition. After consulting with Caribbean and Indo-Pacific Governments, it called for proposals at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference. It will select between 10 and 21 proposals, addressing issues such as social and coastal infrastructure and multi-hazard warning systems.
Nonetheless, Krshtee Sukhbilas, Global Steering Committee of Children and Youth Major Group, emphasizing the challenge of keeping small island developing States afloat amidst the triple planetary crisis and spiralling debt, said that access to sustainable finance instruments should be constructed in terms of their developmental needs and vulnerabilities. Those countries “are not just some vacation or honeymoon destination. We are millions of people with jobs, loved ones and dreams. And we are here to stay,” she said.
The Economic and Social Council’s high-level political forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 July.
Sustainable Development Goal 6 and Interlinkages with Other Goals
In his keynote address, JAAP SLOOTMAKER, Vice Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management of the Netherlands, recalled that three months ago, the world came together for the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, which his country co-hosted with Tajikistan. “I can still feel the positive energy generated by the almost 10,000 participants,” he said, adding that it delivered a concrete result in the shape of the Water Action Agenda, with more than 800 commitments with game-changing potential. “Water is a connector, linking many sectors and all aspects of life,” he pointed out, noting that water, climate, disasters, policies, planning and investment can no longer be considered as separate issues.
It is clear from the synthesis report on Goal 6 [Clean Water and Sanitation] that change is possible, he continued, noting that it describes good examples of countries that are making progress, like Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Rwanda, Chile and Croatia. Moreover, it outlines several key recommendations, such as providing more funding, addressing data gaps and introducing innovations. It also calls for strong leadership on water at the highest level of the United Nations. Spotlighting other achievements, he said that the Secretary-General will be appointing a United Nations Special Envoy on Water. He also expressed hope that a resolution will soon be adopted on strengthening the intergovernmental process on water and holding regular United Nations water conferences.
Focusing on Goal 6, DANIEL ESHETIE, Statistics Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented highlights of the Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (document E/2023/64). He noted that between 2015 and 2022, global access to safe drinking water increased from 69 per cent to 73 per cent, while access to sanitation services rose from 49 per cent to 57 per cent, with access to safe hygiene rising from 67 to 75 per cent. However, achieving universal coverage by 2030 will require a substantial increase in current global rates of progress, including an increase of sixfold for drinking water, fivefold for sanitation and threefold for hygiene. Water use efficiency has risen by 9 per cent, but water stress and water scarcity remain a concern in many parts of the world.
He also reported that Northern Africa and Western Asia experienced a concerning 18 per cent increase in water stress from 2015 to 2020, while 2.4 billion people worldwide lived in water-stressed countries in 2020. Despite global progress on integrated water resources management from 2017 to 2020, with the overall score increasing from 49 to 54 out of 100, it falls significantly short of target 6.5; while 44 countries have made substantial progress, urgent acceleration is needed in 107 other States. Wetland ecosystems have suffered an alarming 85 per cent loss in the past three centuries, primarily from drainage and land conversion. Since 1970, a staggering 81 per cent of species dependent on inland wetlands have declined, surpassing declines in other biomes, and an increasing number are at risk of extinction. Boosting sector-wide investment in capacity-building and adopting a holistic approach to water management are required to bring Global Goal 6 back on track.
Also offering highlights of the report, ROLA DASHTI, Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), presented the regional perspective on Goal 6 and its interlinkages with other Goals. Pointing out that different regions had different concerns, she noted that in African, Arab, and Latin American regions, there is a growing competition for increasingly scarce water resources, which poses a risk of conflict within and among communities and countries. Water pollution from cities, industries, and agriculture is a priority in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Moreover, groundwater overextraction is a pressing issue, particularly in the Arab and African regions. Extreme weather events and climate change have resulted in water-related loss and damage across all regions. This has resulted in significant burden on countries already struggling with high debt.
To achieve Goal 6 and the Water Action Decade, the United Nations Regional Commissions have identified several priority actions, including mainstreaming integrated water resources management into national development policies. Because water and climate change do not respect borders, floods, droughts, and destructive storms have devastating impacts on lives and livelihoods. Therefore, adequate adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures are necessary to address these challenges. Promoting transboundary water cooperation and building on the momentum fostered by Member States is also vital. She commended Cameroon, Nigeria, and Namibia for recently joining the 1992 Water Convention. Iraq also acceded to the Convention during the Water Conference, becoming the first Arab country to do so. Meanwhile, Panama has become the first Latin American country to join the Convention. There is a great need to mobilize financing for water-related initiatives, including by funnelling public and private sector investments and exploring new instruments such as blue bonds and debt swap, she said.
Moderating the panel discussion “The Sustainable Development Goal 6 and interlinkages with the other Sustainable Development Goals — Clean water and sanitation” was Johannes Cullmann, Vice-Chair of United Nations-Water. The featured panellists included: Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Commissioner of Global Commission on the Economics of Water, former President of the General Assembly; Karin Gardes, Acting Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute; and Joel Kolker, Water Global Lead for Finance, the World Bank. Lead discussants were Olga Djanaeva, Director of Rural women’s association ALGA, Kyrgyzstan, Francis Koroma, President of Francis Koroma Foundation and youth speaker, and Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the United Nations General Assembly. Callist Tindimugaya, Commissioner for Water Resources Planning and Regulations, Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda, spoke as the ministerial respondent.
Ms. ESPINOSA underscored that the world is facing a profound water crisis, connected to other crises such as climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, with 40 per cent of the world’s population living in areas of water distress and 90 per cent of disasters being water related. To confront this crisis, she called for better data, capacity and governance, noting that the Commission is looking at the new economics of water, informed by new science, and is exploring how to use avant-garde economic instruments to rebalance the water cycle. Given that the water system depends on the quality of ecosystem services, the challenge is how to design tools and policies to govern the water cycle as a common good. To this end, it is crucial to consider innovation, water storage, water recycling and water use, while boosting more and better investments in water. She also stressed the importance of improving existing frameworks and instruments. Water should be part of the reform of the international financial architecture, she emphasized, calling for new and just water partnerships.
Ms. GARDES called for cooperation between Government, civil society and the private sector and between global, national and local entities for a just transition of societies. That is the spirit behind the creation of the Water Action Agenda, with over 800 voluntary multistakeholder commitments, and over 10,000 people gathering in New York in March. “We can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results,” she stated. Despite criticism, the Water Action Agenda is a hugely valuable mosaic of water action already happening throughout various multi-stakeholder constituencies and partnerships, which must be empowered and enabled. Supporting the shift towards continuous collective action will require good, holistic and gender transformative governance, political will and leadership. She asked why water is not sufficiently valued by those who require it for their productive activities, and why water will be virtually absent from the SDG Summit agenda. Calling for more champions who are not afraid to be disruptive, she stated: “We must prioritize political will and partnerships to benefit people and planet.” People need to drop the egos and collaborate, she added.
Mr. KOLKER emphasized: “We’ve got resource constraints, coupled with rising costs, and now we have inflation.” Money is a challenge, particularly in emerging markets. Service providers are not seen as “credit worthy”, he said, adding that the challenge is not only about private money, but also public money. However, there is good news. “We do know what to do,” he said. Billions of dollars are invested both in the public sector and private sector every year in the water sector around the world. Unfortunately, it is not going to all countries. It is important to look at ways to move from a supply driven approach and spend a lot more time looking at the demand side — “who can take investment again from both public and private money”. Over the years, many funds have been created, but ultimately, the money is not dispersed. “We talk a lot about public-private partnerships, but the reality is that over 85 per cent of the money going into infrastructure goes in the form of bonds and commercial loans, very simple instruments that have been around for over a century,” he said. It is important to look at microfinance guarantees, management contracts and the other breadth of instruments.
Ms. DJANAEVA emphasized the urgency of addressing gender-related challenges of water and sanitation access and stressed the vital role played by women in achieving this goal. The lack of proper sanitation facilities disproportionally affects women, girls and gender diverse people in terms of their privacy, dignity and overall health. All these are felt more acutely during climate related disasters, resulting from both climate change and conflict situations. Women in rural communities are dependent on water and energy resources to sustain their livelihoods and food security, she observed, adding that limited access to clean water resources and proper sanitation facilities exacerbates their struggles, placing them at a higher risk of waterborne diseases and compromising their overall health. In that regard, she called for increased investment in gender-responsive water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as funding for capacity-building and knowledge sharing. Additionally, she stressed the importance of prioritizing the mobilization of fresh resources, such as climate finance, to address the water and sanitation challenges exacerbated by climate change.
Mr. KOROMA noted that water scarcity affects 40 per cent of the world’s population, a number that is projected to rise. His company is working to use modern-day technology to solve the issue, building 10,000 water tanks in areas in Africa and South America where people can access them. He cited the importance of bridging gaps between stakeholders and young people — who are the next generation of global leaders. They need to be brought to the table and provided resources for their ideas, thereby bridging the gap between Sustainable Development Goal 6 and the other Goals.
Mr. KŐRÖSI said that scientific evidence is crucial for creating innovative solutions and inclusive partnerships. “We also need a dedicated policy development platform for water in the United Nations to help spark determined action,” he added. Calling for inclusive, comprehensive, and transboundary agreements, he welcomed the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been committed to achieving that goal. “We know what to do,” he said, adding: “We know how to do it. What is missing now is the real action — the first very important steps.” As Member States review progress, can they honestly say that they are starting to be better off? Do they have the steps in place that will take them collectively to a better place? “I leave you with these questions and with all my concerns,” he said. The crisis has started. The needs are there. And solutions have been identified. However, he noted that if some do not match all current interests, would it be wise to block everything? Or is it better to make progress where there is common interest?
Mr. TINDIMUGAYA said that the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 and other Sustainable Development Goals in Uganda has been affected by limitations and several challenges that include flooding, rising water levels, COVID-19, and soaring commodity costs. Financing remains a key challenge for Uganda and other developing countries. Despite these challenges, Uganda has maximized synergies between the sustainable development targets. In terms of recommendations, he said it is important to adopt a holistic approach. Building human and institutional capacity will help mobilize resources at the national level and also create much-needed jobs and businesses.
As the floor opened for the interactive dialogue, speakers, calling for concerted and cooperative efforts across all sectors and regions, detailed integrated policies and partnerships aimed at achieving the targets on clean water and sanitation, while highlighting the interlinkages between Goal 6 and other Goals.
The representative of Finland stressed that advancing Goal 6 could be realized “if we can turn the positive momentum from the UN 2023 Water Conference into action”. Calling for the appointment of a special envoy on water, she reported that Finland has achieved full coverage of transboundary basins shared with neighbouring countries via cooperation arrangements.
The representative of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) pointed out that transboundary water accounts for more than 60 per cent of the world’s freshwater flows, yet only 25 per cent of countries have transboundary waters covered by operational arrangements. “Action in one country has consequences in another,” he said, underlining the need to share information and strengthen institutional arrangements.
The representative of Denmark, noting that water-related issues are underinvested, spotlighted her Government’s bilateral initiatives with South Africa on urban water management and ground water, as well as with India on sectoral water cooperation, which provides clean water to rural areas.
Colombia’s delegate recalled that 24 per cent of the 51 million people living in her country do not have access to adequate drinking water. In the rural parts of the country, the situation is even more critical, she added, pointing to the national development plan which places the protection of nature at the heart of its efforts and aims to reduce the water stress generated by urban areas.
Expressing support for the appointment of the United Nations Special Envoy on water, Thailand’s delegate said his Government’s policy on water aims to enhance the sustainable management of water resources and to ensure access to water and sanitation for all.
Drawing attention to the 2023 United Nations Water Conference which his country co-hosted, the representative of Tajikistan detailed the water-related challenges his country is facing, including the increasing demand for water resources and outdated existing infrastructures.
More broadly, the representative of Ethiopia, underscoring that the lack of progress on the Sustainable Development Goals should not shift focus to other areas, said that developing countries must be given the financial leverage needed to develop their water resources.
The representative of Ukraine recalled that Russian Federation troops blew up the Kakhovka Dam, causing the largest manmade ecological disaster in Europe and resulting in a significant loss of water supply. Responding to that disaster, his Government undertook extraordinary measures to provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people, he said.
Responding comments and questions, Ms. ESPINA noted that “we understand what the problem is”, and that it requires more information and better data. The technology is available, requiring the resources to guarantee that water really is a human right for all and ensure that ecosystems maintain their water flows. To that end, she called for new tools, including reformed policy, as “the costs of inaction are too high to be borne”.
Ms. GARDES said today’s discussion shows that “each and every one of us needs to take the responsibility for the future that we want”. She cited an almost naïve believe in infrastructure and technical solutions, noting they must be combined with an enabling environment and governance of that infrastructure. Action must neither exclusively be top down nor bottom up, with both working in coexistence across borders, boundaries and sectors.
Mr. KOLKER welcomed the breadth of interactive comments on the focal areas of governance, transboundary issues, irrigation and data. The World Bank Group will continue to work closely with client countries, as well as development partners in academia and civil society, he affirmed.
Transformation from the Ground Up: Acting at Local Level
MATHIEU MORI, Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, presenting some recommendations on the localization of the Sustainable Development Goals, said that since 2014, the Congress has been accompanying Ukraine in its decentralization process. Today, everyone in that country will note that, had it not been for the reform, the country would have collapsed within weeks of aggression. Hundreds of mayors had the power and means to quickly respond to the consequences of the war. It is for this reason that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls mayors his “second army”. In the face of increasing, often life-threatening global challenges, this is what local leaders across the world are in many ways. “We need these strong local leaders to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said, quoting a line from the United Nations Secretary-General’s progress report: “Location action is a precondition for delivering the promise of SDGs.”
Since many of these goals and targets can be achieved only with the involvement of cities and regions, it is imperative for national Governments to empower local authorities, he emphasized, recalling that at the last the Council of Europe Summit two months ago, 46 presidents and prime ministers stressed loud and clear the crucial role local and regional authorities play in according democracy and rule of law and in delivering the Goals. For the first time, they strongly underlined the role played by cities and regions in protecting and promoting human rights, a historic development because the achievement of the Goals is closely linked to the delivery on human rights. National Governments must do more in carrying out the transformation necessary to achieve the Goals and endow mayors with the power and means to do it from the ground up, he added.
Moderating the panel discussion “Transformation from the ground up: Acting at local level” was Lydia Capolicchio, Swedish journalist. The featured panellists included: Turan Hançerli, Mayor of Avcilar, Türkiye; Robert Papa, Chief of Staff for the government of Busia County, Kenya; and Rosario Diaz Garavito, Founder of the Millennials Movement, Peru, youth speaker. The lead discussant was Bhakta Bishwakarma, General Secretary and founding member, Asia Dalit Rights Forum, Nepal.
Mr. HANÇERLI said his city is home to a diverse population of 500,000 people and uses an administrative model that has enveloped growth from and at the ground up in all its municipal work, as well as in its future planning. This model provides city officials with a clear direction to achieve its objectives while facing diverse issues such as earthquakes, migration pressures and the socioeconomic and health care concerns of its citizens. The administration has laid down six pillars to help create a resilient city and has aligned itself with the 2030 Agenda and Global Goals. For example, it has achieved progress in urban regeneration policies by securing greener homes in pleasant neighbourhoods for 65,000 people. This helps promote the well-being of its citizens and achieve Global Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities). Addressing climate change is another significant challenge and the city’s efforts are widely accepted by its citizens, especially young boys and girls. He underlined his belief in the transforming power of local governments, which can uplift neglected segments of society. Local governments need to be empowered and his city is excited to be part of this journey. “Together we can turn the global vision of the SDGS into a local reality,” he said.
Mr. PAPA said his government works at the grass roots level for about 1 million people, developing local plans and policies and allocating resources to ensure no stakeholders are left behind. The collection and monitoring of data is very important in this regard, including measuring the impact of the government’s transformations. Further, his administration is intent on developing solutions that matter to people in their daily lives “by localizing the SDGS so they are not looked at as the UN agenda but the agenda of the local people”. The government takes a long-term planning view that addresses the root causes of challenges and mobilizes financial resources to adopt sustainable development. Knowledge sharing is crucial and it works with other regional bodies, development groups and the national Government. Stressing partnerships are key, he said that his administration adopts a collaborative approach that works with the local people, including developing budgeting and planning. “Local ownership is very key to the SDGS,” he said, adding: “Without local ownership there will be nothing to achieve.” He also noted that, while the pandemic gave Kenya “a blow”, it helped prompt needed investments in the health care sector.
Ms. GARAVITO said that there is a lot of work to do at the grassroots level. Democratizing and localizing the 2030 Agenda and moving towards its goal of “leaving no one behind” means that every person must have the opportunity to exercise their human rights. The door for stakeholders, especially young people, should be open. “We are here to help you achieve this agenda because it is also our agenda,” she said, urging Member States to mobilize resources and also consider the specific needs of young people when developing policy and programmes. She noted the critical role of intergenerational solidarity in helping include young people in vital discussions and decisions about the future of the planet. Having started as a grassroots organization, Millennials Movement, based in Peru, would not have had the opportunity to participate in such a high-level event on the international stage without the support of local mayors and authorities. Their support in lifting voices is vital, she said.
Mr. BISHWAKARMA, underlining Agenda 2030’s core tenet of “leave no one behind”, spotlighted the discrimination experienced by the Dalits and other communities due to entrenched discrimination and marginalization based on caste, work and descent, untouchability and slavery. This has also resulted in a lack of participation in socioeconomic and political opportunities and access to justice. Detailing Nepal’s framework for localizing the Sustainable Development Goals, he called on Governments to maintain disaggregated data for better assessment and to ensure that social programmes are targeted at the most vulnerable. He also pointed out that in March, the National Assembly passed a resolution to eliminate caste discrimination and violence against Dalits. In light of these commitments, he called on Governments to adopt a legislative framework and affirmative policy measures in line with the principle of human rights, participation, non-discrimination and equity.
As the floor opened for the interactive discussion, delegates and speakers emphasized the importance of local and bottom-up activities in reactivating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
The representative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) was heartened to see local action being central to the Forum, spotlighting important elements such as multi-level governance, multi-stakeholder engagement, strengthening data systems and channelling greater financing to the local level.
Similarly, the representative of the Local Authorities Major Group cited sub-national initiatives, including those by local governments and grassroots communities. Given the shrinking of fiscal space, and with over 60 per cent of African city dwellers living in slum areas, he stressed that there cannot be progress on Goal 11 without partnering with slum dweller associations.
Zambia’s delegate echoed the importance of grassroots and community initiatives to reduce vulnerability to shocks such as the climate crisis. The Government has enacted local community sustainable agriculture initiatives including conservation agriculture and crop diversity, and the country has fully vaccinated an estimated 85 per cent of the population, or 9.3 million people.
At the local level, Saudi Arabia’s representative noted that the city of Medina produced the country’s first Voluntary Local Review in 2023, reporting on localization progress on the Goals and alignment with the country’s voluntary national review. The Medina Review highlights the interlinkage between a number of Goals including 11, 6 and 7. The Government will extend voluntary local reviews to other cities and regions.
A whole-of-Government approach in a Nordic setting, said Norway’s delegate recognizes civil society, academia, business and youth as essential to achieving the Goals. It is crucial to encourage knowledge-sharing and the innovation to reach the Goals, accelerating enrolment, collaboration and problem-solving.
Also reporting on national efforts, Guatemala’s delegate said his country is working to implement a plan for territorial organization and municipal ordinance, towards building an inclusive State that is resilient and sustainable. Despite challenges, successes include education programmes, greater access to health-care services and reduced infant mortality, protection of the environment and promoting renewable energies.
Responding, Mr. HANÇERLI suggested changing the title to “growth from — and at — the ground up”, which emphasizes the importance of the unique needs and expectations of each local community.
Mr. PAPA called for demystifying the Goals by building solutions to people’s daily problems, lest they think the Goals, and their problems, are elsewhere. The private sector must also be involved in building sustainable solutions.
Ms. GARAVITO called for help in making the 2030 Agenda “the people’s agenda”, which needs to be done through local action and creating a sense of co-ownership, activating people in their communities and involving young people on the ground. She called on local mayors with limited resources to make each decision coherent with the Goals and 2030 Agenda.
Small Island Developing States: From Recovery to Resilience
Delivering a keynote address, GASTON BROWNE, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Co-Chair of the High-Level Panel of the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index, said that, despite being charged with delivering such an address, “my intention is to be very brief and direct”. “The reason I have nothing new to say”, he went on, is because “in fact, everything that we have said today was said before, it was said last year, the year before, and we've been saying these things for the last 30 years”. Small island developing States are “literally drowning in debt”. And the global financial system is not the life jacket that it pretends to be. Small island developing States are asked virtually every year “to demonstrate, to remonstrate and to find new ways to justify our call for debt relief”. “The things no one ever wants to say, and to say out loud, I am prepared to say them today,” he continued. Small island developing States are extremely vulnerable and debt stricken with little fiscal space. Further debt is not the answer. “We need debt forgiveness and restructuring, and when I say restructuring here, not a one-size-fits-all approach,” he stressed. But restructuring that is “bespoke”, that will take into consideration the special peculiarities associated with small island developing States.
These requests should not be considered to be handouts, he continued. When you look at small island developing States and the fact that most of them have trade deficits, they are literally supporting economies of wealthy countries and those countries have an obligation to small island developing States to help build capacity. “So again, we do not see this as a situation in which we've come with cup in hand,” he stressed. The time has come for international financial institutions to honour their commitments to small island developing States. Universal ranking of all developing countries’ vulnerability to external shocks provides the unbiased justification small island developing States need for international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “to no longer simply ignore our plight when we are inevitably struck by crises beyond our control”. As imperfect as some may consider the multidimensional vulnerability index, the reality is it is a great tool and one that is universal in its application and needed now.
Moderating the panel discussion on “Small Island Developing States: From recovery to resilience in the face of multiple shocks” was Cristelle Pratt, Assistant Secretary-General for the Environment and Climate Action, Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States. The featured speakers included: Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; Ruth Kattumuri, Senior Director of Economic, Youth and Sustainable Development Directorate at the Commonwealth Secretariat; Renee Atwell, Dean of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Youth Ambassador Corps, Trinidad and Tobago, youth speaker; and Amit Prothi, Director General, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. The two lead discussants included: Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Coordinator of United Nations Regional Commissions, and Krshtee Sukhbilas, Global Steering Committee of Children and Youth Major Group.
Ms. MIZUTORI said that high levels of debt and rising interest rates facing small island developing States are compounding difficulties to invest in resilience. This is happening in the context of rapidly growing disaster risk that is undermining sustainable development on all fronts — food, security, employment, education and trade. Calling for greater investment to resilience to prevent disasters in the first place, she highlighted the importance of integrated national financing frameworks. At the domestic level, national legislative frameworks can direct financial flows away from generating risks to building resilience. The integrated national financing framework can support small island developing States in leveraging the full range of financial instruments available to them. Given the risk to sustainable development posed by the impact of climate disaster, she underscored that all countries must take a multidimensional risk-informed approach to sustainable development.
Mr. PROTHI noted that the Coalition is a global partnership of 39 members including Governments, United Nations agencies, multilateral development banks, the private sector and knowledge institutions to advance the cause of climate and disaster resilient infrastructure. It includes several small island developing States, including the Dominican Republic, Fiji, Jamaica and Mauritius, among the most exposed and vulnerable countries. Small island developing States are susceptible to very high economic losses due to disasters, with the average annual loss amounting to 1 to 10 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP). The Coalition launched the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States facility at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, a multi-year technical support and capacity-building initiative co-created and supported by States including India, the United Kingdom, Australia and France. After consulting with Caribbean and Indo-Pacific Governments, it launched a call for proposals at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, receiving 50 expressions of interest from 28 small island developing States, across a number of themes including access to finance. He noted the Coalition will select between 10 and 21 proposals, addressing issues including social and coastal infrastructure and multi-hazard warning systems.
Ms. KATTUMURI said that many small island developing States have small populations, with some totalling less than half a million people. “Small island developing States are gems in our oceans,” she said. Overlapping crises in recent years have “opened the window” to enhance growth for small island developing States, including through opportunities for women and girls. Green infrastructure and green growth have also provided additional prospects to forge ahead on the Sustainable Development Goals. In that regard, financing is crucial for achieving the 2030 Agenda and lack of funding can no longer be overlooked. Enhancing equitable finance will stimulate economic growth and sustainable development. While global climate finance has doubled in the last decade, concessional finance accounts for only 16 per cent of the total. Further, external shocks have multiplied in small island developing States. Yet this group of countries has not received adequate prioritization of funding allocation. “We cannot ignore the adverse impact of growing debt in most small States,” she emphasized, adding that there is a need for Sustainable Development Goals bonds, as well as access to multilateral development finance.
Ms. ATWELL said that it is crucial that youth voices are heard in the context of climate crisis. The effects of climate change are far-reaching, she said, pointing to more intense storms, more frequent draughts and, as a result, damaged infrastructure. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction reported that 175 disasters occurred within the 2020-2022 period in Latin America and the Caribbean, 88 per cent of which had climate origin, accounting for more than 70 per cent of economic losses. There cannot be any conversation on climate change without speaking of climate finance, she added, stressing that small island developing States need finance to enhance their infrastructure. Highlighting the need to find new and innovative ways to mobilize finance for climate mitigation and adaptation, she said that small island developing States’ largest human capital — the youth — should be included in the process.
Ms. ALISJAHBANA said that, as small island developing States navigate cascading crises — including climate change and conflict — digital transformation must address their resilience issues and unique vulnerabilities. Those States must leverage digital trade to scale up socioeconomic well-being and also promote early warning for all. Development strategies should address the significant financing and debt challenges they face, increasing investment in sustainable development. She noted that Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific is working with development partners to build resilience in Asia-Pacific small island developing States, revitalize inclusive and resilient growth, improve equity and inclusion and harness climate resilient strategies.
As the floor opened for the interactive discussion, speakers warned that small island developing States are far behind in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, with many stressing that should be a concern for all.
The representative of Indonesia said that promoting capacity-building programmes and knowledge sharing initiatives that empower small island developing States to develop sustainable solutions is vital. For its part, Indonesia has been collaborating with those States to address climate change and marine plastic debris.
Echoing that sentiment, the representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also detailed initiatives the Agency had undertaken in the area of plastic solutions. It is focusing on confronting the source and strengthening the capacity to analyse micro-plastic in oceans and seas.
The representative of Samoa said the issues confronting small island developing States are pushing national response systems to the limit. To confront these challenges, small island developing States need more affordable and faster finance. It is estimated that small island developing States spend eighteen times more in debt repayment than they access in climate finance. “This is untenable,” he stressed, urging the need for the commitment to do better.
In the same vein, Belize’s delegate said that small island developing States are most at risk due to their limited capacities to deal with disasters and other climate related events. To compound the challenges, he said, all CARICOM member States, except for Haiti, have graduated into the middle-income country category and, as a result, access to traditional creditors is limited, if not non-existent, for this group.
Partnerships are crucial to building resilience, said the delegate of New Zealand, reaffirming the need for international system responses that are tailored to the needs of small island developing States. The COVID-19 crisis and response has offered lessons that prove the effectiveness of development cooperation with small island developing States.
Expressing concern that women in small island developing States are underrepresented in politics and decision-making, a representative of the Women Major Group underscored that women must be included in leadership roles and in building resilient initiatives.
“Development has a moral character,” said an observer for the Holy See. The key for small island developing States to achieve sustainable development is the adoption of appropriate measures that look beyond statistics and promote the integral development of every man, woman, and child.
Responding, Ms. ATWELL underlined the urgent need to finance small island developing States in order to tackle the climate crisis. She highlighted the announcement of the Blue Green Bank to be headquartered in Barbados, calling it “a great accomplishment” for small island developing States.
Ms. KATTUMURI, voicing support for Mr. Browne’s earlier comments, called for action at the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States to be held in Antigua and Barbuda.
In that regard, Mr. PROTHI, noting that the Coalition launched its first call for proposals, said he’d would love to co-design and launch a second one at the small island developing States conference.
Ms. MIZUTORI said the multidimensional vulnerability index should be completed, strongly urging that disaster risk reduction and prevention be embedded into those indexes.
Ms. SUKHBILAS, lead discussant who was delayed in transit, joined the forum and emphasized the challenge of keeping small island developing States afloat amidst the triple planetary crisis and spiralling debt. She spotlighted a regenerative strategy that advances youth and local communities, with small island developing States investing in their human capital — young people. That population will inherit the mistakes of the past. Yet when they grow up and ask for loss and damages and investment, they are shunned or ignored. It is high time for the international community to be there for them. Access to sustainable finance instruments and indexes should be constructed in terms of small island developing States’ developmental needs and vulnerabilities. Those countries “are not just some vacation or honeymoon destination. We are millions of people with jobs, loved ones and dreams. And we are here to stay,” she emphasized.