James Ellsmoor | Pathway to an equitable and sustainable economic recovery for island nations
Access to investment and finance has defined how island states are able to progress towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and plan their post-pandemic economic recovery. With the pressure of the last twelve months weighing hard on island economies, all eyes are now on how national governments will respond.
Policymakers worldwide are keenly anticipating this year’s COP26 UN climate change conference hosted by the United Kingdom. Recovery is set to be one of the major talking points at the summit, and delegates are expected to discuss solutions that can create the changes needed for a transition towards a more sustainable economic model. While there have been stipulations in the Paris Agreement that guarantee that larger economic powers help support smaller and developing nations, equitable access finance remains a critical component.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described this year as being “make or break” in terms of international policy as he called for more virtual opportunities for collaboration ahead of the COP negotiations. Guterres has set the tone for these talks, which has opened the door for upcoming events like this week’s Island Finance Forum (IFF) to have a lasting impact, with headline speakers including the prime ministers of Saint Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda, in addition to numerous other Caribbean and island delegates calling for fairer financial terms.
The response to both COVID-19 and the climate crisis must be worked on in tandem, and Caribbean leaders have warned that the two threats are of equal importance to the region. Maintaining that access to finance must urgently be scaled up, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, recently stated that “if the global community does not act quickly to make up for delays in financing commitments under the Paris Agreement, climate refugees fleeing the imminent threat of sea level rise and devastation from disaster will be every country’s responsibility".
Dealing with last year’s sudden drop in tourism revenue, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have had to look for new financial opportunities to support their economies. Many are calling for economic alternatives to tourism to be prioritised, but the availability of funds to make the investments necessary for these changes remains a key challenge for implementation. The Green Climate Fund represents one option, but criticism remains that the smaller or medium-scale funding needed for SIDS compared to larger nations can often be held back by red tape.
Bolstered by Gutteres’ demand for more online participation ahead of the COP, in addition to the work carried out by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) to call for better access to finance for island nations, virtual negotiations have become an important part of climate policy. This has promoted socio-economic growth among islands and led to high-level discussions geared at capitalising on local knowledge and innovation. With the slow reopening of the global economy, there is also an important role for private finance institutions to prioritise sustainable development in their efforts.
Now is the time for action, and green investments are a critical component in the next phase. A case for new investment mechanisms to finance the difficult years ahead must be made at the international level, including at the United Nations. Island citizens must demand that their political leaders make the case for a global effort that leaves no nation behind and includes equitable access to finance for both national governments and for small businesses that form the backbone of island economies.
Last week’s Island Finance Forum highlighted the challenges faced by global island communities and is expected to help promote solutions for a sustainable economic recovery. Open to the public in a virtual format, the summit featured opportunities for Q&A sessions with panellists. The event aimed to illustrate how a fair and sustainable economic recovery can start from local grass-roots programmes to high-level policy initiatives. Events like this, which help bridge the gap between sustainable development practitioners and stakeholders, and help to open access to expert knowledge and financial opportunities available to them, are an important step towards creating a strong future for island communities.
James Ellsmoor is the CEO of Island Innovation and founder of the Virtual Island Summit. The network connects thousands of islanders from around the world, using ‘digital bridges’ to share knowledge and encourage collaboration between islands and build a more sustainable future. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.