Empowering the youth perspective in deliberations for the upcoming conference on Small Island Developing States: interactive forum with Conference Secretariat

by Sophie Ritchie

In the lead-up to the upcoming Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a Google+ Hangout entitled “Samoa 2014: Empowering Youth for Sustainable Islands” took place on Thursday 24th July, and allowed young people from SIDS across the globe to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing these Island-States with the Conference Secretary-General, Wu Hongbo.

Youth representatives from the Caribbean, the Pacific, and the Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterreanean, and South China Sea (AIMS) shared their views on what present and future actions the youth are partaking in, and planning for, to improve the social, environmental and economic outcomes for their societies; and spoke briefly of the challenges such communities face.The specific challenges that SIDS face; and the unique answers to Sustainable Development problems they offer

The meeting opened with a statement from Mr. Wu Hongbo, who spoke to several points of pertinence for the future of Sustainable Development in SIDS. Firstly, Mr. Hongbo outlined the particularly vulnerable position in which SIDS exist, and the necessary urgency the international community must utilize in mobilizing behind their needs. Indeed, Mr. Hongbo outlined that, despite the fact that SIDs were now facing a suite of challenges and dangers relating to natural disaster and climate change, he highlighted that if Sustainable Development was not taken seriously, many other Member States would also inevitably face this eventuality. The social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development are mutually reinforcing and inextricably intertwined; and nowhere is this more apparent than in the SIDS. Mr. Hongbo continued in emphasizing the role and significance of the upcoming conference in Apia, Samoa, in identifying priorities, challenges, and opportunities present in SIDS within the post-2015 development agenda. Mr. Hongbo’s address affirmed that, at present, SIDS face a significant amount of challenges that threaten to undermine their ability to properly enact sustainable development within their own domestic contexts.

From an economic perspective, the majority of SIDS suffer from small, and isolated economic capacities, vulnerability to external (demand and supply-side) shocks, and a narrow resource base. Further, the continuing global and economic financial crisis, negative impacts of climate change, global food and energy crises, and uneven absorption into global trade and development processes, coupled with low rates of economic resilience, have posed a multitude of dire consequences for SIDS economies. In addition to these economic challenges, the SIDS also face a disproportionate amount of social problems; particularly insofar as the weakening of social cohesion is concerned. This breakdown in social fabric is being reinforced by external shocks and decreasing amounts of state-provided social protection mechanisms; and is leading to increasing levels of crime and violence, Non-Communicable Diseases (NDCs), and widening income gulfs between the rich and the poor within SIDS.  However, notwithstanding the significant amount of social, environmental and economic challenges facing SIDS, Mr. Hongbo also noted that SIDS enjoy unique opportunities, and offer unique answers to shared global problems in the future of Sustainable Development; and may path the way in the necessary pursuit of innovative thinking, best practice, and paradigm change in the post-2015 agenda.

Youth priorities for SIDS within the post-2015 agenda

Following this, presentations from different youth representatives within SIDS regions allowed SIDS focal-points from differing regional perspectives to voice their thoughts on priorities for their respective regional contexts. In opening, youth activist Ms. Karuna Raya urged youth participants in the conference to inform themselves as to the political processes underpinning negotiations, including: the outcome document of the SIDS Preparatory Committee, the Barbados Declaration and Programme of Action, the steering and drafting committees of SIDS negotiations, along with the lobbying interests and political stances of certain Member States to the United Nations General Assembly. The Pacific representative articulated several cross-cutting issues of importance for the region, namely: the critical importance of capacity-building within SIDS, access to all levels of education, job creation for the youth (in both the formal and informal sectors), addressing climate change concerns, biodiversity preservation, social inclusion and mobilization at a grassroots level, along with increased provision of sexual reproductive health information and services. The representative from the Caribbean region echoed aforementioned sentiments, but also added that entrepreneurship, good governance, and social protection (due to climbing crime levels) should additionally be prioritized. The AIMS perspective reinforced previously mentioned priorities, and further added that private sector and civil society engagement, access to food, water and energy security, access to quality education, and IT connectivity should be issues that garner significant amounts of focus and political buy-in.

After having taken the floor and presented the audience with their own thoughts on priorities for their respective regions, the panel of youth representatives in turn asked Mr. Hongbo his thoughts on the political priorities of the SIDS youth within the post-2015 Sustainable Development agenda. Many of Mr. Hongbo’s statements seemed to echo those of the youth delegates; with the conference Secretary-General emphasizing quality education, issues relating to health, strengthening active citizenship, increasing respect for cultural diversity, entrepreneurship, and innovation as key priorities within the youth constituency. Further, Mr. Hongbo urged the youth to send delegations to the Pre-Conference Youth Forum in the lead up to Samoa 2014, to make suggestions regarding the conference through the UN DESA website, and to register youth partnership projects with the Conference Secretariat.

Deliberations regarding the way forward, and action plans for youth engagement in Apia 2014

In closing statements, youth representatives articulated a support for the youth involvement in the SIDS conference, but also emphasized that the youth should be further prioritized; being the principal “guardians” of the future of Sustainable Development, and having such a large stake in (but minimal agency in deciding) the outcomes of current Sustainable Development negotiations. On the whole, the interactive forum between the youth constituency, and the UN SIDS Conference Secretariat for the upcoming global conference served as an effective platform for communication, best-practice sharing, and forward-thinking in preparations for future negotiations. Indeed, growing consensus seems to be shared across the UN system that partnerships, inclusive decision-making, and multi-stakeholder engagement will be needed in the successful formulation and implementation of a truly transformative Sustainable Development agenda for the next fifteen years. Engaging the youth perspective, and empowering their voice within these political processes, will be key to the success of such aspirations.

Check out IFAD's engagement in Small Island Developing States