SDG Blog

Volume 28 | No.5 | May 2024

Charting the course to a resilient and prosperous future for Small Island Developing States at the SIDS4 Conference

By Li Junhua, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; Secretary-General of the SIDS4 Conference

This month, the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda will host the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) – a pivotal moment for the international community to join in partnership with Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and work toward a more sustainable, prosperous and resilient future.

SIDS are home to more than 50 million people. Their livelihoods and identities are intertwined with the ocean, as stewards of its biodiversity and resources.

While rich with cultural heritage and natural diversity, SIDS face structural vulnerabilities that constrain their sustainable development. For them, climate change, weather-related disasters, and economic and ecological vulnerability are much more than theoretical concepts, and they demand urgent action. 

The haunting spectre of rising seas, the trail of devastation left by hurricanes and cyclones that are increasing in intensity and frequency, and the burden of scarce resources and fragile ecosystems paint a sobering picture not only for the future of small islands, but for us all. 

We will gather in Antigua and Barbuda – a nation on the front line of the climate crisis – to listen to the voices of SIDS and to join their push for transformative change.

Since the adoption of the SAMOA Pathway in 2014, SIDS have carved an inspiring path, pioneering renewable energy solutions, championing sustainable tourism, and spearheading marine conservation efforts. Yet, significant obstacles remain for these countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Chief among these challenges is the rapidly accelerating impact of climate change. 

The SIDS4 Conference is our chance to take stock of hard-won progress and develop SIDS-specific solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. 

The Conference will adopt the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS, which sets the SIDS’ development objectives for the next ten years and outlines the support required from the international community to achieve them.

The outcome and implementation of this fourth SIDS Conference will build on previous SIDS development frameworks including the SAMOA Pathway, the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation, and Barbados Programme of Action.

Among the objectives set for the decade are a focus on urgently mitigating the adverse impacts of climate change, building resilient economies capable of weathering future crises, fostering safe, healthy, prosperous and productive societies, and conserving biodiversity. Improving access to concessional finance is also a major objective that would enable them to invest in their future without crippling debt burdens.

The Conference will also push for action towards genuine gender equality, affordable and sustainable energy for all, with a focus on safeguarding the future for young people in SIDS. 

The event will also shine a spotlight on the innovations and best practices borne from the ingenuity and determination of island communities in the face of adversity. We will learn from the experiences of SIDS and their partners in overcoming challenges, inspiring us all to redouble our efforts.

While the international community gears up for the Summit of the Future in September and its focus on a renewed multilateral system, SIDS4 offers a moment to foster global solidarity, strengthen international cooperation, and mobilize resources to address the unique vulnerabilities faced by SIDS.

As SIDS4 Conference Secretary-General, I reaffirm the United Nations unwavering commitment to SIDS.

We must use the Conference as a catalyst for renewed partnerships, innovative financing mechanisms, and concrete actions that will allow these extraordinary island nations and their people to build a more resilient and sustainable future. A future that leaves no island behind.

This is a moment of real possibility. For over thirty years, SIDS voices have resonated from Barbados to Mauritius and Samoa. The aspirations of SIDS have risen with every programme, strategy, pathway, and agenda that the world has adopted. The waves of hope that started on those faraway shores will carry us to Antigua and Barbuda as we set sail into the next chapter of the SIDS story.