President addresses High Level Review of SAMOA Pathway
United Nations Headquarters, New York, Friday 27th September 2019
It is a great pleasure to be here today to formally open this United Nations Summit on Small Island Developing States which Ireland and Fiji are co-hosting as a mechanism for reviewing the SAMOA Pathway.
I am delighted to meet again with representatives of Small Island Developing States and low-lying coastal states and communities, of having the opportunity of resuming and building on our conversations in New York last year, and of course in Dublin in June this year when I had the honour of hosting ambassadors of Small Island Developing States. All of these meetings have helped deepen the bonds between our island nations.
Today we are learning of the progress that has been made in addressing the priorities of Small Island Developing States through the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway. I welcome the news that the Medium-Term Review Declaration was agreed by consensus. The reference to the IPCC 1.5 degrees report is a crucial recognition of the particular challenges facing Small Island Developing States, and there are a number of concrete elements in the declaration which, if built upon, could be of importance – including the disaster fund and the request to international financial institutions to review their offer to SIDS. Moving from an income-only measurement of prosperity to a model which encompasses other factors including vulnerabilities is a key issue for SIDS.
It is clear that the time for action has now come. Such action includes the need to mainstream climate change mitigation policy into development strategies and disaster risk reduction activities. We need to see connectivity in strategy.
A pernicious economic development model has had a globally catastrophic ecological and social set of consequences. The views at the front line of those experiencing those consequences must be prioritised in an integrated development and climate strategy.
There must be an observable additionality.
In facing these new challenges, I believe that a shared, concerted, determined strategy within the multilateral institutions and in diplomatic practice is a vital tool. That is surely the purpose of the SAMAO pathway.
Ideas matter. Policies are sourced in ideas, and it is clearly observable when policies are based on pursuit of narrow interests or, alternatively, accept a cooperative purpose.
The great ecological crisis in which we find ourselves as a global community is clearly related to the advance of an extreme form of individualism that has manifested itself as a result of decades of aggressive pursuit of a neoliberal economic paradigm developed by a few market theorists who have been successful in capturing the policy foundation in what we call ‘the West’.
However, neither the ecological crisis, nor the advance of an unfettered neoliberal agenda, should be seen as a fait accompli, as some form of natural law or, as it is sometimes presented, the inevitable result of global markets over which control is impossible, or indeed desirable. Such an ideological view is not only absurd, it more dangerously sets democracy itself in tension with the role of markets. This need not be so. The rules of publics, markets and states can be balanced.
We must all, North and South of our shared vulnerable planet, summon the courage to free ourselves from the cage of those narrow assumptions of a destructively limited version of economics, devoid of ecological or social considerations, that has condemned us to such insufficient action. We must respond with urgency or we run the risk of correctly bring regarded by future survivors of our planet as having been in collusion in the destruction of the lives and life-worlds of some of the most vulnerable peoples of our human family and the biodiversity on which our planetary life depends.
Our task is now so urgent in light of the existential threat in terms of the climate and biodiversity crises, that it now requires a coordinated global response. A sense of justice, not only for now but for the future, requires that our residual sense of a shared humanity in which I powerfully believe must be invoked to reconnect our lives through a balanced relationship between ecology, ethics, economy, culture and lived experience.
We must recognise, too, that the experience of climate change impacts will be borne unequally, that the capacities to tackle climate change – both to mitigate its impacts and to adapt to it – will be unequal, and we must also recognise importantly that there has also been an unequal participation in global structures and processes that attempt to address the climate crisis heretofore. There also has to be a space, an agreed forum, where we can transcend self-interest, engage with the other, and the United Nations has been our best effort at achieving that space. The UN has, for more than 70 years, been a beacon of values, a platform for us to come together to share perspectives and principles.
2015 was a year of enormous significance for the United Nations and the peoples who fall within its membership with the agreement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under the united stewardship of Ireland and Kenya, which was aimed at achieving nothing less than the transformation of our fossil fuel-dependent world by the year 2030. The Paris Climate Agreement similarly identified a pathway to protect our planet, mapping a way forward towards sustainability. These were landmark achievements, representing a vital step towards a sustainable future.
It must be acknowledged, however, that the SAMOA Pathway, while complementary to the Sustainable Development Goals agreed under the 2030 Agenda, recognises the specific needs of Small Island Developing States, including how such nations continue to grapple with the effects of disasters – some of which have increased in intensity and have been exacerbated by climate change – which impede their progress towards sustainable development.
The Declaration also recognises that disasters can disproportionately affect Small Island Developing States, and that there is a critical need to build resilience, strengthen monitoring and prevention, reduce vulnerability, raise awareness and increase preparedness to respond to and recover from disasters.
It is critical now that we do not allow our steps taken on this journey to falter almost before we have begun; rather instead that we continue to work together as one global community that accepts responsibility for the future, that we renew our commitment to put in place a strong and unified global response to the threat of climate change, an accord of cooperating island voices at diplomatic level, a shared resource made more powerful by its collective strength and application.
Yes, there have been disappointments since 2015. The United States has signalled its hugely regressive intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which could take effect in November next year.
Last month, Australia attempted to temper the force of a declaration on the urgent need for climate action at a meeting of Pacific leaders on the low-lying island of Tuvalu.
We must not suppress references to the climate crisis in international texts, for climate change is the greatest existential crisis of our time. Nor must we suppress reference to the need to curb global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, to achieve carbon neutrality, or to ban new coal plants and phase out fossil fuel subsidies, as has been argued. All of these measures are required if we are to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change on Small Island Developing States. Their very existence depends on their urgent adoption.
May I thank all of you gathered in this room today for your efforts in striving to sustain that ambition. Small Island Developing States and low-lying coastal communities which you represent are giving leadership on the international stage in making sure we all deliver on our commitments and on our global responsibilities.
May I wish you all, fellow islanders, a stimulating and productive summit, one that develops and enhances the linkages between our islands as we continue to work together in playing a strong role as we tackle the enormous challenges facing us in the coming decades.