|The dramatic spread of democracy and open markets, hand-in-hand
with the explosion in technology and communications, constitutes
revolutionary change that could make the world a better place.
Global integration provides the opportunity to raise living standards
around the world, but also brings the risk that economic tremors
and environmental problems in one place will reverberate everywhere.
The concerns environmental and economic of small island developing states (SIDS) are a microcosm of the challenges facing all nations. As such their sustainable development is of global importance.
We know that the effects of global warming are likely to be felt more directly by SIDS whose coastal areas may be submerged, whose protective coral reefs are threatened, and who will be subject to more frequent and stronger hurricanes. These states are also exposed to dangers from wastes and toxic chemicals being dumped in the seas and oceans. Their small size means that resources such as land and freshwater are limited and can only support a small population base.
The Earth Summit in Rio led to the adoption of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States in 1994. This programme defines actions and policies that SIDS should undertake with the assistance of the international community.
This year, the progress of this Programme of Action is under review. In September, the United Nations General Assembly is convening a special session on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.
Undoubtedly, SIDS have made significant progress towards meeting the priorities and objectives of the Programme of Action both at the national and regional levels. Most significantly, the Programme has led to an enhanced understanding of sustainable development issues and initiated a holistic approach to environmental management.
But much more needs to be done to fulfil the aims of the Programme and to turn the promises of greater financing made at the Barbados Conference into reality.
UNEP will continue its support to SIDS through its stewardship of the environmental conventions, its Regional Seas Programme and the Global Programme of Action. Clearly, the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA) and the Kyoto Protocol provide effective frameworks for addressing the critical problems of coastal and marine resource management and sea-level rise.
Capacity building remains critical to the long-term sustainable development of SIDS. In this context, the need to utilize traditional and indigenous skills training and awareness raising cannot be overemphasized.
Tourism in SIDS is a major source of external revenue. Let us not forget that tourism in SIDS (sun, sand, sea, nature trails and cruises) basically involves marketing the environment. The UNEP/World Tourism Organization Conference on Sustainable Tourism in Small Island Developing States and Other Islands, held in October 1998 in Lanzarote, Spain, underscored the need to adopt integrated approaches to the management of resources, taking into account cultural and natural resources while giving the community a stronger role in their management.
The sustainable development of SIDS is much more than about beaches and coral reefs. It is more than climate change and natural disasters. It is about the existence and survival of a particularly vulnerable group of states, and requires the forging of effective partnerships between peoples and governments and between developed and developing countries.
PHOTOGRAPH: B. Wahihia/UNEP