Gaps in progress and time is not on our side, Tonga PM tells SIDS meeting


Tonga is hosting the Regional Preparatory Meeting of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS), that opened this week.

About 70 international delgates are gathered to prepare for the 4th International Conference on SIDS, to be held in May next year.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) include low-lying coastal countries that share similar sustainable development challenges, including small population, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, and excessive dependence on international trade.

In his keynote address, Tonga’s Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni said the meeting was important and time was not on our side.

“No matter what the bill, a future for our children inspire us in the next three days to action”, he said.

He said that Tonga has made progress on its vision for blue ocean economies, progress on loss and damages, and progress on the protection of marine and land biodiversity protection.

“We should not shy away from critically assessing our progress to date. We should not shy away from looking at the gaps, and we do have gaps,” said the Prime Minister.

“Time is not on our side right now, so let us try to be faster than the current speed of change.”

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu welcomed all the delegates and opened the Regional Preparatory Meeting of the Pacific SIDS.

She stressed that today small developing states have, and are experiencing a more complex mix of challenges.

“Our efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals are hampered, and we need urgent action.”
Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and SIDS are highly vulnerable.

“Our corporation reminds us that in times of disaster, our Pacific states are there to help each other. And in the same vein, so do our international community..”

CEO and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Samoa, Peseta Noumea Simi, representing AOSIS, said the international community has not found the political will to save the planet, and the Pacific’s development is as perilous today and as it was then or possibly worse.

The first SIDS was held nearly 10 years ago, in 2014, which drew international attention towards the region and its challenges during the time.

“Over the last 30 years we have watched our coastlines disappear. Our debt amassed to unsustainable levels and our people struggle in perpetuity. As in the state’s regions agriculture, tourism, fisheries have all been affected. The response has been lacklustre and devoid of urgency and action has not been commensurate with the need.”

Peseta described dealing with climate change, sea level rise, rising temperatures, hurricane seasons, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, and marine pollution. She said it “is like a hamster wheel. Multiple crises without proper address.”

Representing the UN is the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs UNDESA and Secretary General of the 4th International Conference on SIDS, Li Junhua who expressed the support of the UN during the opening ceremony and also during a press conference which he held with the PM.

“As a Secretary General of the Conference, I can promise that the UN system stands ready to support you in any way that we can.”

Meanwhile, he proposed several measures to bring into discussions and among them, the SDG Stimulus and the Reform of the International Financial Architecture.

The SIDS three days preparatory in Nuku’alofa, which started Wednesday will end Friday, 18 August.

Delegates included the Pacific SIDS, the Chair of AOSIS, Chair of PSIDS, Ambassadors and representatives from capitals, as well as representatives from other small island developing states, representatives from the Caribbean and the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, and South China, representatives from regional and international organisations.