Calling Small Island Developing States ‘Test Case’ for Climate, Financial Justice, Secretary-General Urges Drastic Emissions Cuts, More Adaptation Funds at Summit

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks to the Fourth Summit on Small Island Developing States, in Antigua and Barbuda today:

It is a great pleasure to join you today, and I thank the government of Antigua and Barbuda for hosting this important conference. Small island developing States (SIDS) are exceptional.  Exceptionally beautiful.  Exceptionally resilient.  But exceptionally vulnerable.

Your unique geography puts you at the mercy of climate chaos, rising sea levels and land degradation.  Climate change is an existential crisis for the entire human family, but SIDS are on the front lines.  And your unique economic profile — including your reliance on imports, and the cost and complexity of your supply chains — makes you extremely sensitive to global economic shocks.

The past decade has dealt a series of blows that have undermined development progress in the SIDS:  record hurricane seasons in the Atlantic; two of the most intense cyclones ever in the South Pacific; and the COVID-19 pandemic, which decimated tourism. At the same time, you are at the mercy of global trends including continued economic turmoil across the developing world; and the ripple effects of geo-political tensions and conflict.

The new Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS outlines steps to achieve resilient prosperity in partnership with the international community.

The United Nations stands with you in reaffirming SIDS’ aspirations:  to halt and mitigate the terrible impacts of the climate crisis; to build resilient economies; to foster safe, healthy and prosperous societies; to achieve water, food and energy security; to conserve biodiversity; and to protect and sustainably use the ocean and its resources.

I urge SIDS Governments to back up these words with bold investments and sustained engagement across all sectors of sustainable development.

But SIDS cannot do this alone.  The international community has a duty to support you — led by the countries that have greatest responsibility and capacity to deal with the challenges you face.  SIDS are a test case for climate justice and financial justice.

Let us see first, climate justice.  The world is fast approaching the 1.5-degree limit that would avoid the worst impacts of global heating.  Exceeding this limit could trigger multiple climate tipping points with abrupt, irreversible, and dangerous impacts for humanity — posing an existential threat to some SIDS.

We cannot accept the disappearance of any country or culture under the rising waves.  The idea that an entire island State could become collateral damage for profiteering by the fossil fuel industry, or competition between major economies, is simply obscene.

SIDS have demonstrated strong and principled leadership on climate action and on the capacity to respond to the challenges that we face in the last three decades.  You have served as the world’s conscience in the climate crisis.  And it is thanks in large part to you, the SIDS, to your efforts, that we have the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.

Today, we need your fierce voices more than ever: Calling out the Group of 20 (G20) countries that fail to cut emissions of greenhouse gases; and G20 represents 80 per cent of the emissions.  And demanding that every country aligns its national climate plan with the 1.5°C limit — with credible timelines and policies to phaseout fossil fuel production and consumption.

SIDS also need and deserve financial justice.  Small island developing States have every right and reason to insist that developed economies fulfil their pledge to double adaptation financing by 2025.  And we must hold them to this commitment as a bare minimum.

Many SIDS desperately need adaptation measures to protect agriculture, fisheries, water resources and infrastructure from extreme climate impacts you did virtually nothing to create.

You also have every right to call for new and significant contributions to the Loss and Damage Fund and eventually to innovative forms of mobilizing resources to this Loss and Damage Fund to make it a reality. Some of your countries have suffered damage worth more than half their gross domestic product (GDP) overnight, in cyclones and storms.

More generally, finance is the fuel that powers sustainable development.  But we are in a two-speed financial world.  To the rich — cheap loans, easy money.  But to the global majority — the countries that need financing for development — we see they are paying sky-high costs to borrow money.

Nearly half of SIDS are at, or close to, unsustainable levels of debt, and this is creating a vicious cycle of stress and vulnerability and constraining your ability to invest in the Sustainable Development Goals. That is the reason why I’ve called for an SDG Stimulus to scale up resources for developing countries and to provide effective debt relief, and I repeat, effective debt relief.

In the longer term, we are working for deep reforms to the outdated, dysfunctional and unjust global financial architecture.  We need a financial system that puts the interests of developing countries first and is able to work as a global safety net.  And for SIDS, that means simplifying processes to access finance.

It also means revisiting the rules for access to concessional financing, to include the swift endorsement of the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index.  It is absolutely unacceptable that a country, just because it is a middle-income country, but with dramatic vulnerabilities, has no access to concessional funding. This must change.

And it means that the decision of this fourth International Conference to create the debt sustainability support service is followed by concrete measures to alleviate unsustainable levels of debt.

The Summit of the Future will be an opportunity to create strong political momentum for these reforms, and I look forward to welcoming you to New York in September.

At times of crisis, it may be tempting to turn inward, lower expectations, and dim hopes.  But that is not the SIDS way.  Collaboration and mutual support have helped SIDS to be able to face the consequences of geopolitical and physical storms.

And when you speak together, SIDS can make an almighty noise. I urge you to do so at this critical time for our planet and our future.  Together, let’s deliver meaningful change for the people and communities of small island developing States and beyond to the benefit of the whole of humankind.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.