Summary report, 27–30 May 2024

4th International Conference on SIDS

“Our smallness will not hold us back—not anymore.” This statement by the Maldives captured the sense of determination heard throughout the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Yet at the same time, there was palpable concern in the air that the crises facing small island developing states (SIDS)particularly sea-level rise due to climate changeare existential. After 30 years and four conferences, unless words are turned into concrete actions, many SIDS may not be recognizable in another 10 years. 

Over the four-day conference, delegates heard 140 speeches from Heads of State and Government and other high-level officials and participated in interactive dialogues on:

  • revitalizing SIDS’ economies for accelerated and sustainable growth;
  • enhancing critical forms of financing and aid effectiveness through collaborative partnerships;
  • making climate finance work for SIDS: building on the outcomes of 28th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC);
  • leveraging data and digital technologies and building effective institutions for a resilient future; and
  • investing in human capital: addressing health crises in SIDS and building the potential of youth in SIDS.

During the closing plenary, delegates approved the outcome document, “Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS: A Renewed Declaration for Resilient Prosperity” (ABAS). The document was negotiated during the preparatory process at UN Headquarters in New York and was adopted by acclamation without further discussion.

Alongside the formal proceedings, more than 200 side events took place, including 12 off-site and 24 virtual events. Organized by governments, intergovernmental organizations, academic institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs), business and private sector stakeholders, and youth organizations, the side events touched on a wide range of topics, including ocean governance and economic issues, such as investment, blue and green finance, and private sector innovation.

The Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States convened in St. Johns, Antigua and Barbuda, from 27-30 May 2024, under the theme “Charting the course toward resilient prosperity.” Twenty-two Heads of State and Government and more than 3,000 delegates attended the Conference, including representatives from government, the private sector and civil society. Forums organized by youth, gender advocates, and the global business network took place prior to the conference.

A Brief History of the SIDS Conferences

In 1992, SIDS successfully lobbied for consideration of the sustainable development of small islands in Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted at the Rio Earth Summit. Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 (Protection of oceans, seas, and coastal areas) recognizes the ecological fragility and vulnerability of SIDS due to their small size, limited resources, geographic dispersion, and isolation from markets. Paragraph 17.130 called for greater international cooperation and the first global conference on the sustainable development of SIDS. 

Key Turning Points

Barbados: In 1994, the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of SIDS was held in Bridgetown, Barbados. It followed up on Agenda 21 by examining how SIDS could find solutions to sustainable development challenges. The Conference adopted the Barbados Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States (BPOA), which identified priority areas and specific actions necessary to address the challenges faced by SIDS. The BPOA noted SIDS were particularly vulnerable to climate change, climate variability, and sea-level rise and stressed that “any rise in sea level will have significant and profound effects on their economies and living conditions; the very survival of certain low-lying countries will be threatened.”  

The Barbados Declaration, which was also adopted at the Conference, called for the international community to cooperate with SIDS in the implementation of the BPOA by providing effective means, including:  

  • adequate, predictable, new and additional financial resources;  
  • facilitating the transfer of environmentally sound technology, including on concessional and preferential terms as mutually agreed; and  
  • promoting fair, equitable and non-discriminatory trading arrangements and a supportive international economic system.  

Mauritius: A comprehensive ten-year review of the BPOA took place at the Mauritius International Meeting in Port Louis, Mauritius in January 2005, following a midterm review in 1999. Governments adopted the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the BPOA (MSI) for the further Implementation of the BPOA to address remaining gaps in implementation. The MSI agreed on actions and strategies in 19 different priority areas. These built on the original 14 thematic areas of the BPOA and added new thematic areas including graduation from least developed country (LDC) status. This change in status results in the loss of concessional finance, among other programmes that are only available to LDCs, and has a negative impact on SIDS. Other new areas were trade, sustainable production and consumption, health, knowledge management, and culture. These new areas were aimed at supporting SIDS in achieving other international goals and targets, particularly the Millennium Development Goals.  

Samoa: The Third International Conference on SIDS convened in Apia, Samoa, in 2014, following another midterm review in 2010. Governments again recognized the adverse impacts of climate change and sea-level rise on SIDS and their efforts to address many challenges, including economic development, food security, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and ocean management. The Conference adopted the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway as a new pathway for the sustainable development of SIDS. 

The SAMOA Pathway supports the sustainable development of SIDS through five priority areas:  

  • promote sustained and sustainable, inclusive, and equitable economic growth with decent work for all, sustainable consumption and production, and sustainable transportation; 
  • act to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts by implementing sustainable energy and DRR programmes; 
  • protect the biodiversity of SIDS and environmental health by mitigating the impact of invasive plant and animal species and by properly managing chemicals and water, including hazardous waste, as well as protecting oceans and seas; 
  • improve human health and social development through food security and nutrition, improved water and sanitation, reducing the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and by promoting gender equity and women’s empowerment; and 
  • foster partnership among SIDS, UN agencies, development partners and others to achieve these goals. 

Recent Meetings

Regional preparatory meetings took place in each of the three SIDS regions, as well as an interregional preparatory meeting for all SIDS, to identify and develop input for the Conference.

AIS Regional Preparatory Meeting: The Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea (AIS) Regional Preparatory Meeting took place from 24-26 July 2023 in Balaclava, Mauritius, and adopted an “Outcome Document” on agreed priorities and recommendations.

Caribbean Regional Preparatory Meeting: Held in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, from 8-10 August 2023, the meeting produced the “Kingstown (SVG) Outcome Document.”

Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Pacific Region: This meeting took place from 16-18 August 2023 in Nukuʿalofa, Tonga, and produced the “Nuku‘alofa Outcome Document.”

Interregional Preparatory Meeting: This meeting, held from 30 August to 1 September 2023, in Praia, Cabo Verde, adopted an outcome document, the “Praia (Cabo Verde) Declaration.”

First Preparatory Committee Meeting: Held at UN Headquarters in New York from 22-26 January 2024, this meeting was co-chaired by New Zealand and the Maldives  and elaborated a first draft of the outcome document.

Second Preparatory Committee Meeting: This meeting convened at UN Headquarters, New York, from 1-5 April 2024 to finalize the draft of ABAS to be adopted at SIDS4.

SIDS4 Report

The Conference was opened on Monday, 27 May 2024, by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in his capacity as temporary President.

In a video address, King Charles III (UK) said islands are leading the way in tackling climate change, protecting biodiversity, and stewarding the global Ocean. He noted the potential for large investors to contribute to climate financing and highlighted the benefits of collaboration among SIDS. He called for bold action and said, “Your future is our future.”

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne emphasized that SIDS face unprecedented global challenges, which they did not create. He said large-scale polluters bear responsibility for compensation and urged ending fossil subsidies. He highlighted the establishment of the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) and the recent unanimous advisory opinion from the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which affirmed the legal duty of state parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to mitigate climate impacts to protect the marine environment.

Guterres called SIDS a “test case” for climate and financial justice, and urged every country to align with the 1.5°C climate targets. He emphasized the need for climate finance to double by 2025, and for significant contributions to the Loss and Damage Fund. He urged swift endorsement of the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI) to facilitate access to concessional financing and said, “SIDS can make an almighty noise together to deliver meaningful change to benefit the whole of humankind.”

UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago) said the historic ITLOS ruling potentially creates an important basis for future climate jurisprudence. Noting less than 1.55% of total global official development assistance (ODA) between 2017 and 2021 went to SIDS, he underscored the importance of the MVI.

UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) President Paula Narváez (Chile) observed that SIDS are home to 65 million people facing unique vulnerabilities to natural disasters and climate change, including sea-level rise, but face substantial challenges in accessing climate finance, particularly for adaptation and loss and damage.

Samoa Prime Minister Afioga Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said the global crises leave little room to maneuver, with SIDS facing unenviable decisions: choose recovery for today or development for tomorrow. She said the threats to SIDS’ development are so great they can only be diminished by a reinvigorated enabling environment.

Li Junhua, Conference Secretary-General, noting the fate of all nations is deeply intertwined, called on the global community to collaborate on the ambitious roadmap set out by ABAS.

Rabab Fatima, Special Advisor for the Conference and Office of the High Representative for the LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and SIDS (OHRLLS), outlined their efforts to: mobilize resources to implement ABAS; build multi-stakeholder partnerships and leverage the private sector; and coordinate SIDS action across the UN system by networking national focal points with a view to mainstreaming ABAS.

Lutrell John, Youth representative, recalled the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and reported on the outcome of the SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit, held from 24-26 May 2024.

Organizational Matters: Delegates elected by acclamation Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, as President of the Conference. They also adopted the agenda (A/CONF.223/2024/1) and rules of procedure (A/CONF.223/2024/2) and elected Antigua and Barbuda as ex officio Vice-President and 14 countries as Conference Vice-Presidents: Cabo Verde, Morocco, Seychelles, India, Maldives, the Philippines, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Italy, Malta, and the Netherlands. Sanita Pavļuta-Deslandes, Permanent Representative of Latvia to the UN, was appointed Rapporteur-General. Delegates then adopted the organization of work, including the establishment of subsidiary bodies, and other organizational matters (A/CONF.223/2024/3) and appointed Andorra, China, Grenada, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Togo, and the US to the Credentials Committee.

General Debate

The general debate was held on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, consisting of 16 statements by Heads of State and Government, approximately 65 statements from representatives of SIDS and other UN Member States, and 41 statements from representatives of the UN and other international organizations, and Major Groups.

Many statements called for:

  • ambitious climate action;
  • rapid adoption and implementation of the MVI;
  • reduction of SIDS’ debt burden and reform of the international financial architecture, including the adoption of the Bridgetown Initiative;
  • ratification of the BBNJ Agreement;
  • full operationalization and capitalization of the Loss and Damage Fund; and
  • adoption of a New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance (NCQG).  

Regarding ABAS, many speakers said that it:

  • provides the platform to transform SIDS’ challenges into opportunities;
  • must help build a sustainable and resilient tourism model;
  • will require increased synergies and coordination at national, regional, and international levels; and
  • is a call to action for early warning systems.

Many statements hailed the advisory opinion on climate change issued by the ITLOS, and the request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change responsibilities of states.

Samoa, on behalf of AOSIS, said the time for serious climate action is now—“there is no time left for cat-and-mouse games.”

Mark Brown, Prime Minister, Cook Islands, on behalf of the PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM, called for a starting target of USD 500 million in support of the new Pacific Resilience Facility.

Vanuatu, on behalf of the PSIDS, called for enhanced support for SIDS to integrate digital technologies and a more responsive UN framework for SIDS.

Botswana, on behalf of the LLDCs, stressed that LLDCs and SIDS share common challenges and together should harness synergies to amplify their collective voice on the global stage.

Nepal, on behalf of the LDCs, emphasized prioritizing SIDS’ needs at the Summit of the Future in September 2024 and the Fourth International Conference on Financing for Development in June 2025.

The EUROPEAN UNION recalled its support for SIDS in climate negotiations and mentioned the importance of strengthening trade ties and involving the private sector in implementing ABAS.

Interactive Dialogues

Five interactive dialogues were held during the Conference. Each featured a fireside chat, panel discussion, and statements. On Thursday afternoon, the Co-Chairs of the five interactive dialogues reported on the key messages from each one.

Revitalizing SIDS Economies for Accelerated and Sustainable Growth: This dialogue on Tuesday was co-chaired by Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu and Anders Adlercreutz, Minister for European Affairs and Ownership Steering, Finland. Muizzu said financial products must be tailored to SIDS’ needs and geared toward holistic development. Adlercreutz suggested SIDS need a new development and partnership model.

In the fireside chat, Achim Steiner, Administrator, UN Development Programme (UNDP), moderated a discussion with Gaston Browne, Prime Minister, Antigua and Barbuda, and Debra Anne Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, US. The subsequent panel featured Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General, UN Trade and Development and Gerd Müller, Director General, UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), followed by statements from the floor.

In the report back on Thursday, Thoriq Ibrahim, Minister of Climate Change, Environment and Energy, Maldives, on behalf of President Mohamed Muizzu, reported that participants stressed:

  • the importance of using natural resources, particularly ocean resources, to advance SIDS economic transformation;
  • harnessing the potential of the blue economy while preserving and regenerating marine ecosystems;
  • a paradigm shift in development assistance, moving towards a more holistic approach that takes into consideration the vulnerabilities of SIDS;
  • local retention and reinvestment of tourism sector profits;
  • diversification of local economies, including sustainable fisheries;
  • the importance of investments in digitalization and digital infrastructure; and
  • providing special provisions on SIDS’ external debt and compensating carbon sequestration through dedicated credit instruments.

Enhancing Critical Forms of Financing and Aid Effectiveness Through Collaborative Partnerships: A Conversation: This dialogue on Tuesday was co-chaired by Nuno Sampaio, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Portugal, and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown.

Dima Al-Khatib, Director, UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) moderated the fireside chat with Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management, Belize, and Pilar Garrido, Director for Development Co-operation, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The subsequent panel featured Jorge Moreira da Silva, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), and Ambroise Fayolle, Vice-President, European Investment Bank (EIB), followed by statements from the floor.

In the report back on Thursday, Sandrina Thondoo, Representative of Cook Islands, on behalf of Prime Minister Mark Brown, highlighted eight key messages:

  • scale up additional finance to support climate adaptation and structural transformation in SIDS;
  • reform the international financial architecture;
  • address the formidable risks that climate change poses for SIDS by mainstreaming adaptation and disaster risk mitigation initiatives across all sectors;
  • implement the MVI;
  • make climate and other development finance more accessible and channel it to projects that lead to meaningful development progress in SIDS;
  • robustly engage with private investors to encourage their greater investment in the sustainable development of SIDS;
  • improve access to health and human services and address chronic undernourishment among marginalized groups and NCDs; and
  • upgrade and modernize SIDS data systems to better track and monitor finance allocation to ensure its optimal use.

Making Climate Finance Work for SIDS: Building on the Outcomes of the UNFCCC COP 28: This dialogue on Wednesday was co-chaired by Surangel Whipps Jr., President, Palau, and Jennifer Morgan, State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action, Germany.

Simona Marinescu, UNOPS, moderated a fireside chat with Naadir Nigel Hamid Hassan, Minister for Finance, Economic Planning and Trade, Seychelles, and Tomas Anker Christensen, State Secretary and Special Envoy for Climate, Denmark.

The subsequent panel featured Mafalda Duarte, Executive Director, Green Climate Fund (GCF), and Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC, followed by statements from the floor.

In the report back on Thursday, Christophe Eick, Special Envoy for Climate Issues in the Caribbean, Germany, on behalf of Jennifer Morgan, said participants stressed the need to:

  • operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund by UNFCCC COP 29 in a way that is fit for purpose;
  • move faster on implementing the MVI;
  • improve the GCF’s accessibility for SIDS, possibly through the establishment of a task force on simplified procedures;
  • agree on an ambitious NCQG; and
  • reform the international financial system in a way that is fit for purpose.

Leveraging Data and Digital Technologies and Building Effective Institutions for a Resilient Future in SIDS: This dialogue on Wednesday was co-chaired by Pennelope Beckles-Robinson, Minister of Planning and Development, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dace Melbārde, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Latvia.

Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director, International Trade Centre, moderated a fireside chat with Minna-Liina Lind, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Estonia, and Carlos James, Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Sustainable Development and Culture, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The subsequent panel featured Carla Natalie Barnett, Secretary-General, Caribbean Community, and Vidar Helgesen, Executive Secretary, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, followed by statements from the floor.

In the report back on Thursday, Beckles-Robinson said participants emphasized:

  • adoption of coherent national development plans and leveraging technologies to leapfrog development stages;
  • the challenge of modernizing and developing greater bandwidth to enhance production, trade, and economic opportunities;
  • the role of data in guiding ocean policy and management;
  • the need for adequate policies and legal frameworks to harness digital technologies and promote digital governance;
  • the importance of data and information for evidence-based policymaking and government services, especially in health care, agriculture, DRR, and digital transformation; and
  • the need for mechanisms to facilitate knowledge transfer and ensure data protection and security.

Investing in Human Capital: Addressing Health Crisis in SIDS and Building the Potential of Youth in SIDS: In this dialogue on Thursday morning, Co-Chair Patrice Gumbs, Minister Plenipotentiary, Sint Maarten, said investing in health care, including integrating work on NCDs, and in youth, is an investment in SIDS resilience. Co-Chair José Ulisses Correia e Silva, Prime Minister, Cabo Verde, said investing in health care is an absolute priority, and other top priorities should include eradicating extreme poverty and ensuring decent work, especially for youth.

Fireside Chat: Cindy McCain, Executive Director, World Food Programme, moderated the fireside chat. Vickram Outar Bharrat, Minister of Natural Resources, Guyana, emphasized prioritizing education and health. He also urged combatting “brain drain” by helping SIDS invest in costly tasks such as the transition to renewable energy so that SIDS governments can instead focus on investing in health and education and providing job opportunities attractive enough to keep young people from emigrating.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, urged focus on providing timely access to adequate and affordable health care services and scaling up the social protection system. She emphasized the importance of focusing on NCDs in preventive health care. Alisjahbana suggested mapping health care service gaps and designing a comprehensive national strategy to address them.

Panel: Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General, the Commonwealth, noted this dialogue is an opportunity to reaffirm the commitment to identify and implement sustainable solutions to address the health crisis and harness the potential of 1.5 billion youth globally. She pointed to the Commonwealth’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Youth academy to close gaps in technology training for youth.

Karuna Rana, co-founder, SIDS Youth AIMS Hub (SYAH), cautioned the lack of investment in human capital is stalling innovation while contributing to severe brain drain. She urged investing in youth not just as beneficiaries but as key partners, and harnessing South-South cooperation before looking to the Global North for solutions.

Statements: Mark Brown, Prime Minister, Cook Islands, on behalf of the PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM, said the foundation of Pacific human capital requires fully realizing youth potential, which is threatened by inequities in health, nutrition, water, sanitation, child protection, and social welfare. He highlighted investing in children’s wellbeing is crucial.

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA lamented the alarming increase of diabetes in youth, not only straining the health care system, but also hindering economic productivity. He called for multi-pronged responses including public health education, improved health care infrastructure and community-based interventions.

The US highlighted four priorities: training; financing the health care sector; redoubling efforts together; and investing in youth to produce huge dividends.

MADAGASCAR shared examples of their programmes in education, health care, and youth, such as using emergency medical funds to establish primary health care facilities in remote areas to provide better care for mothers, young children, and newborns.

CUBA highlighted the importance of moving towards universal health coverage.

The PHILIPPINES and THAILAND expressed interest in sharing lessons learned in the field of health and youth policy with SIDS in a spirit of South-South cooperation.

The SOLOMON ISLANDS called for financing data for development to enable evidence-based programming.

ALGERIA said the international community should upscale its support to assist with health emergencies.

The UN POPULATION FUND noted that 50% of SIDS’ population were 25 years or younger and reminded delegates that the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls must be at the center of development policies.

The INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY called for support for research institutions to work on the interface between the Ocean and human health.

The INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT LAW ORGANIZATION said young people were not a homogenous group, and that intersectional approaches to policymaking and disaggregated data are needed.

UNICEF welcomed that youth will be an integral component of the new SIDS Center of Excellence.

The UN ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN bemoaned the high incidence of NCDs and violence against girls and women across the Caribbean region.

SYAH and the INTERNATIONAL WELOVEU FOUNDATION said that addressing the mental health crisis afflicting young people must be a key priority.

The ASHLEY LASHLEY FOUNDATION presented research on health impacts of climate change, while the SASAKAWA PEACE FOUNDATION presented a programme to promote the sustainable use of the Ocean among youth.

In closing remarks, the Co-Chairs summarized that a lack of human capital is a shared vulnerability of SIDS and said that the blue and digital economies were two promising sectors to retain talent and eradicate poverty.

During the report back to plenary on Thursday afternoon, Pedro Fernandes Lopes, Secretary of State for Digital Economy, Cabo Verde, on behalf of President José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva, said that speakers called for multifaceted and holistic approaches to, and greater investments in, strengthening human capital and put forward tangible solutions across health, education, and employment. On health, he said participants called for a strengthening of health systems, moving towards universal health coverage, and addressing issues such as NCDs. On education, many participants highlighted the importance of vocational and technical training programmes, digital education, teacher training, adult education, and life-long learning. On employment, he reported that participants suggested investments are needed to create enriching employment opportunities, establish competitive industries, and leverage the natural resources of SIDS, including their ocean-based economies. He also noted that participants highlighted the need to address brain drain.

A Moment of Declaration: Feedback from the Youth Summit, Gender Forum, Private Sector Forum, Civil Society Forum, and High-level Meeting

On Thursday afternoon, before the closing plenary, E. Paul Chet Greene, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Trade and Barbuda Affairs, Antigua and Barbuda, moderated a session of reports from special events.

On the SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit, Steering Committee member Horisha Savy highlighted: youth investing in their own health; raising awareness of violence against children and youth; working with policymakers and the private sector to create training opportunities for young people; and holding governments accountable for the commitments leaders make at SIDS4.

Meghan Theobalds, Equality Fund, reported on key actions identified at the Gender Equality Forum, including: building on the SAMOA Pathway to mainstream gender equality in National Adaptation Plans and policies; adequate financing and technical resources to ensure that women and girls have equal participation at all levels of ABAS implementation; and addressing violence against women and girls.

Auliʻi Cravalho, SDG News, reported on the Private Sector Roundtable, and highlighted: public-private partnerships to mobilize investment; access to foreign markets; establishing blue-green roadmaps and a SIDS development fund; and supporting regional events and a new investment framework, including regional approaches.

Nicola Bird, Integrated Health Outreach, reported on the Civil Society Forum, noting CSOs called for: addressing the rights of the most vulnerable people; providing equal access to financial and technical resources for civil society involved in addressing the climate crises; and creating a SIDS interregional platform for civil society to allow SIDS CSOs to meet biannually. She also highlighted the Forum’s launch of the “SIDS Civil Society Action Plan and Roadmap (2024-2034).”

Conference President Browne invited Tumasie Blair (Antigua and Barbuda), to report on the High-Level Meeting with international financial institutions (IFIs), development banks, and major donors on resource mobilization for SIDS, convened by UN Secretary-General Guterres on Tuesday, pursuant to UNGA Resolution 77/245.

Blair summarized the High-Level Meeting and underscored the urgent need to: reform the international financial architecture, including to strengthen debt relief mechanisms; and have greater SIDS representation in IFI governance through dedicated seats on their boards. Highlighting the MVI, he said its adoption by the UNGA is the key next step. He also pointed to the Summit of the Future (2024) and the Financing for Development Conference (2025) as opportunities to advance critical reforms, so the global financial architecture better serves SIDS’ needs.

Closing Plenary

Conference President Browne opened the closing plenary on Thursday afternoon, 30 May.

Report of the Credentials Committee: Credentials Committee Chair Jane Waetara (Solomon Islands), introduced the committee’s report (A/CONF.223/2024/5). She noted the committee adopted it without a vote and that, after their meeting, more credentials were received from Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Cabo Verde, Kiribati, Norway, and Palau, along with information from Niue concerning its representatives.

The Conference adopted the resolution contained in the committee report and the additional credentials submitted after the credential committee’s meeting.

Outcome of the Conference: Conference President Browne introduced draft resolution A/CONF.223/2024/L.1, which adopts ABAS as the outcome of the Conference, and recommends that the UNGA endorse ABAS during its 79th session. He thanked the Preparatory Committee Co-Chairs for leading the negotiations and all delegations for their constructive participation. The Conference adopted the resolution and ABAS.

NEW ZEALAND, also on behalf of MALDIVES, Co-Chairs of the Preparatory Committee, acknowledged ABAS is imperfect and that many hoped for stronger commitments and higher ambitions. However, she said the true test is still to come and called for its immediate implementation. She called on:

  • the UN system to reduce fragmentation in how it delivers to SIDS;
  • development partners to evolve towards SIDS-led development support;
  • other partners to provide financial and technical support, and flexibility in providing new tools and approaches responsive to SIDS’ needs; and
  • the international community to recognize SIDS’ unique nature is not a fragility but a source of strength for planet and people.

MALDIVES added, “SIDS must be the architects of our own destiny. We must lead. We ask partners to support us as we implement ABAS.”

Belize, for the GROUP OF 77 AND CHINA, introduced a draft resolution expressing gratitude to the people and Government of Antigua and Barbuda (A/CONF.223/2024/L.2), which was adopted.

Adoption of the Report of the Conference: Sanita Pavļuta-Deslandes, Rapporteur-General, introduced the conference draft report (A/CONF.223/2024/L.3), which was adopted by acclamation.

Closing Remarks: ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA thanked all delegates, members of the UN system, and other partners and volunteers, and pledged continued support to ensure ABAS becomes a reality.

BARBADOS, noting her country was the birthplace of the SIDS agenda, congratulated Antigua and Barbuda for its work. She reiterated the call for a biennial meeting of SIDS Heads of State and Government to take stock of and make programmes and policies more responsive to changing conditions between mid-term reviews and conferences. She concluded by recalling the host country’s motto: “Each endeavoring, all achieving.”

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said this was the “beginning of a ten-year sprint” and a “critical juncture for SIDS.” She expressed optimism and hope that the SIDS Center of Excellence would foster SIDS-led solutions and that the SIDS’ call for adequate financing would be heeded by developed countries and IFIs. Mohammed recalled topics discussed at the conference, including the BBNJ Agreement, green and blue bonds, and channeling Special Drawing Rights. She pledged the UN family’s support and drew attention to crucial upcoming milestone meetings to further ABAS.

Conference President Browne thanked all participants, including local volunteers, in ensuring the safety and comfort of over 5,000 delegates. He underscored two crucial institutional mechanisms launched at SIDS4 that would kickstart implementation of ABAS: the Global SIDS Debt Sustainability Support Service, to foster innovative financial solutions and provide SIDS with dearly needed fiscal space; and the SIDS Center of Excellence, to feature a SIDS Data Hub alongside an innovation and technology mechanism to foster creative solutions for SIDS’ challenges. He also committed to convening the first biennial Island Investment Forum within twelve months.

At 4:22 pm Browne gaveled SIDS4 to a close, accompanied by a standing ovation from the floor.

Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS: A Renewed Declaration for Resilient Prosperity (ABAS)

ABAS reaffirms that SIDS remain a special case for sustainable development given their unique vulnerabilities.

The SIDS Story: ABAS begins by recalling the past three SIDS conferences and takes stock of progress made and challenges encountered over the last three decades. It notes that SIDS were struck by two “once in a generation” crises, the financial crisis in 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and recognizes that SIDS have become global leaders on issues such as climate change, financial system reform, plastic pollution, and ocean governance. Yet, SIDS’ small size, geographical remoteness, highly dispersed populations, the limited scale and undiversified nature of their economies, high dependence on external markets, and extreme exposure to natural disasters render them vulnerable to exogenous shocks, particularly the adverse effects of climate change.

The document asserts that “the next ten years are critical for SIDS” and renews their commitment to the BPOA adopted in 1994, the MSI of 2005, and the SAMOA Pathway of 2014. It also underscores the importance of inclusive and resilient sustainable development in line with the 2030 Agenda and other international instruments.

What Do SIDS Want?: ABAS outlines SIDS’ priorities and ambitions across four thematic areas. To build resilient economies, it: recommends increasing inter-island connectivity; underscores the structural challenges faced by SIDS in data collection and analysis, and technical and institutional capacity; and welcomes the establishment of a new SIDS Center of Excellence in Antigua and Barbuda. Moreover, it seeks the support of the international community to, among others:

  • expand SIDS productive capacities and reduce brain drain;
  • increase trade and investment by easing market access for SIDS;
  • establish a biennial Island Investment Forum in the SIDS Center of Excellence;
  • review and reform old investment treaties;
  • champion sustainable tourism; and
  • promote sustainable ocean-based economies.

To foster safe, healthy and prosperous societies, ABAS: recognizes the importance of good governance; expresses concern about persistent poverty and inequality; and notes the inadequacy of SIDS health and social protection systems. It further recommends, among others:

  • promoting universal health care;
  • enhancing pandemic and health emergency preparedness;
  • incentivizing public participation and engaging civil society;
  • strengthening e-government and digital solutions;
  • protecting the human rights of women and girls; and
  • involving youth in decision-making.

To safeguard a secure future, SIDS recognize the importance of water, food, and energy security, proposing to, among others:

  • develop SIDS-specific technologies and applications for renewable energy;
  • promote integrated water resources management;
  • increase sustainable agriculture and fisheries;
  • build resilient infrastructure; and
  • link SIDS economies to global markets.

On planetary protection and environmental sustainability, SIDS urge immediate action on climate change, ocean conservation, protection of biodiversity, and DRR, by, among others:

  • accelerating implementation of the Paris Agreement;
  • safeguarding forests as carbon sinks;
  • fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing;
  • developing an island biodiversity capacity-building and development action plan; and
  • strengthening disaster preparedness and early warning systems.

How Do SIDS Get There?: To realize ABAS by 2034, the document lists concrete actions across 10 thematic areas.

To build economic resilience, SIDS call for a rehaul of the international financial architecture by incorporating the MVI into existing practices and policies for debt sustainability and development support. ABAS also commends the establishment of a Global SIDS Debt Sustainability Support Service to enable sound debt management.

On scaling up climate action and support, including climate finance, SIDS commit to supporting the operationalization and implementation of the United Arab Emirates Framework for Global Climate Resilience to guide the achievement of the global goal on adaptation and phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions. They also call for urgently operationalizing and further capitalizing the new Loss and Damage Fund and for simplifying the access to climate financing instruments.

On scaling up biodiversity action, SIDS agree on advancing the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the operationalization and capitalization of the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund.

To conserve and sustainably use the ocean and its resources, SIDS urge ratification of the BBNJ Agreement. They also commit to furthering area-based management tools and exploring innovative financial solutions such as blue bonds.

To mainstream DRR, the document calls on donors to provide financial and technical support to prevent and respond to disasters.

On safe and healthy societies, ABAS echoes the 2023 Bridgetown Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health and demands increased financial and technical assistance for health systems.

On data collection, analysis and use, SIDS commit to strengthening national data infrastructure and the inclusive and responsible use of AI.

In the field of science, technology, innovation and digitalization, the document calls for assistance in the drawing up of national roadmaps for digitalization, science, technology and innovation. It also mentions the development of digital solutions to expand commerce, and the role of the SIDS Center of Excellence to provide learning opportunities, exchange experiences, support innovation and narrow digital divides.

To foster productive populations, ABAS commits SIDS to providing quality education opportunities for children and youth at risk and promoting, protecting and improving the health and nutrition of populations.

Finally, on partnerships, the document supports SIDS-SIDS cooperation through initiatives such as the SIDS-SIDS Green-Blue Economy Knowledge Transfer Hub at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus in Barbados. It also calls for a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.

A More Effective UN in Support of SIDS: ABAS reiterates the importance of mainstreaming SIDS interests across the entire UN system and requests the UN Secretary-General’s assistance in this regard.

Monitoring and Evaluation: SIDS call upon the UN Secretary-General to convene an inter-agency task force to develop a monitoring and evaluation framework, with clear targets and indicators, to be completed by no later than the second quarter of 2025, building on the evaluation framework for the SAMOA Pathway and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They also appeal to the UNGA to undertake a comprehensive mid-term review of ABAS.

A Brief Analysis of the Meeting

Delegates landed in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda conscious of the fact that, by the time the next conference convenes in 10 years, some small island developing states (SIDS) may no longer exist.

Thirty-two years have passed since the 1992 Earth Summit, where the international community first recognized that SIDS were a special case for both environment and development, and committed to help them meet their sustainable development objectives. Each decade thereafter has brought ever more challenges SIDS did not cause, yet are the first to suffer from, paying with lives and, in time, lands lost to rising seas. Furthermore, the challenges in achieving sustainable development have been compounded by slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, limited infrastructure, and worsening debt crises. 

This brief analysis considers the outcome of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) and explores whether the 10-year timeframe remains appropriate, whether SIDS voices have been adequately captured in the SIDS4 outcome document, what SIDS can realistically achieve in the next decade, and what impact their success might have on the world at large.

Framing the Next Decade

In a sense, SIDS4 began months before delegates gathered in St. John’s at various regional, interregional, and UN-level preparatory meetings, where the outcome document was carefully crafted and ultimately agreed upon in April 2024. Entitled “The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS: A Renewed Declaration for Resilient Prosperity” (ABAS), it charts the programme of action for SIDS for the next decade. It outlines concrete actions across 10 thematic areas: economic resilience; climate action and support, including finance; biodiversity action; ocean conservation; disaster risk reduction; safe and healthy societies; data; science and digitalization; productive populations; and partnerships.

With regard to the triple planetary crisis—climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss—climate change understandably received the lion’s share of attention, given it poses  a “clear and present danger” for SIDS. In the host country, for example, the island of Barbuda has yet to recover from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma seven years ago. Other low-lying island nations may become uninhabitable by the end of the century.

Biodiversity featured less prominently—a fact not lost on some observers, who lamented that their calls for stronger environmental justice protections went unheeded. Several civil society participants worried about language on “sustainable ocean-based economies,” which leaves room for “sustainable” exploitation of some areas and habitats, even before their biodiversity has been documented. Divergent views on this topic among SIDS were apparent during a side event on deep-sea mining, with some countries explicitly endorsing it while others supported the call for a moratorium. ABAS circumvented the issue by ambivalently condoning the “pursuit of opportunities” in “mineral and other related resources.”

Plastic pollution received even less focus, with only limited mention in ABAS, even though recent research warns there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050. Caribbean and Pacific island states in particular are already suffering the impacts of this crisis, and had discussed the issue extensively during their regional preparatory meetings. One observer complained that SIDS’ high reliance on pristine nature as an economic driver demands stronger environmental provisions that simply did not make it into the final text.

The Picture in 10 Years: Is the Shutter Speed Too Slow?

A question asked in different spaces throughout the conference was whether the 10-year timeframe for SIDS conferences and programmes of action remains appropriate, considering the rapidly closing window to avert the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises, and the extreme weather events and pandemics that can suddenly erase significant portions of SIDS’ gross domestic product (GDP).

SIDS have long sought special consideration in the UN system due to their geographical remoteness, highly-dispersed populations, limited scale and undiversified nature of their economies, high dependence on external markets, and vulnerability to disasters. Thirty years on, SIDS’ vulnerability to exogenous shocks and their ability to weather physical and geopolitical storms have only worsened. In response, some delegates called for a biennial meeting of SIDS leaders to take stock of changing conditions, and make programmes and policies more responsive to these changes.

The current timeframe also reveals a bigger dilemma. The year 2030, just after the ABAS mid-term review, will mark a milestone to hold world leaders accountable for the climate goal of almost halving global greenhouse gas emissions vis-à-vis 2010 levels and for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Whether SIDS can make their distinct voice heard and push for the implementation of ABAS amidst these other global priorities, rather than being overshadowed by them, is questionable.

Facing this decadal challenge is not new for SIDS. A seasoned delegate observed that the previous decade’s programme of action, the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway agreed in 2014, barely got a real chance at implementation, since it was overtaken by the SDGs that were adopted a year later. Another agreed, saying the SDGs received all the focus—and all the money—leaving little room for SAMOA Pathway priorities to be implemented outside the SDG framework.

Another consideration relating to the 10-year timeframe is: What happens once the impetus of the conference dissipates? Numerous priorities identified in the previous three SIDS programmes of action still remain to be implemented. Do promises simply get added to the programme as each decade rolls in and challenges pile on? Do the conferences serve to raise awareness and attention on SIDS once every 10 years with adopted action plans ignored for the other nine? The calls for financial commitments, for example, have been made for over 30 years. UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Simon Stiell’s warning sums it up: “Old goals must be met; otherwise, new goals will ring hollow.”

Despite concerns about missing elements, long timeframes, and a keen sense of urgency that prevailed throughout the Conference, the picture was not all doom and gloom. At the opening plenary, many world leaders hailed the advisory opinion of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which recognized greenhouse gases as marine pollutants that states are obliged to mitigate. This authoritative ruling was considered a big win for SIDS, given the request for an opinion had been championed by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law. UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis said the historic ruling could set the basis for future climate jurisprudence, with an eye to related advisory opinions on state responsibility for climate action currently under review by the International Court of Justice and the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

In addition to the ITLOS ruling, there are other areas that provide hope. For instance, the SIDS Lighthouses Initiative, which was launched by the Internation Renewable Energy Agency to support SIDS’ transition from fossil-based to renewables-based energy systems, came out of the SAMOA Pathway and is currently on track to achieve its 10 GW renewables target by 2030.

Zooming in: SIDS Voices—Captured or Co-opted?

At SIDS4, UN Secretary-General António Guterres recalled that both the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement were born, in large part, due to SIDS’ leadership. He implored, “Today, we need your fierce voices more than ever, and when you speak together, SIDS can make an almighty noise.”

Several SIDS raised concerns that despite their collective noise, their voices and priorities were not sufficiently reflected in ABAS. Some expressed concern that the text had been co-opted by donor governments and multilateral institutions that influenced what priorities would be included, informed by their own agendas, and diluted the language proposed by SIDS stakeholders calling for stronger environmental and social justice provisions. This, they said, ultimately led to a document with weak commitments and actions.

Several civil society organizations (CSOs) lamented that the negotiating process was not transparent, rendering them unable to participate effectively. Some remarked the few invitations to CSOs were mostly given to those deemed “friendly to governments,” not to those actually working on the ground, with deep understanding of community-level challenges and solutions. As a result, CSOs say that their input into ABAS had been “minimal to nil.” Not to be silenced, CSOs published their own “SIDS Civil Society Action Plan and Roadmap (2024-2034),” which outlines recommendations for action, including what SIDS governments and development partners can do to better engage CSOs and deliver a participatory, whole-of-society approach to sustainable development in SIDS, as well as how CSOs intend to hold them accountable for ABAS implementation.

Additionally, some SIDS that are non-self-governing territories felt left behind. They worried about their ineligibility for finance, due to their political status and high per capita income, despite suffering the same vulnerabilities as other SIDS. They stressed how they were similarly exposed to rising sea levels, natural disasters that wipe out significant chunks of GDP, and exogenous geopolitical and economic shocks. 

During the closing plenary, the Co-Chairs of the SIDS4 Preparatory Committee recognized many had wished for stronger commitments and higher ambitions in ABAS, but expressed hope the international community would support ABAS and provide the necessary enablers to fully implement it. The Conference welcomed ABAS and looked forward to working in partnership to achieve it.

Addressing SIDS’ High Exposure

Even if ABAS were fully implemented, a broader question remains: Can this suffice to ensure SIDS’ resilient prosperity? Several bluntly answered “no,” consistent with a comment by Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Li Junhua, who said the SIDS story “is not one they can rewrite on their own.” Another observer noted that even if SIDS reduced their emissions to zero, it would not move the dial on carbon emissions, since SIDS represent only 1% of the global total. These realities highlight the need for G20 (responsible for 80% of emissions) to act. SIDS’ ability to achieve resilient prosperity also hinges on the rest of the world delivering on finance and other means of implementation.

For example, since the 1992 Earth Summit and at each SIDS conference for the past 30 years, SIDS have consistently called for an eligibility mechanism other than gross national income (GNI) per capita to appropriately address their special vulnerabilities. While many SIDS have high GNI per capita, a single hurricane can erase in a day development gains painstakingly achieved over several years, usually requiring SIDS to borrow at non-concessional or market rates to rebuild their economies and communities. SIDS debt-to-GDP ratio averages at 60%; some have been over 100%, including host country Antigua and Barbuda.

Against this backdrop, significant progress was made in some areas, including the final report on the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI), and the world’s increased recognition that the international financial architecture needs to be transformed to remain relevant for SIDS. Throughout SIDS4, the call for the UN General Assembly to adopt the MVI was louder and clearer than ever. Some development partners expressed willingness to pilot the MVI in response to a proposal by Secretary-General Guterres. The 2022 Bridgetown Initiative to reform the international financial architecture and the finalization of the MVI report in 2024 could unlock significant finance to enable implementation of ABAS.

Zooming Out: The Bigger Picture

As SIDS4 drew to a close, a delegate from Barbados, birthplace of the SIDS agenda, raised her flag. She acknowledged this was “a feel-good moment.” “We have worked hard, come to an agreement, and consensus always feels good. However, the real challenge lies ahead.” She said she hoped that the international community will be able to put in place the right partnerships to implement ABAS and mobilize the necessary means of implementation to get things done, so that at SIDS5 (Cabo Verde, 2035), “we will all be able to look back with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”

A finance minister from a Pacific SIDS observed during a fireside chat on making climate finance work for SIDS, “The rhetoric has gotten better. The action? Not so much.” SIDS4 has given the international community the opportunity to move away from talking and get to the doing. Ultimately, the success of SIDS4 will be judged by whether ABAS stimulates real change. 

Will ABAS still hold up at the mid-term review in five years? The answer may well determine the fate of some small island states. After all, the most important determinant of whether or not SIDS will continue to exist is not how often these conferences happen—it is what happens between them.

Further information