The fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) is heading to Antigua and Barbuda later this month with “human survivability and protecting our planet” topping the agenda when it comes to containing climate change, according to the Caribbean nation’s Prime Minister.

This year’s conference will focus on “charting the course toward resilient prosperity” by assessing small States’ ability to reach the ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

In an exclusive interview earlier this month at UN Headquarters, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, told UN News that he hopes the conference will be a game-changer for formulating strategies to mitigate climate change, crushing debt, and other key issues that may be stunting small island development.

UN News: Why is Antigua and Barbuda hosting SIDS4?

Gaston Browne: The issue of human development is very important for us and we’re now taking on the leadership of SIDS to help SIDS achieve resilient prosperity.

We have had to contend with a number of challenges during the last two decades, especially the last decade in which we have seen [many] exogenous shocks literally decimating our economies and damaging our infrastructure, our buildings, our homes.

Fundamentally, we want to make sure that we improve the living standards of people living in SIDS to ensure sustainability so that these countries are not as susceptible to the impact of these climate shocks.

Evidently, this cannot be done alone because SIDS have very limited financial and human resources, so we will be galvanising support from various stakeholders to make sure that we can raise enough resources to help us adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change while building over time more prosperous communities so that people can enjoy acceptable living standards.

UN News: What are the main barriers to successful climate adaptation in your country and for SIDS generally?

Gaston Browne: The key issue is funding and technology. Some of the cutting-edge technologies that are available, we don’t have access to them primarily because we don’t have the funding. That is why we continue to advocate for increased funding for SIDS, adaptation mitigation and loss and damage.

SIDS have been pushing at the various Conference of the Parties (COPS) for the establishment of the loss and damage fund. We have made some headway within the last COP and I’m hoping that by the next COP later this year we will have the operationalisation of funds that will start to be made available to these SIDS so that they can acquire the technologies and also reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and to reduce their carbon footprint – to have enough funding to build out more resilient socioeconomic infrastructure so that future storms will not be as impactful as in the past.

UN News: We know that SIDS are heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Can you imagine a low-carbon future for your country? And how can we make this a reality by 2030?

Gaston Browne: A low-carbon future is imperative for us. The vagaries and the instability associated with fossil fuel prices have created serious challenges for us.

In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, we’re actually moving away from fossil fuels and transitioning to green technologies, including solar and wind.

We have even utilised [liquefied natural gas] as a transition fuel as we seek to reduce our carbon footprint and to have it reduced by about 30 per cent within the next few years, 50 per cent by 2030, and ultimately to become carbon neutral by about 2040.

Small States, including Antigua and Barbuda, have to lead by example. Making that transition is important to encourage the large users of fossil fuels, those who use fossil fuels in a very profligate way, to follow our lead and to reduce emissions because ultimately the issue of the use of fossil fuels goes beyond the issue of small States.

It’s about human survivability and protecting our planet and this is where we need global collaboration and cooperation to ensure that we all commit to reducing emissions.

UN News: How are SIDS worldwide coordinating and helping each other with climate issues? And is it feasible at anything beyond a regional level?

Gaston Browne: There’s been strong collaboration dating back over 30 years. This issue of climate has been driven primarily by small States.

We have advocated for the loss and damage fund to help us raise the necessary funding to recover from the consequences of ferocious and frequent storms and at the same time to help us to adapt and mitigate.

We’ve been collaborating in terms of taking certain legal opinions into the various tribunals including the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

There’s been strong collaboration among the small States. We’re doing this within our collective interests and to protect our civilisation. We continue to fight unrelentingly to get large polluters to reduce emissions.

UN News: What is your hope for the SIDS conference this year? What do you hope it’ll achieve?

Gaston Browne: I think it will be a conference with a difference, one in which we will mobilise all the players and we hope to have an outcome document that will chart the course towards resilient prosperity.

I’m pretty sure that the various issues that have affected small States – issues of climate change, debt, pandemics, even the consequences of wars – will be dealt with in a very holistic way, and that we will come up with strategies to help SIDS to mitigate against these issues that continue to undermine our development and ultimately make sure that we have more prosperous societies.