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Jamaica and other C'bean SIDS in Samoa

Published:Sunday | September 14, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Byron Blake, Guest Columnist
The fundamental strategic objective of the SIDS was that their vital interest not be lost in the general global concerns.
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Byron Blake, Guest Columnist

The second 10-year review of the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA) wound up in Samoa's capital Apia on September 4. Jamaica and other Caribbean states, as well as small island developing states (SIDS) from the coast of Africa, the Indian and Pacific oceans, were all well represented. Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, is no longer recognised as a SIDS, having been declared a developed country and member of the European Union.

The fundamental objective, we assume, was to upgrade the BPOA, given the new information available on the deep-seated development challenges and the realities of the impacts, no longer anticipated impacts, of rapid changes in global climate, and to agree or reinforce implementation of commitments.

The Gavel, in The Gleaner of Monday, August 18, 2014, asked the intriguing question: 'Can SIDS yield any success?' as it looked to the SAMOA Conference. This was against the backdrop of statements attributed to Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister A.J. Nicholson and his opposition counterpart, Ed Bartlett, earlier in the year.

We say the SIDS not only can achieve success in negotiations but that they have achieved success in the past. The key is clarity in the objectives of the SIDS, as a group, and the strategy agreed before leaving their shores for Apia. Strategy, for any international negotiation, or any negotiation for that matter, is usually held close to the chest and so we would not expect to have been informed of the Jamaican, Caribbean or global SIDS STRATEGY.

wider consultations

What we expected to have seen was a process of national, regional and global strategy preparation, including wide consultations. A two-, three- or even five-day meeting organised by the United Nations would not satisfy our criteria for consulting and strategising.

We would also have expected to have seen or heard, in the run-up to the conference, strategic statements by selected spokespersons enumerating key expectations of the group. Negotiations by unequally yoked partners require public support. The weaker party is unlikely to win inside the negotiating hall without pressure from the outside.

The Caribbean and other SIDS have experience with this. In the almost three-year run-up to the 1992 RIO Conference on Environment and Development, the Caribbean SIDS, recognising that small islands were the 'mine canary' in global warming and climate change, mobilised small islands across the globe into the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), into a significant negotiating force. To maintain its integrity, CARICOM even got Guyana included under the guise of a 'low-lying' coastal state. It was AOSIS, conceived by Lincoln Myers and Angela Cropper, both of Trinidad and Tobago, which orchestrated negotiations for the small islands within the Group of 77.

Leadership devolved on the Caribbean, which devoted the intellectual, organisational and other necessary resources. The governments, the academic community, and a small army of NGOs all became involved, working together, even though only the governments could negotiate.

special attention

The fundamental strategic objective of the SIDS was that their vital interest not be lost in the general global concerns. The group, therefore, negotiated for a special global conference to focus exclusively on the plight of the SIDS.

The decision in AGENDA 21 and PLAN OF ACTION worked. The first international conference out of RIO was on SIDS in Barbados. We consider that to have been a spectacular success.

With very little support from the UN, which was not give the capacity to provide budgetary assistance, the SIDS, led by the CARIBBEAN, pulled off the Barbados Conference exactly two years after RIO. The Barbados Programme of Action elicited strong commitments from the developed industrialised countries, not only to act to mitigate climate change by capping and reducing greenhouse gases but to provide financial resources to assist SIDS to adapt where the damage was already done.

Was that achievement by a unified SIDS? It was to assess the extent of implementation which drew the international community to the PACIFIC OCEAN over the last week. It even forced the UN to create within its establishment a special SIDS office. That office was until a few years ago headed by a Jamaican.

The fact that the developed countries have failed to honour their commitments can hardly be blamed on the SIDS, except to the extent that a clear weakening of SIDS resolve has become noticeable. One sign of that weakening is the absence of a clear strategy going into Samoa. That was different from the approach adopted going into Rio (1992), Barbados (1994) and Bali (2005).

That is why we fear for any real success coming out of the SAMOA Conference. Our fear is heightened by reports of individual SIDS signing and making public bilateral assistance deals, long ago negotiated and with little relevance to the essence of the Barbados Programme. That essence, to have the international community aggressively reduce the drivers of climate change and provide resources for adaptation by SIDS, is the goal to which SIDS had dedicated themselves. The verifiable condition is the international commitment to keep warming below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels - the scientifically agreed level at which SIDS stand a chance of survival.

We should look to see what the outcome document says on this issue.

Ambassador Byron Blake was one of the main organisers and negotiators for the Caribbean SIDS between 1989 and 2005. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ambassadorblake@gmail.com.

CARICOM headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana. FILE