Issue 69 | 08 March 2023

For SIDS, the ocean is more than just an engine of livelihoods, commerce, and energy production. It is the inheritance of generations, and the people of SIDS see this gift as a responsibility. As existing and emerging anthropogenic pressures continue to increasingly compromise the oceans’ heath, urgent action to combat biodiversity and habitat loss in the oceans, both within and outside national jurisdictions, is critical for SIDS to enhance their climate resilience and sustain vibrant blue economies. 

On 4 March 2023, and after more than a decade of discussions, an agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) has been completed. The final text still needs to be adopted, but the agreement has been described as historic. Before the agreement, Mr. Henry Puna, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific Ocean Commissioner declared in his statement to the resumed fifth session of the Intergovernmental Conference “together with other agreements, it would represent a ‘whole ocean’ approach, particularly on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.”  

Indeed, the current document has many implications for our planet and the oceans and also fully recognizes the “special circumstances of small island developing States”. It provides the legal means to realize the 30 by 30 pledge made in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and it offers guidelines to ensure the assessment of environmental impacts of human activities both within national jurisdiction and areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). This is of critical importance to SIDS as marine processes do not recognize boundaries. In addition, ensuring fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from activities with respect to marine genetic resources of the high seas as well as transfer of marine capacity and capacity-building would allow SIDS to benefit from ABNJ but also to be empowered to sustainably benefit from the resources within their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) representing 19.1 percent of the world’s EEZs.

In this bulletin we feature innovations and initiatives across the SIDS regions in coral restoration, digital health, disaster risk reduction, and an exclusive interview with His Excellency Mr. Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Dr. Pa'olelei Luteru, Permanent Representative of Samoa to the UN and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), who celebrated the new BBNJ agreement as it can "bridge the capacity gap, and have co-benefits advancing a number of priorities including SDG14 and the SAMOA Pathway, as well as its successor agreement.”  

Image: Toby Matthews / Ocean Image Bank

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Keywords: Rising Up For SIDS, marine plastic pollution, debt crisis, climate finance, digital economy, digital transformation, ocean economy, indicator frameworks, sustainable fisheries, biodiversity, marine protected areas, SDGs, disaster recovery, climate security, blue economy, digital transformation, livelihood empowerment, gender equality, innovation, renewable energy.
Country Corner
Image: UNDP Guinea Bissau / Gwenn Dubourthoumieu

Access to healthcare is one of the most important benefits of the use of digital technology in most vulnerable and disadvantaged areas. Real-time and accurate health data supports SIDS in informed decision making and improved delivery of health services. Digitalization of the health systems has become the smarter approach to tackle limiting circumstances and resources in areas with challenging operating environments (COEs). As discussed in previous bulletins, SIDS are eliminating these gaps with the accuracy and efficiency of digital solutions to create ripple effects across public health systems.          

Guinea-Bissau has taken leadership to use the opportunities of digital to respond to a complex health environment, such as the challenge that 66 percent of the total population of  Guinea-Bissau is approximately 5 km from the nearest health facility, with 13,500 inhabitants for every one health center. Integrating the digitalization of community health data has allowed to Guinea-Bissau to strengthen their health system within District Health Information Software 2 (DHIS2) as an information management system to evaluate the performance of the country’s health services, track key programmes (immunization, HIV, TB, and malaria), and follow through on patient-level cases. Automated analytical outputs and data visualization of the DHIS2 support the community health workers and decision-makers to optimize the resources in the ground and produce meaningful healthcare results. This initiative paved the way for Guinea-Bissau to be one of the first countries to adopt the DHIS2 COVID-19 Surveillance packages in 2020. It simplified the process of the tracing, testing, and data integration with current health systems which gave leverage to Guinea-Bissau in managing the pandemic. 

While technology fills the gap, digital inclusion is a central for maximizing the benefit of digital and data tools. The critical role of digital technologies and constant capacity-building of the system and data users are key to strengthening access to healthcare services for the most vulnerable.   

Image: Teleography

Last week, two cyclones hit Vanuatu leading to the declaration of a state of emergency and leaving an estimated 58,000 children in an extremely precarious situation. For Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands, extreme weather events threaten lives and livelihoods, including tsunami created by earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean. Disaster warning systems are essential for saving lives by allowing residents to move to higher ground. However, the existing tsunami warning network is limited to the 65 active deep-ocean buoys designed to measure wave patterns and improve tsunami forecasting, and this system is too sparse to effectively inform Vanuatu before disaster strikes. 

There is, however, an existing information network that runs near Vanuatu: the commercial undersea telecom cables which connect Vanuatu with the world. By equipping this cable network with sensors to measure water pressure and temperature, this data source would provide essential information to improve tsunami predictive systems. A recent innovation in the sensor technology is currently beginning the pilot stage, and within the next few years the Science Monitoring and Reliable Telecommunications (SMART) subsea cables could begin scaling up. When this technology eventually reaches the Pacific, it could enable response times from warning systems to increase to 5 to 10 minutes. This could be implemented in the form of a new SMART cable, which would simultaneously provide a second high-speed connection to reduce risk from communication blackouts like that caused in Tonga last year after a volcanic eruption severed that country’s only telecom cable

Read more about Vanuatu’s approach in their Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Policy 2016-2030. This policy document seeks to strengthen existing capacity while taking into consideration the availability of resources, risks models, and demographics, creating a framework for mainstreaming climate change and disaster risk reduction into sustainable development processes and aligning vision and strategies across stakeholders to support initiatives and funding. 

Image: UNDP / The Bahamas

Aside from the usual economic and social losses and disruptions caused by weather disasters, SIDS experience amplified hardships in the recovery process as a result of widespread debris left behind in their coastal and marine ecosystems. Because of their limited land area and often limited resources, as well as their reliance of pristine coastal areas for their tourism industry, SIDS are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of ocean debris. This marine debris can kill marine wildlife, ruin habitats, obstruct navigation and evacuations, endanger human health, and harm the livelihoods of those who rely on the ocean. Concerningly, it also destroys essential habitats like coral reefs and mangroves, reducing the natural measure of protection provided from the effects of extreme weather events, and climate change externalities. SIDS also face unique difficulties in disposing of debris because of their geographical isolation, reliance on imported goods, high number of boats, and the necessity of waste exportation As a result, this is a problem that requires the swift and concerted effort of the global community, as well as an eye toward the future in terms of the application of technology. Alarmingly, an estimated 10 million tons of debris enters our oceans annually. As the world moves toward synchronized action to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution at the Second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in May, SIDS like Abaco have been adopting their own solutions. 

Abaco, the second-largest economy in the Bahamas, has been working diligently to overcome the sheer magnitude of the problem. Following the destruction of 60 percent of the island's infrastructure by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, the next three years were spent retrieving 936 tons of debris across the 800 km survey area. Due to the innovative IDEA-supported Rapid Marine Debris Assessment, the collaborative efforts of NGO's, Agencies, and local residents were streamlined to optimize recovery efforts. The Quick Marine Debris Assessment combines new data collecting powered by pictures to detect, categorize, and locate debris before integrating it into a graphical map using GIS software. In the aftermath of a disaster, it is essential to prioritize conducting debris assessments, producing baseline analyses that can be disseminated, to coordinate recovery efforts as soon as possible so that they don't obstruct evacuation, or impact recovery operations. 

Abaco's innovative initiatives present the potential to scale towards widely disseminated smart-enabled solutions, which can enhance resilience throughout SIDS. Several other studies are investigating into the usage of satellite imagery as an additional collection technique. Furthermore, new technology like drones and underwater robots are increasingly being employed to find and remove debris from the ocean. These technologies can be especially beneficial in remote areas difficult to reach via traditional means. There is no single comprehensive measure to eradicate the impact of debris, but collaborative partnerships, and prioritizing circular economies, and digital applications can help to expedite clean-up and removal efforts, conserving the natural assets of island communities whose livelihoods depend on them. 

In the News
Image: Coral Maker

94 percent of the population of SIDS live within 100 km of a coral reef as of 2020, according to a recent study. Globally, that number is approximately 1 billion. Coral reef ecosystems provide livelihoods and insulate from natural disasters, with the socio-economic benefits estimated to exceed USD 20 billion annually. As the “rainforests of the sea”, the value of coral reefs to the health of the ocean is priceless. However, this essential resource for maintaining ocean ecosystems and the coastal economies is in dire threat. According to the 2022 IPCC findings, 70–90 percent of existing tropical coral reefs will disappear even if global warming is constrained to 1.5°C. At the 2°C threshold, nearly all coral globally will die. This makes meeting the Paris Agreement even more essential, but also demonstrates the need for other approaches for us to support coral health. 

New innovations in coral nurseries could help by automating the intensive and expensive process of growing replacement corals and grafting them onto reefs, to begin the multiyear process of growing these corals to full size. New robotic solutions are being tested to bring this process to scale. The idea of coral nurseries isn’t new, and the world’s first land-based coral farm was launched in the Bahamas in 2019. But for the dramatic scale needed to save our reefs, digital technologies including robotics will be essential to scale up this process.  

Alongside other advancements including identification and protection of heat-resistant coral reefs and the use of probiotics to defend against disease, this solution could at least “buy us” more time to support ocean health and reduce global warming. However, this solution must be implemented alongside global efforts to address all the numerous drivers of climate change and damage to coral health, and support economic diversification to build resilience for coastal communities.

Image: Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project

The ocean is home to 80 percent of all species, produces half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. Marine protected areas (MPA) are an essential instrument for protecting seas from anthropogenic consequences such as pollution, unsustainable tourism, or overfishing while also contributing to SIDS food security, livelihoods, and strengthening nature-based solutions against climate change including boost vulnerable coral populations and safeguarding from rising sea levels and natural disaster. Specifically, MPAs mitigate climate change through four channels: carbon sequestration, ecological adaptation, social adaptation, and income creation. Benefits, however, were only shown in MPAs that were well-managed and had high levels of protection. To ensure success, the proposal for a new MPA should result from a collaborative effort among government, scientists, and local stakeholders, with clear social and ecological objectives established. For more info on the steps involved in creating an MPA, refer to The MPA Guide

The challenge in MPA management is establishing sustainable and suitable financial and human capital, with more than 65 percent of MPAs having insufficient funding. Similarly, MPAs with insufficient staff capacity had a threefold lower ecological impact than those with enough staff capacity. To address this, the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund is establishing a series of National Conservation Trust Funds in the Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. Meanwhile, PPP, such as in Fiji with Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD), can be essential in maintaining the MPA. MPA support is being funded by the Global Fund for Coral Reefs and the Joint SDG Fund to further expand and diversify reef-positive action, providing a scalable model that can support the conservation of marine ecosystems across SIDS’ globally connected blue economy. 

For the MPA in the Pacific named "Te Tai Nui A Hau", or “The Ocean of Peace", there has been a prioritization of regional approaches that use “biological corridors” to connect a network of MPAs of varying sizes and degrees of protection. This method is based on the fact that regional MPAs interact biologically and socially across vast areas, accounting for changing meteorological conditions, economic and cultural requirements, and rising technological and financial developments. However, despite their efforts, marine biodiversity continues to disappear at an alarming rate. The new legal framework to protect BBNJ will be critical to safeguard marine biodiversity far beyond the current level of only 1.2 percent is currently protected. The proposed treaty be be essential for establishment of the network of high-seas MPAs required for protecting ocean health.

Image: UN

“Disasters remind us that we are all citizens of the world, whether we like it or not,”, These words reverberated by Mia Mottley at the first regional launch of the UN's Early Warnings for All (EW4ALL) initiative in Barbados, aiming to bring multi-hazard early warning systems to all by 2027. SIDS have long been disproportionately affected by extreme weather events, which have been compounded by the ‘Triple-C’ crisis, economic constraints, and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme climate events, diminishing capacity for recovery between incidence. The 2021 hurricane season in the Caribbean was the fourth costliest on record. Despite this, only one-third of SIDS have multi-hazard early warning systems, which can cut economic damage by 30 percent with only 24-hours notice. In this respect, the launch of EWALL supports the nearly 90 percent of SIDS that have prioritized the implementation of early warning systems in their NDCs. 

Unlike traditional early warning systems, multi-hazard early warning systems can address multiple climate-induced disasters that can occur simultaneously in SIDS, such as droughts, heatwaves, cold waves, and diseases. Supporting adaptive action to maintain community health, ensure clean water access, and secure agri-food systems across SIDS, where agricultural and livestock losses totaled $8.7 billion from 2008 to 2018. For all these reasons and more, the EW4ALL will be discussed at the upcoming UN 2023 Water Conference

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Climate Risk Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative have incorporated EW4ALL into existing continuing disaster risk management plans. Already, flood-integrated early warning systems are being developed for Jamaica and Saint Lucia, and a multi-sensor precipitation grid prototype has been developed for Barbados, Martinique, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Utilizing both environmental and digital solutions can significantly minimize the effects of extreme weather events and improve SIDS’ resilience. Integrating digital innovations with nature-based solutions, such as coastal restoration, mangrove conservation, and reforestation, can offer cost-effective and innovative approaches to strengthen sustainable development. 

SIDS Perspective
Recognizing the principle of the common heritage of humankind
"We have to remember that the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, or high seas, cover about half of our planet and 2/3 of the oceans. The role they play in providing food, oxygen, and in regulating our climate, including through carbon capture and excess heat absorption, is paramount for our planet."  

In this exclusive interview, His Excellency Mr. Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Dr. Pa'olelei Luteru, Chair of AOSIS and Permanent Representative of Samoa to the UN, highlights the importance of recent discussions on protecting the ocean's health.

Q - Ambassador, in order to provide our reader who are not familiar with this subject some background, can you briefly tell us why is the Conservation and Sustainable use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), some 200NM away from the national shores, important?

A - We have to remember that the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ), or high seas, cover about half of our planet and 2/3 of the oceans. The role they play in providing food, oxygen, and in regulating our climate, including through carbon capture and excess heat absorption, is paramount for our planet. Additionally, due to the ecological connectivity of the ocean, activities in ABNJ have direct and indirect impacts on territorial waters, especially when conducted in areas adjacent or within close proximity of EEZs, which is the case for a number of SIDS. As countries that are dependent on healthy marine ecosystems for sustainable development, adequate protection of the high-seas is therefore of paramount importance for SIDS.

A - SIDS have traditionally been custodians of the ocean, utilizing traditional, local and indigenous knowledge to sustainably manage marine resources, within our EEZ and beyond. However, SIDS have not been able to keep up with the pace of scientific and technological advancements that have now unlocked new frontiers for advancing research and commercialization of these resources. Recognizing that the resources in the high-seas are the common heritage of humankind, this agreement is critical to deliver the capacity and technology transfer that is required for all countries, including SIDS, to be able to equitably access and benefit from marine genetic resources in the high seas. This will also generate co-benefits in advancing SDG14 and the SAMOA Pathway as the capacity generated can be broadly utilized for activities within EEZs as well.

A - Area Based Management tools are instrumental for protecting vulnerable areas, and enhancing marine resilience to counter the impacts of climate change and human induced activities. It is important to recognize that as large ocean states, SIDS do have knowledge and experience in this area that can contribute to the creation of area based management tools, which can be utilized with free prior informed consent or approvalAt the same time, it must be ensured that creation of these marine protected areas do not create a disproportionate burden on SIDS, which is explicitly recognized in the treaty text

Through the capacity building and technology transfer facilitated under this instrument, there is also potential for advancing digital tools that will assist SIDS in managing large and remote marine areas by shortening physical distances and facilitating monitoring remotelyAs SIDS,  safeguarding our rights and responsibilities remains our biggest priority as custodians of the Ocean, and we hope the treaty will deliver the capacity and technology that we require to equitably do so.

Image: Shutterstock

The Digital Economy Report of UNCTAD presents a consolidated and holistic understanding of the Pacific small island developing states’ (SIDS) complexities and interdependencies to the current and anticipated gaps, and opportunities for digital development. The report also detailed approaches on the way forward to minimize the disparity and achieve optimal benefits of the digital economy. Digital transformation, in a perfect world, leads to more jobs, optimal economic productivity, and expanded regional and international markets. However, circumstances in between, such as political realities, economic status-quo, and social and cultural precedence, have impeded countries to harness the opportunities for development.  

Technological affordances highly depend on an environment that enables it to thrive. This includes (1) constant update on relevant policies governing digital advances (based on real-time data) that can anticipate future markets, (2) investment in ICT infrastructures and digital technologies tailored to country’s context, (3) multi-stakeholders coordinated and harmonized approach (local, regional, and international), and (4) consistent enhancement of digital literacy across populations. And more importantly, the report highlights the importance of inclusion at the center of the digital development agenda to achieve transformative changes envisioned in 2030 SDGs.   

Further Resources

SIDS: Gaps, Challenges and Constraints of implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was adopted in 2015 to overcome challenges due to inherent vulnerabilities and the persistent lack of capacity to strengthen resilience. However, we are halfway through the timeline for implementation of the Framework, and only a third of all SIDS are covered by early warning systems, with uneven progress towards the rest of the Sendai Targets. By analyzing the gaps and challenges targeted actions to accelerate progress towards the Sendai targets can be generated and contribute to the priorities for the Fourth SIDS Conference in 2024. This new report provides recommendations for SIDS to address their shared challenges in implementing the Sendai Framework, including the lack of human, institutional and technological capacity, the inadequacy of investments and financial resources, and persistent constraints in data generation and analysis. 

DataReportal - Digital 2023 Global Review Report

The DataReportal is an online reference library offering an extensive collection of free reports and datasets, filled with insights and trends relevant to development in SIDS. These resources include essential global and regional insights with comparisons across economies, in-depth local findings, and data and trends for specific topics. One recent release includes the  Digital 2023 Global Overview Report. For example, you can see a Digital 2023 report on Vanuatu, as well as a full collection of reports on Vanuatu. This report featured key statistics, such as: there were 219.2 thousand internet users in Vanuatu at the start of 2023, when internet penetration stood at 66.3 percent; Vanuatu was home to 92.4 thousand social media users in January 2023, equating to 27.9 percent of the total population; and a total of 331.8 thousand cellular mobile connections were active in Vanuatu in early 2023, with this figure equivalent to 100.4 percent of the total population. 

Toward Responsible and Informed Ocean-Based Carbon Dioxide Removal

This new WRI report analyses the costs, risks, co-benefits, and areas of research needed for seven ocean carbon dioxide removal (CDR) approaches. Recommendations a provided to help advance a responsible and informed ocean CDR include: 1) Resolve uncertainties to understand which approaches are viable for large-scale deployment with minimal negative impact on ocean systems, ecosystems, and coastal communities, 2) Improve governance frameworks at the local, national, and international levels to ensure research and small-scale pilots are undertaken responsibly and all stakeholders are informed and included, and 3) : Lay the foundation for robust governance of large-scale deployment in the future. 

Financing the Blue Economy in Timor-Lese: A Preliminary Roadmap

This roadmap focuses on the economic diversification opportunities presented by the blue economy and explores opportunities to leverage finance for “blue growth” in Timor-Leste. Additionally it highlights the role that the blue economy can play in accelerating sustainable economic development and the four key pillars of the Timor-Leste 2016-2030 Strategic Development Plan, and focuses in particular on the ways in which both domestic and external financial resources can be leveraged strategically to support blue economy development and the transition to a post-oil economy. The roadmap represents a first step in identifying and mapping financing options for the blue economy and aims to inform a national dialogue on future development pathways, and the role that different financing flows can play.

Upcoming Opportunities & Events

The Islands and Small States Institute (ISSI) at the University of Malta is offering a fully online or blended Master by Research in Islands and Small States studies (full-time or part-time), as well as a PhD programme. The program is hybrid involving distance learning, and is intended to be inter-disciplinary and will relate to economic, social, environmental and political issues associated with islands and small states. The institute is offering scholarships especially designed for SIDS nationals.  

Register HERE
Deadline: 17 April 2023

The United Nations (UN) Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Partnerships Awards was established by the Member States of the United Nations in 2021 to recognize and reward the efforts of the best and most noteworthy, genuine and durable partnerships in the implementation of the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA Pathway). The Awards provide an opportunity to reward the most successful SIDS partnerships, highlight best practices, increase the visibility of the SIDS Partnership Framework, motivate the creation of new SIDS partnerships and incentivize the registrations of new partnerships for SIDS. The SIDS Partnerships Awards are given in each of the three dimensions of sustainable development: 1) economic, 2) social and 3) environment. 

Register HERE
Deadline: 28 April 2023

Youth4Climate brings together existing and new online and offline resources, tools, capacities, partnerships, networks, and movements by and for youth, with a strong focus on implementation, for more sustained impact on climate on the ground. The global Youth4Climate Initiative has released a call for innovative ideas for young people and youth organizations to take climate action, with grants up to 20,000 USD alongside mentorship and capacity-building. There are four thematic areas: food and agriculture ,energy, education and urban sustainability. 

Register HERE
Deadline: 31 March 2023
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