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Foreign Affairs

Address by President James Michel at the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States Apia, Samoa 1 September 2014

Mon, 01 September 2014

Your Excellency Prime Minister of Samoa,

Your Excellency Secretary General of the Conference,

Your Excellency President of the UN General Assembly

 

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

We salute the leadership of the Government of Samoa, as well as all island nations of the Pacific, for welcoming us to your shores, for sharing with us this unique opportunity to be part of a renewed force, a renewed momentum for change and for development.  As a country that is on the cusp of graduation from LDC status, Samoa is a showcase of what island development is all about.  Seychelles is proud to be part of your story on this day.  And the Seychellois people see themselves in your narrative.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have come here not to beg but to assert our right. Our right to a decent life. Our right to survival in an increasingly cynical and manipulative world, dominated by big business. Our way of life that we want to bequeath to the children of our islands and their children. Our right to development that enriches our quality of life and the essence of our being over and above purely commercial considerations. Our right to exist.

 

When we speak of development, we speak of positive change for our people. We are aiming for the positive transformation of our societies. This is what brings us, as island leaders, to Samoa under the banner of partnerships for development.

 

Because we still believe in this transformation.

 

Despite the fact that over 20 years since the Barbados Plan of Action, practical development mechanisms that recognise the specifics of island development remain in short supply.  Despite the fact that we have yet to meaningfully tackle climate change.  Despite the fact that most SIDS are still trapped in a development no-man's land, a middle income trap.

 

We still believe.

 

We believe that island societies are the flag-bearers for human development.  Why?  Because in this era of globalisation, it is within islands that we can still see the direct effect of development in relation to our people.  Our development is not measured by new skyscrapers, or by new shopping malls.  Our development is not defined by stock markets, nor the value of shares.  Although, admittedly, all of these factors have a bearing on our development.  Our development is defined by the framework that can allow our people to prosper.

 

 

Therefore we still believe, because in island societies we can see the direct link between nature, people and development.

 

The globalisation of development measures wealth and forgets people.  We all know about our GDP per capita.  But 22 years after the first Rio meeting, we still define success by how much money is made divided by the number of citizens.  Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed since then.

 

This is not the way we want to measure the achievements of our people.

 

This is not the way we want to measure the quality of life.

 

This is not the way we want to measure humanity.

 

In this meeting of global islands we must put people back into development.

 

As global islands this is the partnership we bring.  The Seychelles delegation comes to Samoa to call first of all for a renewed partnership amongst ourselves as islands.  The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has succeeded in positioning itself as an effective interlocutor and a force for positive change both in the fight against climate change, as well as in the discussion on sustainable development.  But we must strengthen this position, and better leverage our role as a bloc within the UN system.  This is why Seychelles is making an appeal that all of us – our alliance of islands – looks at ways of strengthening our own architecture to further enhance our global relevance.  We must use this opportunity to reinforce AOSIS.  We must work together and speak with one voice.

 

We must also reinforce other structures that defend island issues.  We commend the partnerships in the Caribbean and the Pacific that have contributed to our advocacy.  We are also pleased that the Indian Ocean Commission has strengthened its advocacy as a coordinator for islands of Africa, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and Asia.  As an African island nation, I also take this opportunity to thank the African Union for having adopted in June this year an unprecedented endorsement of the cause of islands ahead of this meeting in Samoa.  The message of Africa is indeed that the cause of islands is the cause of sustainable development.

 

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

We have come here to also ensure that we adopt practical ideas on how to bring about the transformations we need.  Firstly, we need to ensure that development mechanisms reflect our reality.  In this meeting, let us ensure that we get development options that are adapted to our needs.  The only way to ensure this is by adopting vulnerability criteria to allow islands to invest to build resilience against global shocks.  We need a vulnerability or resilience index to be built-in to the UN and global development architecture.  This will not only benefit SIDS.  It will ensure that development as a whole is more targeted and more effective. Seychelles commends work already done by the Commonwealth on this matter, as well as by UNCTAD in relation to building more resilient trading options for SIDS.  This issue must be addressed as the core of building sustainable development in islands.

 

Secondly, island development can be transformed if we pursue a model of development that is ocean based rather than land based.  We are ocean nations.  We are the children of the oceans. The oceans are our life-source, the pulse of our survival, and the catalyst for building a new development model that builds on our strengths whilst reducing our weaknesses.  Seychelles has been proud to host a first Blue Economy Summit in partnership with the UAE in Abu Dhabi in January this year.  At this summit we agreed to harness our oceans to accelerate our ability to produce food and energy, whilst also diversifying our economies.  To achieve this we need research and technology transfer.  We call on all development partners to work with islands to tap into this unprecedented opportunity for all of humanity.

To develop an ocean architecture . To finance investment in infrastructure and research. This will also benefit humanity as a whole.

 

Our islands are the sentinels that protect our oceans, while they must also be the platforms for the sustainable harvest of their resources.

 

Thirdly, at this Samoa conference, we must address the issue of sustainable debt of island nations.  The lack of affordable financing available means that SIDS are often faced with unsustainable commercial debt that continues to spiral.   The GDP per capita threshold for development financing masks the reality that the cost per capita for development in islands is exponentially more pronounced.  While large middle income countries can often get very affordable credit through commercial terms based on the size of their internal markets and their assets, SIDS see the cost of their small populations and their isolation directly reflected in the applied interest rates.

 

Fourthly and finally, ladies and gentlemen, 2015 must be the year where we end the debate and rhetoric on climate change.  It must be the year where we act decisively.  It is time that we recognise climate change for what it is: a collective crime against humanity.  Climate change will be the single largest reason for displacement of peoples in the next 50 years.  Climate change is already robbing a generation of its livelihoods.

Climate change is robbing island nations of their right to exist.

We must save our future together.

Today the eyes of the world are fixed on Samoa, We stand  together tall, proud and determined to say that we are global islands.  To claim a fair deal for SIDS. Individually we will always be small.  But together, we will be a force for change.  We will be a true force for humanity. We are the conscience of humanity.

 

We are humanity.

 

And yes, we still believe.  We believe that we can make a difference.

 

We believe because we have seen how islanders in the Pacific, already losing homes to rising seas, have created new shared protected oceanic areas.  We have seen in the Caribbean, how islanders have dusted themselves off after being hit by hurricanes, and rebuilt their lives and their communities.  And we have seen how islanders in the Indian Ocean have recovered from the tsunami, how they have rebuilt their tourism industries and worked tirelessly to rehabilitate coastal communities.

 

I believe in doing what is right. What is right for the people of Seychelles and for humanity. In not sacrificing the environment for short term gains or expediency of any form. That is why over 50 per cent of Seychelles’ land territory is protected under law as nature reserves.

 

I believe, because I have seen the Seychellois people emerge from an unprecedented crisis and work together harder than ever to build a New Seychelles.  I have seen our fishermen band together to fight over-exploitation while creating new opportunities for themselves.  I have seen our citizens build sustainable tourism projects in their communities.

 

And so I believe, because I believe in my people.

 

And because I believe in my people, I feel I can also believe in humanity.

 

I thank you.

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