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Antigua and Barbuda’s Deputy UN Ambassador, Tumasie Blair speaking to CMC in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (CMC photo)
Antigua and Barbuda’s Deputy UN Ambassador, Tumasie Blair speaking to CMC in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (CMC photo)
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By Kenton X. Chance

ABU DHABI (CMC) —  Antigua and Barbuda’s Deputy United Nations Ambassador, Tumasie Blair, Wednesday said the upcoming fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) to be held in the Caribbean country next month is “the last chance to save SIDS.

“We framed this conference by saying not only is this the last chance to assist SIDS but also after the end of this 10-year framework, we don’t want to see another SIDS conference trying to save SIDS,” Blair told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) on the sidelines of the 14th  Session of the two-day International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Assembly which wraps up here on Thursday.

“We want to see a SIDS conference that would allow for a sustained development of SIDS. And so we don’t want to address past issues,” Blair said, one day after a pre-assembly SIDS Ministerial themed “Charting a Resilient and Sustainable Energy Future for SIDS”.

“We are confident that within the contents of the outcome document and its implementation, we’ll be able to achieve some level of sustainability going forward. What we need is to just continue to assist us in our sustainability efforts,” Blair said.

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He said Antigua and Barbuda has taken seriously, the hosting of SIDS4 and has spent the last few years doing the predatory work.

The May 27-30 conference in St. John’s will tackle issues of climate change, access to finance, debt sustainability, and the overall social development of SIDS.

“Those are the big ticket items on the agenda. And they’re more in detail in the outcome document that was recently concluded at the preparatory meeting for SIDS4.”

While St. John’s is hosting the meeting, it is an opportunity to shine the light on the larger Caribbean region, which is severely affected by many of the issues that will be the focus of deliberations.

“I think more than anything, the Caribbean has been feeling the effects of climate change, of the fallout from economic crisis. But also Because of our close connection with the (global) north, whenever they are spillovers from global unrest, then the Caribbean feels that even more aggressively than perhaps some other region,” Blair said, adding that the Caribbean is also a champion for other SIDS regions.

“And so we’re taking this opportunity to not only put the voice of the Caribbean on the map, but also to ensure that the other SIDS regions are able to to amplify their voice during SIDS4.”

The diplomat said that Antigua and Barbuda is hoping that the conference will end with “a firm commitment”from the international community, to really address the needs of SIDS.

“We have long said, during our two to three year preparatory process of this conference, that this is perhaps the last chance to save SIDS,” Blair told CMC, adding “we recognise that climate change is spiralling out of control, we recognise that the effects of climate change are even more intense.

“We also recognise that the economic fallout and the high debt burden of SIDS are now unsustainable. SIDS are on a cliff,” Blair said, adding that SIDS are still reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s clear that there needs to be specialised attention to SIDS. And so we’re hoping out of this conference that we have a firm commitment from the international community to fully address the needs of SIDS. And these commitments are detailed in the outcome document.”

But the SIDS conference is coming to the Caribbean even as developing countries, including many SIDS, have complained about the international community not living up to the commitments made at many international conferences, including the global climate change talks.

Blair said that in effort to get countries to honour commitments they made at the meeting, his country has spent the last two to three years being strategic “in knocking on doors” and “forming alliances and ensuring that once international partners have decided on commitment, that we’re able to hold them accountable.

“And so we have big players on board now, fully on board, in ensuring that they will not only allow to continue to champion for SIDS, but they will hold their counterparts accountable for the implementation and the commitments within this 10-year framework,” he told CMC.

“Again, there is a recognition globally that SIDS are the most vulnerable countries. And that recognition concludes that if you save SIDS, you save the world. And so I think there’s a firm commitment coming forward from partners now, in ensuring that they live up to their commitments to SIDS.”

The conference comes at a time when the World Bank, a major developmental financer, has proposed increasing the interest rates and reducing the payment period for loans to some developing countries, including many in the Caribbean that are enjoying a higher standard of living than many other developing countries.

But Blair noted that the World Bank is looking to introduce “vulnerability into their concept of lending and borrowing, and ensuring that those vulnerable countries are able to access concessional financing at a lower rate.

“And those countries, countries like Antigua and Barbuda, who don’t even have access to concessional finances, are able to gain access to concessional financing.”

Blair said the process being used by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) started within the UN system and that this is something that Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne has been championing, “which is the multi dimensional vulnerable index (MVI).

“And MVI really put forward the case that there needs to be a change in how the international financial institutions look at vulnerable countries, in particular small island developing states.”

On Tuesday, IRENA Director General, Francesco La Camera, the SIDS ministerial that the outcome of their deliberations would serve as input into SIDS4 and will play an important role in charting SIDS’ energy transition and sustainable development for the next decade.

La Camera announced that IRENA will be supporting Antigua and Barbuda in the hosting of  SIDS4.

The green energy agency will be co-hosting a side event focusing on “Transforming SIDS Economies through Energy Transition and Climate Action towards Prosperity, Resilience and Sustainable Development” to agree on concrete actions facilitated by action-oriented partnerships that will guide the future course for SIDS, he said.

The SIDS 4 outcome document is expected to be a 10-year sustainability map and Blair said the   IRENA assembly is important for SIDS 4, whose outcome document articulates “very clearly the renewable energy needs of SIDS, how we transition to renewable, the type of financing we need for renewable, that type of  transfer of technology that we need for renewable but also the fact that the SIDS Lighthouse isn’t fit for purpose right now.

“And so it has to be remodelled and reshaped so it’s fit for purpose, in tandem with the 10-year framework,” he said of the framework for action to support SIDS in their energy transition efforts from fossil fuel dependence to renewables.

“So this assembly is quite important. We have articulated this to the highest levels within IRENA and will continue to do so during the course of this assembly,” Blair told CMC, expressing confidence that SIDS4 will make a difference.