The small island states need money, and fast

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When they take the floor at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, small island states (S.I.D.S) will be demanding one thing: access to funding. Fast.

The organisation uniting island states from the Pacific, Caribbean and from the African, Indian and South China seas has assembled a package to present to U.N member states and partners.

The countries are united by geography and size, and have been working together since 1990 to demand support from the international community.

“The challenges that are unique to small island developing states and the contexts these countries operating in, being small, very open, very vulnerable to exogenous shocks be it environmental or economic shocks, these are characteristics that each of them share,” said Alliance of Small Island States (A.O.S.I.S) Deputy Chairperson, Janine Felson.

She said the package is a series of initiatives to mobilise money for the island’s most important needs.

“We took on ambition, we took on specific action in terms of mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and then in turn we sought an enabling support package, not only for this initiative but on a broader scale on the need to support small island states,” she said.

“It is down from multiple initiatives to an umbrella package bringing together all the main areas for action that SIDS want to see occur by 2020 and beyond.”

It details the island’s position and needs for the next 15 months, and what they expect to arise from the Climate Summit, where the U.N Secretary General has called for concrete plans over speeches.

Though different in many ways, the nations each face the brunt of climate change and without exception will need help to battle it.

“If you were to use simple metrics like G.D.P-per-capita you would see we don’t fall into neat little categories of low-income and high income, we are spread across all of them,” Ms. Felson.

“One thing is for sure, the characteristics we have are endemic, you cannot overcome them by elevating through income categories, we cannot stop being islands or being vulnerable to drastic impacts of climate change like sea level rise.”

The S.I.D.S Package incorporates the Climate Summit’s nine focus areas, which includes climate finance, nature based solutions, industry traditions and youth and public mobilisation.

A key focus is the transition to 100 per cent renewable energy across the world. The U.N work plan on energy transition was led by Denmark and Ethiopia but Palau helped build it, and was able to involve the needs and realities of small island states.

They already have an organisation ready to help S.I.D.S reach 100 per cent renewable energy, the International Renewable Energy Agency (I.R.E.N.A) which is based in Abu Dhabi.

“They will help us find the right source of technical assistance and the financing we will need, like a one stop shop for anything we need to do with renewable energy,” Ms. Felson said.

Another element is mobilising financing to help S.I.D.S achieve their national determined contributions to reducing carbon emissions according to the Paris Agreement.

Ms. Felson and the alliance expect each country will need at least US$300,000 in technical assistance, capacity building and resources to develop their action plans to meet their contributions, and report on them.

“To make those plans, it takes a lot of work. It requires systems to be in place, methodologies to be developed, and baselines to be in established.

“So what we are doing is ensuring every single member of our group gets access to the funding they need, the technical assistance they need to actually be able to do those reports.”

With each initiative, the pathway for partners to bring finance will be the priority, especially when it comes to adaptation.

“We are having to adapt to things we have never seen before, like the category five storm that hit the Bahamas.

“What exactly do you do to adapt to that, and what is the type of investment that is needed to make sure we can build back after that, or ensure we won’t suffer the loss of life that occurred in that place or in many other places?

“The types of money we need for those sorts of things are not readily available as climate finance. It crosses over into development, but we are looking for a new approach, new ways to get funding we need in the time we need it.”

One of these new approaches could be a ‘debt for climate swap,’ where the debtor releases a country of a debt amount in exchange for that money to be invested in a climate change space.

“In debt for climate swaps, bilateral and multilateral debt relief could enable vulnerable developing countries, including S.I.D.S, to reduce their external debt while investing the liberated funds in national climate adaptation and mitigation programmes,” explains Climate Analytics, a climate science and policy institute.

“In a higher level way, we want to see the international, financial system respond in a bespoke fashion for small island developing states,” Ms. Felson said.

It will address developing countries struggling with high debt to G.D.P ratios, and mobilise financing for climate adaptation too.

This is vital, as the effects of climate change will hamper G.D.P growth in countries dependant on fisheries, agriculture, or tourism, for example.

Though the S.I.D’s package is about finance, it is a challenge for the countries to put clear “price tags” on each initiative – with the exception of the nationally determined contributions work, Ms. Felson said.

The U.N has already stated reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals will cost trillions of dollars. To achieve goal number one, ending poverty, would cost $11.5 trillion alone.

“It is a challenge for SIDS when it comes to putting a price tag on our needs.

“Hopefully through some of these initiatives we will get technical assistance immediately and that will help us get a truer sense of what will be the ask from the international community.”

But they are not sitting by and waiting for the rest of the world to pick up the tab, the deputy chair added. They have skin in the game too, and will be financing some of the work too – what they can.

“It’s important we understand what exactly is the burden we will carry.

“Our government and our people have been carrying a lot of the burden of responding to something that we really have very little we have contributed to and we continue to do that but we want to be met more than halfway,” she said.

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