|Uniting to Solve Island Challenges|
Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and Small Island Developing State Issues, talks to The Commitment about the importance of partnerships for development and climate change adaptation.
The Commitment Ambassador Jumeau, What outcome do you expect from a UN conference focused on Small Island Developing States? (SIDS)?
Ronald Jumeau Now is the time for SIDS. The conference in Samoa follows on from the first conference in Barbados in 1994 and the second in Mauritius in 2005, but what makes Samoa stand out even before it is held is that it is taking place not only during the International Year of SIDS, but also the same month as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in New York, and on the eve of the 2015 climate agreement in Paris, and the launching of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Q What are your expectations of the meeting?
A Rather than expectations, what we would hope to hear from Government leaders of SIDS is a commitment to establishing and reinforcing sustainable partnerships that truly deliver in the lead up to, and in, the post-2015 era. There are two post-2015 processes ahead of us: the Post-2015 Development Agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals at the centre, and the implementation of the new climate agreement that the international community is expected to reach in Paris 2015.
Q Do you see the Samoa Conference as a lead up to the Paris Conference?
A Yes, in Samoa you will hear the SIDS positioning themselves on the road to the Paris agreement and the launch of the post-2015 sustainable development process. The negotiations at the United Nations in New York on the outcome document for the SIDS conference gave a clear indication of other priorities we would like our development partners to address in Samoa.
Q A two-day Private Sector Partnerships Forum is being held at the Conference. In your experience as a long-serving diplomat, have you seen the private sector playing a lead role in the economic, technological and environmental growth of small islands?
A The role of the private sector in small islands has and continues to grow rapidly, particularly in recent history. Traditional North-South aid and cooperation no longer suffice to meet the sustainable development needs of developing countries, hence the partnerships theme of the SIDS conference in Samoa. The message is that the private sector, not-for-profit or non-governmental organizations and civil society have to play an even greater role in national economies and regional initiatives if the post-2015 sustainable development process is to succeed.
Q And where does Seychelles fit intothe process?
A For Seychelles, foreign direct investment (FDI) is the key driver of the tourism sector, which is our biggest provider of jobs and the biggest contributor to the country’s GDP. We are keen to develop this all-inclusive development paradigm further, utilizing and strengthening public private-civil society partnerships, to address some of our key sustainability challenges. Take for example our nationwide scheme to enable and encourage the whole population to produce energy from renewable sources and lower the country’s fuel import bill. The government is underwriting soft loans from commercial banks to homeowners who wish to produce their own electricity from renewable sources and sell the surplus to the national grid. The government, which in the past was the sole producer of electricity, is also facilitating an enabling environment for small and medium private enterprises to rent the roofs of homeowners to produce renewable energy and sell it to the grid.
Q Tourism in your country is a success story. What attracts tourists to the Seychelles?
A Seychelles is internationally renowned both as an upmarket tourism destination and a world leader in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. This is not a coincidence; the two go together, complement each other. Tourists are attracted to Seychelles by its unmatched natural environment, and in turn we take care of our environment to keep the tourists coming. So the more discerning tourists we get, the more we feel the need to conserve and sustainably manage the environment and biodiversity that attracted them in the first place.
Q How can governments, private sector and local communities coming together to reduce disaster risk?
A Disaster Risk Reduction is a growing global issue, and islands are at their strongest when they stand tall together. Islands face unique challenges and are best placed to unite in helping other islands find island solutions to island challenges. No island is alone; no matter how isolated it is or may feel. There are thousands upon thousands of us around the globe. An example of how partnerships between governments, the private sector and local communities can come together to strengthen both human resilience and the nature that surrounds us, is the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA). GLISPA is a voluntary gathering of islands, irrespective of their political status, countries with islands, and friends of islands in the United Nations and global non-governmental and not-for profit communities. Countries with islands which help fund GLISPA are Italy and the United States. Our mission is, among others, to promote action for island conservation and sustainable livelihoods, including through ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change, thus strengthening resilience to climate impacts, disasters and external shocks.
Q Many SIDS now recognize the need to move towards low-carbon, climate resilient economies. Do you feel that instead of relying on fossil fuel imports, renewable technologies will make SIDS more sustainable?
A Absolutely. In fact, it is an untold story that the SIDS have emerged as world leaders in renewable energy and energy efficiency through their SIDS DOCK (sidsdock.org) initiative. The key to this transition is resilience and innovation. Out of small islands come big ideas, I always say, and it is from this creativity to develop sustainable, low-carbon energy and economies that a shift away from fossil fuel imports is already taking place. Indeed, SIDS are often an innovator in this field.
Q Is Seychelles leading in adaptation strategies?
A For Seychelles, with 3,000 times as much sea territory as land area, ocean energy would have be our first and most obvious choice if was not the least developed source of renewable energy for the time being. Last year we launched our first wind farm, however putting it out at sea would have resulted in us having fewer turbines for the same amount of investment. So we set it up on an uninhabited artificial island that we had reclaimed from the sea for other development purposes as we ran out of flat coastal land to build on. The turbines are around the edges of the island and our next step is to fill the interior with solar PV panels, thus creating one of the first, if not the first, island entirely dedicated to producing energy from renewable sources. It will be very symbolic if the SIDS’ accelerate transition to renewable energy and low-carbon economies.
Q What are your thoughts on blending adaptation techniques with disaster risk reduction (DRR) for both Pacific and Caribbean island nations?
A Combining adaption techniques and DRR is essential, as Seychelles has learned from personal experience when in January last year a huge storm linked to a cyclone in the region slammed into our main island of Mahe. It hit only a relatively small part of the island, but the severity of the damage it caused forced Seychelles to call for international help to meet the costs of recovery and rehabilitation. We had a rude awakening to the fact that a few hours of strong winds and torrential rain could have reversed five years of a painful comeback from economic crisis. Unless the small island countries and territories get the assistance our fragility requires from post-2015 and become better equipped internally to deal with economic and environmental shocks, our unique vulnerability to climate change will only get worse in the years ahead.