Foreign Affairs

Speech by President James Michel at the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the Department of Business and Innovation, on the occasion of his state visit to Australia Monday 22nd August 2011

Wed, 24 August 2011

Speech By President James Michel

At The Australian Institute Of International Affairs And The Department Of Business And Innovation

On The Occasion Of His State Visit To Australia

Monday 22nd August 2011

'Sustainable development in a globalised world- perspectives from a Small Island Developing State’

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

When looking at Seychelles and Australia- our affinities belie our differences in geographic size.

Our peoples know the attraction of isolation- while also the difficulties this presents.  We know that our environments are both part of our biggest strengths, and also part of our greatest vulnerabilities. We know that for many of our challenges, we can’t just accept what is tried and tested elsewhere and blindly expect it to work. 

We know that we must be innovative to survive and prosper.

We are keenly aware that our environments are our bread and butter.We know that our environments are critical for our potential to create wealth for our children’s future. Without our environment- we have no economy. 

Our peoples stand as the guardians of some of the miracles of nature- from the Great Barrier Reef, to our own World Heritage sites of the Vallee de Mai and Aldabra Atoll.

But we also know that our environment is infinitely connected to the health of our global environment. Therefore we know that part of our duty to protect our own environment- our own livelihoods, is to also contribute to a healthier environment for our planet.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We should not set ourselves any illusions about the current state of the world economy- or of the world environment.  And I would like to stress at the outset- that we should not attempt to speak of one, without the other.  

We currently face a crisis of sustainability.

As things stand- the concept of sustainable development is a myth.

It is a myth, because we cannot speak of sustainability while we see climate change threaten the very existence of thousands of islands, and the people who inhabit those islands, and we, as the human race, are as yet unable to act decisively. 

We cannot speak of sustainability while we continue to value consumerism above conservation.

We cannot speak of sustainability where the world is struggling with fuel and commodity prices that are spiraling out of control, and yet there is still insufficient investment in renewable energy and food security.

Our experiences since the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio do not give us much hope that the real transformation that we need in international development is possible.  

But this should not mean that we must abandon hope.

On the contrary, the scale of the challenge ahead of us, only reinforces our determination. History has shown us, that great transformations often involve the building of momentum before reaching a tipping point which allows us to achieve a break through.

For us to make this breakthrough, will require courage.  The courage to stand up and try to do things in a different way. In ways that may at first be uncomfortable.  In ways that challenge the status quo.

The Rio+20 Summit next year, may just be another meeting, where we continue to speak of sustainable development in its abstract sense- without really making purposeful strides towards meaningful transformations. But the process may still yield results. We must channel our efforts into a positive force.We must continue to gather momentum.

In 1992, the leaders of the world took the first difficult step in identifying that the world economy was creating a curve of self destruction.  Over the last 20 years, despite good intentions, we have not managed to have much impact on the arc of this curve.

But more than ever we realize that more of the same is just not good enough.

The children of Rio, those born in 1992, are on the threshold of their adult lives this year.They are on the cusp of joining the world of work, or pursuing their academic requirements to get the job of their dreams.

Seychelles and Australia are two countries that are fortunate to be able to speak of positive growth and relatively good employment at a time of gloom and pessimism in the world economy.  But in the era of globalization, we know that unless we can create true conditions for global sustainability, we cannot truly guarantee the future of our children.

We know that the challenge of sustainability is a tough one. True sustainability is not achievable simply at the national level, because the world has become too interconnected for this to be possible.  We need to aim for sustainability at a planetary level. At the same time, it is obvious that there is no global government- thus our responsibilities start with the political commitments of each sovereign state.

We must make sure that as governments, we are prepared to take courageous steps to move us further towards the tipping point, where we can truly make a difference at planetary level.

We cannot wait for others to act before we act ourselves and become the example.

It is for this reason for example, that Seychelles has moved to declare over 50% of our land territory as protected reserves, and in this respect we are number one in the world. We know that the future of our people, of our nation, depends on us being able to preserve our environment.  By declaring such reserves, we forego development today, we forego opportunities today, to ensure that we can also create the right opportunities tomorrow.  

With our population of just 90,000, and a land area of just over 450 square kilometers, such efforts may not seem to make a difference in global sustainability.

But we have to start somewhere.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Climate change is currently the most obvious indicator of our crisis of sustainability, and also one of the biggest impediments to our efforts to achieve sustainability.

As we approach the next UN meeting on climate change in Durban, we must remain focused not on national perceptions of gains and losses, but on the need for tangible action.

We must avoid the blame games that have often marked negotiations thus far.  

There have been lengthy debates on these matters- undoubtedly there will be more.  It is regrettable that many still view these debates as ideological. There is no ideology involved in the survival of our peoples.

Let us put people, and the science available to improve the lives of people, at the centre of the climate change debate.  

The climate change debate should not be about who pays for what. It should be about how to help those who need it most.

I take the opportunity to commend Australia for its substantial contributions towards climate change adaptation and mitigation funds.  I commend also the Australian leadership on questions of climate change that has sought to engage actively with Small Island Developing States.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Every crisis, also brings about an opportunity for us to improve difficult situations. The current energy crisis is that moment where we must redouble our efforts to make renewable energy technology, more affordable and more readily available- particularly for developing countries.

Small Island Developing States in particular face fuel bills that fundamentally increase their vulnerability to global shocks.  

Accessing renewable energy, is not only better for the environment, it will better insulate such countries from external shocks, especially small island states, while also creating new economic opportunities in countries that currently have few comparative advantages.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One of the prerequisites for any roadmap for sustainability is peace and security.  Australia and Seychelles share values that allow us to work together proactively on issues of mutual concern, regarding the security of our planet.

Climate change is potentially a driver of further conflict. We note with concern the impact of the recent drought on the Horn of Africa, and Somalia in particular, which will further aggrevate the problem of piracy.  

The Western Indian Ocean has already been badly affected by the rise of piracy off the coast of Somalia which has badly affected maritime trade in the region.  But maritime piracy has become a global problem- the effects of piracy attacks have driven up the cost of insurance for shipping, and cargo as well as commodities that have to be transported by sea.  The Gulf of Aden connects Europe with Africa and Asia and is one of the maritime highways of the world.

More effort is required by all global partners to tackle this scourge. The entire global community needs to strengthen law and order and the ability to govern in Somalia itself.  Otherwise in the long run Somalia may become a nesting ground for terrorism and terrorism has no boundaries and will affect the whole world.

We feel that our two countries can work together to better coordinate the international response.  

Good governance is a critical component in all efforts to achieve sustainable development.  No country is perfect. Since independence Seychelles has achieved a lot and has been consistently ranked among the best governed in Africa. But we want to continue to do better, and the support of Australia in our macro-economic reforms has illustrated some of the exchanges that we can do.

Seychelles is also willing, with the help of partners such as Australia through the UN system, to share its experiences in nation building with other African countries. Despite the fact that we are small, we are an example of harmony which is sadly often absent from our region.

Seychelles offers an example of a diverse but well integrated society which is a melting pot of cultures and traditions. In many ways, we are what many societies would want to achieve in terms of building a nation. We represent a possible future for societies still desperately trying to solve the puzzles of class, race and religions. We are the United Nations in microcosm.

Seychelles had no indigenous peoples when it was colonized in the 18th century.It belonged to nature.  Millions of years before, it was the centre of the land mass called Gondwana which then split through the movement of tectonic plates and continental shift.

But our group of islands has remained at the centre.And the peoples that have since come to inhabit this beautiful land, do so with a duty to mankind.

Every Seychellois considers himself proud that he hails from a society that has come about through the mixing of races, cultures and religions to create a people that is unique in its cohesion in this sadly divided world.And it is through our cohesion, and our unity, that we can best act as custodians of this great natural heritage. As Seychellois, we must also belong to nature.  We believe we belong to nature and nature does not belong to us. Our identity is inextricably woven into the fabric of this natural heritage.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenge of sustainability cannot be solved by any one government on its own.  

I am grateful for this opportunity to undertake this state visit to Australia, as it is a chance for us to exchange views on what steps can truly be taken to reach the tipping point- to achieve the transformation that the world needs today.

There are many big steps that need to be taken at a global level. But many of these big steps can start through small steps, even between just two countries.

Australia for example has been very supportive of Seychelles in its economic reform process since 2008.  At that time, the fuel and financial crisis threatened to completely derail Seychelles’ hard won achievements in development which gave us the highest Human development Index in Africa. Our debt to GDP ratio had reached over 180%, a black market currency economy was undermining wealth creation and we were struggling to meet our external commitments.  

However, with the support of the IMF and friendly countries such as Australia, we put forward a debt restructuring and macro-economic reform plan which has yielded unprecedented results in just 3 years.  We are most appreciative for the political support of Australia in this process as well as the ongoing technical assistance we have received and are still receiving in improving our fiscal processes.

Australia has also been very bold in its new compact to provide educational scholarships to Africa, to rapidly improve the abilities of young professionals in developing countries.
The key to sustainability is the education of our young people.  

I am very proud that a large number of our young professionals have benefited from these AUSAID (Australian Aid) scholarships and I am confident that they will bring back experiences that will further strengthen our resilience and adaptability as a nation and I believe passionately in that.

It is very easy for two countries such as Australia and Seychelles, to be very honest and direct with each other.  

It is very easy for us to understand each other, and learn from one another.

I very much look forward during this visit to further strengthen what is already a very dynamic partnership.

In terms of investment and tourism, we have the opportunity to create a new concept of shared development where we build on each other’s experiences.  

In terms of the marine environment we very much hope to be able to strengthen our understanding of our oceans. We believe that together we can tap into new dimensions of the 'blue economy’.

In terms of renewable energy, we can share technology and promote joint ventures to mutual benefit as part of the 'green economy’.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our two countries share a desire to build a new compact of sustainable development.

We know it starts with us. And we are determined that no matter the scale of the challenge, we shall not falter in our determination to succeed.

Thank you for your attention.

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