The Stars Are Aligned

By Marlene Moses,

“The stars are aligned for Small Island Developing States.” These words, spoken last year by a distinguished colleague, now the Foreign Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, well describe the rare chance we have this year to improve the quality of life for SIDS – and the obligation we have as an international community to seize it.

A confluence of events provide an opening to bring SIDS’s economies and communities into the 21st Century and to help end the cycle of poverty that for too long has prevented our people from reaching their full potential.

The year began with the United Nations declaring 2014 the International Year of SIDS; the first time a group of nations has been so recognized. At U.N. headquarters in New York work continues on the evolution of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. And the Third International Conference on Sustainable Development for SIDS in Samoa is, of course, an unparalleled occasion to put the countries on a path to realize their sustainable development goals.

But we know the challenges are great and that the opportunity is fleeting.

A recent IPCC report confirmed what SIDS have known for years: we are uniquely vulnerable to climate change, a challenge that is making it harder and harder for us to build sustainable economies and lift our people out of poverty.

Sea level rise, degradation of the fisheries and coral reefs we depend on for food and income, threats to our food and water security, and other impacts are increasingly inhibiting our ability to plan and develop for the future. We also know that the longer we wait, the harder (and more costly) it will become to act.

Yet our vulnerability does not relegate us to continuous dependency. Finding innovative ways to adapt and thrive in extreme environments defines our history, and is as relevant today as ever before.

Last year, some 2,000 solar systems were installed in homes across many of the Solomon Island’s most remote villages, replacing dirty kerosene lights and providing enough power for electrical appliances.

The Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius, endowed with abundant sunshine and rainfall, now generates about 15 percent of its electricity by using a byproduct of sugarcane known as bagasse. It has plans to increase the renewables in its energy portfolio to at least 35 percent by 2025.

And the Island of Dominica in the Caribbean expects  geothermal energy development efforts to slash electricity bills by up to 40 percent in the coming years and make it a net exporter of power by 2020.

Many other projects show equal promise in islands elsewhere around the world.

Of course, climate change and sustainable development are too big for us too tackle on our own, and the solutions we bring to bear must go beyond the energy sector, but we know that anything is possible when we combine our local knowledge and determination with adequate support from our partners.

To guide our work SIDS have identified essential three “pillars”  of an effective sustainable development framework: climate change, oceans and seas, and means of implementation.These are inextricably connected and we can’t achieve our goals unless we address them systematically. I already have touched  on impact of climate change is having on our ability to develop and the important role marine ecosystems play in our economies. But I also want to underscore the importance of the third pillar.

After all, the theme of the Samoa conference is “genuine and durable partnerships” –  and we know that fully achieving sustainable development will require sustained cooperation and sustained support.

But it will also demand a lasting commitment to engendering true independence in SIDS by implementing projects that are rooted, from start to finish,  in trust and mutual respect. We have done well to listen to each other’s priorities and constraints in these negotiations. Going forward, we must continue to be clear about what is most important for us –  and, in turn, our partners must assess whether or not they are truly able to deliver. Both must be willing to make changes and adjust course when projects are not working.

The stars maybe aligned for SIDS, but the fate of all communities in all places rests on our shared responsibility to make sustainable development work. For, in a carbon-constrained world, where access to energy determines the health and prosperity of every one of its citizens, it is no exaggeration to say we all inhabit the same island