Tumasie Blair

Antigua and Barbuda diplomat in the United Nations, Tumasie Blair has emphasised the critical nature of the upcoming Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4), labelling it as the ‘last chance ’to safeguard SIDS.

In an interview this week on the sidelines of the 14th Session of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Assembly in Abu Dhabi, Blair stressed the urgency, stating that this conference marks an important moment not only to aid SIDS but also to ensure sustained development beyond the current 10-year framework.

“We framed this conference by saying not only is this the last chance to assist SIDS but also after the end of this 10-year framework, we don’t want to see another SIDS conference trying to save SIDS.

“We want to see a SIDS conference that would allow for a sustained development of SIDS. And so we don’t want to address past issues.

“We are confident that within the contents of the outcome document and its implementation, we’ll be able to achieve some level of sustainability going forward. What we need is to just continue to assist us in our sustainability efforts,” Blair said.

Blair outlined the extensive preparations undertaken by Antigua and Barbuda for the conference scheduled from 27 – 30 May, emphasising its focus on crucial issues such as climate change, finance accessibility, debt sustainability, and social development within SIDS.

“Those are the big ticket items on the agenda. And they’re more in detail in the outcome document that was recently concluded at the preparatory meeting for SIDS4,” he said.

He highlighted the significance of addressing these challenges comprehensively, noting the Caribbean region’s particular vulnerability to climate change and economic instability.

“I think more than anything, the Caribbean has been feeling the effects of climate change, of the fallout from economic crisis. But also Because of our close connection with the global north, whenever they are spillovers from global unrest, then the Caribbean feels that even more aggressively than perhaps some other region.

“And so we’re taking this opportunity to not only put the voice of the Caribbean on the map, but also to ensure that the other SIDS regions are able to amplify their voice during SIDS4,” said Blair.

Anticipating firm commitments from the international community, Blair stressed the need for concrete actions to meet the specific needs of SIDS, as detailed in the conference’s outcome document.

Despite past disappointments in fulfilling commitments made at international gatherings, he expressed optimism, citing strategic efforts to hold partners accountable and ensure genuine support for SIDS.

“We have long said, during our two to three-year preparatory process of this conference, that this is perhaps the last chance to save SIDS.

“We recognise that climate change is spiralling out of control, we recognise that the effects of climate change are even more intense.

“We also recognise that the economic fallout and the high debt burden of SIDS are now unsustainable. SIDS are on a cliff.

“It’s clear that there needs to be specialised attention to SIDS. And so we’re hoping out of this conference that we have a firm commitment from the international community to fully address the needs of SIDS. And these commitments are detailed in the outcome document,” he said.

Regarding recent proposals from institutions like the World Bank to adapt lending mechanisms to reflect vulnerability, Blair welcomed initiatives like the multi-dimensional vulnerability index championed by Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

He emphasised the importance of reshaping financing and technology transfer frameworks to facilitate the transition of SIDS towards renewable energy sources.

“And so we have big players on board now, fully on board, in ensuring that they will not only allow to continue to champion for SIDS, but they will hold their counterparts accountable for the implementation and the commitments within this 10-year framework.

“Again, there is a recognition globally that SIDS are the most vulnerable countries. And that recognition concludes that if you save SIDS, you save the world. And so I think there’s a firm commitment coming forward from partners now, in ensuring that they live up to their commitments to SIDS,” Blair said.

IRENA’s support for SIDS4, including the hosting of a dedicated side event, was noted as crucial in shaping the conference’s agenda and fostering actionable partnerships for sustainable development.

Blair emphasised the need for alignment between IRENA’s objectives and the 10-year sustainability roadmap expected from SIDS4, stressing the importance of restructuring existing frameworks to better serve the needs of SIDS.

“And so it has to be remodelled and reshaped so it’s fit for purpose, in tandem with the 10-year framework.

“So this assembly is quite important. We have articulated this to the highest levels within IRENA and will continue to do so during the course of this assembly,” he said.

Blair expressed confidence in the potential impact of SIDS4, highlighting the collective effort to address the pressing challenges facing SIDS and pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable future.