Today, World Environment Day 2014, is a day of understandable celebration. It is a day on which people of all creeds, races and colours, all over the world, focus on and pay tribute to our planet, reflect on our acts of commission and omission, and pledge to doing much better in the future, for the benefit of generations yet unborn.
The annual World Environment Day celebrations first started in 1972 and today marks the 42nd year. The steadfast commitment of the world community, expressed in the dedication of global attention on the environment in this manner each year, reflects the importance which countries worldwide attach to this subject.
From the dawn of human history man has been trying to regularize his relationship with nature. An organic relationship has always existed between the two because man needs the environment and the environment needs man. The environment predates man but from it and through it man derives his sustenance.
Man has learnt to his enduring benefit that when he mistreats the environment, he puts at risk his own life chances. Invariably nature hits back. Global warming, ozone depletion, sea level rise and a miscellany of other responses are nature???s answer to human callousness and indifference.??This is the kind of context in which World Environment Day has to be analysed and evaluated.
This year???s slogan for World Environment Day: ???Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level???, which permeates all of the various activities being held across the globe, fits hand and glove with the UN International Year of Small Island Developing States that is also being celebrated this year. The two areas of focus are directly linked in the theme ???Small Island Developing States and Climate Change???.
Barbados, a Small Island Developing State in the Caribbean Sea, considers it a great honour and a privilege for its Government and people to host the Global Celebration for World Environment Day 2014 under this slogan and theme.
We do this, today, June 5, 2014, here in Bridgetown, our capital city set within the Unesco World Heritage Site of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, and under the careful watch of our 375 year old Parliament. We do this on behalf of the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean and all Small Island Developing States everywhere.
Here in Barbados, we chose to plan a full week of activities, starting with a church service on Sunday June 1st at the Cathedral of St. Michael and All Angels, to invoke God???s blessings, and culminating in the ceremony this morning in Independence Square. The range of activities was strategically chosen to highlight some of the approaches and solutions adopted by Barbados to address environmental challenges shared in common with other Small Island Developing States.
As you are aware, this year 2014 is a year of great significance for Barbados, other Caribbean Small Island Developing States and Small Island Developing States the world over. Just over 20 years ago, in 1994, the international community met at the Sherbourne Conference Centre, now the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre and agreed to the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, now familiarly referred to as the Barbados Programme of Action, or, BPOA.
Today, the Barbados Programme of Action, with justification, is regarded as the framework for guiding the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, more commonly referred to as SIDS. That global policy instrument provides the platform for the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the BPOA, which emerged from the 2005 International Conference for the Review of the BPOA held in Mauritius.
The BPOA also provides the basis for the anticipated Outcome of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States to be held later this year in Apia, Samoa, another important milestone for SIDS in September 2014.
I had the special honour of representing the voice of small island developing states on the United Nations Secretary General???s Global Sustainability Panel, whose report entitled: ???Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A future worth choosing??? was published in 2012, and which has contributed significantly to the discourse on the issue of sustainable development.
The designation of 2014 as the International Year of SIDS marks the first time in the history of the United Nations that that august body has designated a Year of Observance for a group of countries – in this case small island developing countries especially vulnerable by virtue of their condition as islands.
This is a very important achievement for us SIDS, providing as it does the opportunity to focus on the successes and challenges which countries in this group have experienced, in our quest to achieve sustainable development and in the face of the many inherent vulnerabilities confronting us. For islands the environment is a palpable reality affecting every aspect of our everyday experience.
In fact, we find ourselves at a momentous cross road as SIDS, since, during the year in which we celebrate the International Year of SIDS, we will also be undertaking the Third International Meeting on Small Island Developing States. What is more, in this year the international community is also engaged in discussion on a new development agenda as well as the articulation of a set of Sustainable Development Goals. We are also preparing for the First Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, which will take place in Nairobi, Kenya later this month.
This timing, and happy confluence of events, is what the dreamers may refer to as the aligning of stars, but as we are cautioned by William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar:?????Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault??? is not in our stars, but in ourselves???.?????
Given this harmonious coincidence of events, I know that you will allow me the luxury, on World Environment Day, of making a few pertinent observations on the SIDS preparation leading up to the Samoa Conference which requires ???action???, and I repeat, ???action???, to be taken in the spirit of the various United Nations Resolutions which call for the outcomes of that Conference to be practical and pragmatic in support of the SIDS sustainable development agenda.
One of the fundamental principles underpinning both the BPOA and the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of that Programme is inter- and intra-regional collaboration and cooperation across the SIDS Regions. To date, this remains one of the weakest aspects of the implementation of the SIDS Agenda and is yet to be adequately addressed.
In Barbados??? view, a clear indication of doing justice to this important and fundamental concept must be the establishment in each of the SIDS regions of a SIDS inter-governmental institutional mechanism to contribute to driving SIDS sustainable development.
The experience over the past 20 years has taught us that without such a mechanism, progress will continue to be retarded. ??In a canny assessment of the human tendency to inaction, the poet Robert Frost has said, and I quote: ???A person will sometimes devote all of his life to the development of one part of his body???the wishbone???
SIDS simply do not have the luxury of wishing and waiting. The development of a SIDS inter-governmental institution must be one of the critical outputs of the Third International Conference on SIDS. Without such a mechanism it is likely that most of the ???practical and pragmatic actions??? perceived by the various United Nations General Assembly Resolutions will go unimplemented.
Closely linked to this is the repeated call by SIDS worldwide for a coherent structural response on the part of the UN System to SIDS issues. On a day like this, I reiterate that such a response could contribute significantly to focusing the UN System on the needs of SIDS and would channel actions in a more efficient and systematic manner.
Within the same context, at the SIDS Interregional Preparatory meeting held here in August last year, I called for consideration to be given by the United Nations to the convening of a Meeting of SIDS Finance Ministers. The objective of such a meeting would be to address one of the most crippling issues being faced as a major constraint to the sustainable development of SIDS, that is, debt. Its main purpose would be to frame SIDS-specific ???practical and pragmatic actions??? in response to this issue as a fundamental input to the outcome of the Third International Conference on SIDS.
I should like to repeat this call again today and request the Secretary General of the United Nations along with the leadership of the Bretton Woods Institutions to explore the possibility of addressing this specific issue ahead of the Samoa Conference.
To my fellow SIDS Prime Ministers and Presidents, I say today that we too need to take our own urgent and decisive action to strengthen our strategic coherence, particularly on issues at the international level. In a previous statement I raised the issue of the need for a greater commitment on our part to ???SIDS Collectivity.??? Simply put, as articulated in 2005 by the Prime Minister of Mauritius, we need to speak with one voice to ensure that our concerns are taken on board at international fora.
Today, I want to take this opportunity to repeat the call for ???SIDS Collectivity???, and this brings me to the issue of the agenda for the upcoming United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Now as you are all aware Barbados and the Caribbean region have had a mutually productive relationship with the United Nations Environment Programme over the past thirty years. We have signed many of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements supported by UNEP, and we continue to collaborate on the environmental protection of the Wider Caribbean Sea that facilitates the generation of significant economic activity for Caribbean SIDS.
These are but a few examples of our ongoing collaboration in the broader context of the region???s sustainable development pursuits.??We congratulate UNEP, present here in the person of its Executive Director, Dr. Achim Steiner, and its hard working staff, for all that you have done to promote the cause of the environment and sustainable development everywhere.
We know that there is a plethora of worthy subjects meriting consideration at the upcoming Assembly. We are nonetheless concerned that SIDS issues do not feature as a substantive agenda item for the upcoming first historic session of the United Nations Environment Assembly. We are of the view that the fundamental requirements of the SIDS Community need to be put on the UNEA agenda and we call upon the Executive Director to give consideration to this matter with some urgency.
Returning to the slogan for this year???s, World Environment Day 2014 celebrations: ???Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level,??? Barbados wishes to underscore the need for an early agreement on the various unresolved issues in the climate change negotiations including support for undertaking urgent adaptation action on the ground in SIDS; adequate financing, in particular, the finalization of the architecture and operationalisation of the Green Climate Fund; and conclusion of the discussion on loss and damage.
The Government of Barbados sincerely hopes that the next meeting of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which will be held in the Latin American and Caribbean region, in Peru later this year, will be able to resolve many of these issues. Barbados stands ready to work closely with the Government of Peru as agreed by the Forum of Ministers of Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean, to make sure that this meeting of the Conference of the Parties is a resounding success.
Further, we will be joining our partners in the developed world in the upcoming United Nations Special Summit on Climate Change to be held on September 23, 2014. To all of our partners let me communicate Barbados??? desire that we should continue to work together to address the numerous issues associated with global climate change thereby giving tangible meaning to ???Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level???.
Since for SIDS these issues have the potential to affect our very survival, capitulation for us can never be an option. That revered Jamaican artiste, the Honourable Robert Nesta Marley was right when he said: ???When the race gets hard to run, it means you just can???t take the pace???. As you will appreciate, Jamaicans understand what it takes to finish a race, and given the imperatives of the climate change agenda, we can assure you that this region and SIDS in general, are committed to running the race and that we are able to handle the pace.
In closing, let me thank the United Nations and the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, via its Executive Director, for giving the voice for this year???s World Environment Day to Small Island Developing States; for selecting the most appropriate slogan and theme; and for selecting Barbados and the Caribbean as the host for this year???s Celebrations.
In honouring us, the Executive Director highlights Barbados??? role as a guardian of the SIDS Process, and signals our continued commitment to serving as a hub for inter- and intra-regional initiatives that will no doubt emerge from the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States.
I take this opportunity also to highlight another significant event this year, that is, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal – one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th Century. Notably, Panama serves as the home for United Nations Environment Programme???s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Many island people, from Barbados and other Caribbean countries played an important role in the construction of the Panama Canal. In fact, over 15 percent of Barbados??? male population left our shores at the turn of the last century to undertake the challenge of constructing the Panama Canal. It would be remiss of me if I did not take this opportunity to wish the Government and People of Panama a happy 100th anniversary of that historic achievement.
It is, therefore, an exquisite coincidence if you will, that today Barbados is at centre stage, hosting the Global celebration of World Environment Day 2014 which has as its focus – Small Island Developing States and Climate Change. This allows us a golden opportunity to once again exemplify the unwavering commitment of the Government and people of Barbados to the Sustainable Development of SIDS.
May this day, World Environment Day 2014, celebrated in Barbados, an island state in the Caribbean, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, be enshrined as the day on which the peoples and countries of the world joined hands in agreeing to Raise their Voices and Not the Sea Level in order to guarantee the survival of small islands on this planet.??I thank you.