Atoll Nations Face Existential Choice of Relocating Their Peoples or Drastic Adaptation Measures, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Small Island Alliance Event

27 February 2020

Atoll Nations Face Existential Choice of Relocating Their Peoples or Drastic Adaptation Measures, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Small Island Alliance Event

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Alliance of Small Island States’ event “Advancing Ambition:  Building Bridges and Mobilizing Means”, in New York today:

I welcome this opportunity to discuss what we must do together in this pivotal year.

I thank the Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, Ambassador [Lois] Young, for inviting me to join you.  And I commend the work Alliance of Small Island States members are undertaking to prioritize concrete advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, with a focus on enhancing climate ambition and ensuring a sustainable future for small island developing States through conservation and sustainable use of the ocean.  It is a clear manifestation of sustained small island development States leadership in climate action and integrated, sustainable development to secure a prosperous and resilient future for small island developing States.

Your leadership is vital as we embark on a Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.

Alliance of Small Island States members are facing unprecedented risks.

The economic costs of climate change are rising, projected at 15 per cent or more of gross domestic product (GDP).  Natural disasters continue to take a heavy toll on small island developing States’ populations and economies.  Hurricanes and cyclones are claiming lives at an unprecedented rate.  Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Dominica alone claimed more than 3,000 lives.  Just a few months ago, the Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Dorian, causing over $3.5 billion in damage.

On top of that, irreversible sea-level rise poses significant danger.  In the Pacific, a rise of between 1 and 1.7 meters, which is in line with recent findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is projected to result in a decline in GDP of between 3 and 15 [per cent] from lost agricultural production, tourism, fisheries and infrastructure damage.

Atoll nations face existential choices of relocating their populations or drastic adaptation measures.  We have a huge task ahead of us this year.  These challenges require bold solutions.

I am immensely proud of the work we accomplished together in 2019, particularly on the reform of the United Nations development system and for the Climate Action Summit last September.

Today, I would like to emphasize the importance of enhanced collaboration on four key priorities for 2020:  1. United Nations development system reform; 2. the Decade of Action; 3. climate ambition; and 4. ambition on ocean and biodiversity commitments.  Let me say a few words about each in turn.

First, we are firmly committed to ensuring that the United Nations development system does what is needed to deliver for the development needs of small island developing States.

The United Nations development system, including the regional economic commissions, have come forward with specific commitments to small island developing States encompassing tailored support, integrated policy advice, technical capacities and an enhanced physical presence.  These commitments have been complemented by increased support for Sustainable Development Goals financing, data systems and South-South and triangular cooperation.

I would like to emphasize the important role of the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and the Small Island Developing States in this regard, and reaffirm the Secretary-General’s commitment to strengthen the Office as called for by the General Assembly.

With respect to United Nations multi-country offices, which mainly cover Alliance of Small Island States members, for the first time in at least two decades, we are undertaking a thorough review of small island developing States needs and the offer by the United Nations development system.

The Secretary-General has now presented and has been engaging with you on a set of recommendations for increased coordination and substantive resources to address the specificities of each island and country covered by a multi-country office.  We look forward to your guidance and support to implement after discussions at Economic and Social Council operational activities segment.

Let me turn now to the Decade of Action.  The Decade is our opportunity to ensure that the 2030 Agenda can deliver on its promise of leaving no one behind and healing our planet.

We know that progress on many Sustainable Development Goals has not taken place at the scale and speed required.  This is unacceptable to the people we serve.  The Decade is therefore our global rallying point, with three priorities:

First, to mobilize a global movement around the Sustainable Development Goals; second, to raise urgency and ambition to match the magnitude of the challenges; and third, to drive innovation, investments and collaboration to transform promising ideas into scalable solutions to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.

We must work together to ensure that the Decade delivers for small island developing States.  In addressing climate change, enhanced ambition and action are both a priority and a driver of the Decade.  The next 10 months will be crucial, and we need small island developing States leadership more than ever.

The Secretary-General remains deeply committed to stepping up ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance.  We are all operating in a challenging geopolitical environment and will need your help.

The twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties in Glasgow must generate momentum towards a just, climate-resilient and climate-neutral world.  It must respond concretely to the appeals of civil society and the young people who are taking to the streets, and it must rebuild trust in the negotiation space, from adopting robust rules on international carbon markets to ensuring that member states meet the commitment to raise $100 billion per year.

The small islands developing States package presented at the Climate Action Summit last year shows exemplary leadership by small islands developing States to transform their own economies beyond fossil fuels.  The Summit demonstrated the transformations required by all countries to reach the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Climate Agreement.  It laid out climate neutrality by 2050 as the only way forward.  We will continue to stand with you to deliver on these commitments.

By [the time of the] twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties, we need to deliver on new nationally determined contributions.  I applaud the Marshall Islands as one of the three countries that have delivered on their commitment.

I urge all Alliance of Small Island States countries to submit their enhanced national determined contributions in 2020.  By doing so, you will show once again that the most vulnerable countries in the world are setting the benchmark for global ambition.  The United Nations country teams, led by the United Nations Development Programme, stand ready to assist.

The Secretary-General and the entire United Nations system will also engage with main emitters on national determined contributions enhancement.

I count on small island developing States to continue to raise the alarm bell with G20 (Group of 20) nations.  You have a unique moral authority to call on main emitters to fulfil their responsibilities and transform their economies.  We must place the most affected people, as well as concrete steps for adaptation and resilience, at the centre of our decision-making in 2020.

The Secretary-General is deeply committed to ensure that the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties delivers tangible and concrete benefits on adaptation and resilience for Small island developing States, least developed and landlocked countries and Africa.  He will be pushing for increased access to direct finance, building the bridges to private finance, and other steps to enable faster rebuilding after natural disasters.

We have many opportunities in 2020 to harvest significant new commitments and to press ahead to turn commitments into action.

This brings me to my final point:  the important role the Alliance of Small Island States can play in raising the game on biodiversity and ocean priorities in what some are describing as a “Nature Super Year”.

You are on the frontlines of the crises affecting the world’s oceans.  The United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon in June will be an opportunity for Governments, private sector and cities to announce new targets, commitments and investments.  Eight panels cover key aspects of our ambition.

Marine protected areas have gathered positive momentum, increasing ten-fold since 2000, and I commend a number of small islands in the Pacific and in other oceans that have led the way in establishing them.  However, protected areas remain insufficient to preserve marine biodiversity from threats such as plastic pollution and unsustainable fishing.  We must set more ambitious goals.

Many countries and scientists are calling for a new commitment to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030.  I applaud this level of ambition.  And it is vital that the perspectives and solutions of small island developing States are front and centre this year.

The fifteenth Conference of the Parties on biodiversity is expected to adopt a new framework, which will be a benchmark for our success on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.  Saving nature is crucial to tackling the climate crisis and driving systemic transformations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and live in harmony with our planet.

We must address the direct drivers of biodiversity loss:  namely land use, climate change, pollution, unsustainable exploitation of wildlife, and invasive species.  And we must set ambitious targets and means of implementation.

I count Alliance of Small Island States members as true partners in the reform of the United Nations development system.  Indeed, delivery for Small island developing States is a barometer for the success of this effort.

Small island developing States are also a gauge for our success on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

I look forward to working with you throughout this year to meet our common objectives.  Thank you for your leadership.

For information media. Not an official record.