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Can Small Island Developing States wait for global development goals to be set?


The UNDP Dominican Republic office works towards reducing risk and vulnerability and increasing capacity to reduce the adverse effects of disasters and ensure sustainable development. Photo: R. D. Emiliano Larizza for UNDP

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have been, and still are, facing major challenges in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):  low growth, high unemployment, aging population, brain drain, high debt levels, small carrying capacities and extreme exposure to the effects of climate change.

One example is Saint Maarten, a small island in the Dutch Antilles, which every week welcomes more tourists arriving on cruise ships than it has inhabitants.

As Saint Maarten is highly dependent on tourism, maintaining and protecting the natural environment is essential to its socio-economic wellbeing. The tourist industry accounts for 80 percent of the island’s GDP. Reef tourism and fishing are important attractions.

But the development world’s attention is now being set on the post-2015 agenda and the proposal for a new set of global goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will emerge with their accompanying targets this September at the UN General Assembly. This new agenda is anchored on the understanding that you can’t have development without simultaneously caring for its social, economic and environmental dimensions.

For Saint Maarten, sustainable development is not just a matter of negotiations at UN Headquarters, it is a matter of immediate action.

The country, aware of this challenge, has developed several strategies to address poverty, health, education and environment issues. Yet poverty reduction and environmental sustainability initiatives, and their interaction, are not progressing as expected.  So the government decided on a two-pronged approach:

  • address the identification of long-term structural changes needed through the National Development Strategy process,
  • focus on accelerating the achievement of sustainable development, with a focus on community development,  even though there are no clear international goals, targets or indicators to use as benchmarks.

The government requested UNDP to support the acceleration process, and chose to use the MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF), adapted for this set of local targets and indicators.

The MAF, which is expected to produce a common Action Plan, is forcing hard questions between the trade-offs of zoning, conservation and social protection programmes.

Saint Maarten’s experience is providing interesting insights into what it will entail to “localize SDGs,” how to hit the ground running, the added value of the UN System in supporting these processes, and the means of implementation.

For Saint Maarten, as for many SIDS, achievement of sustainable development cannot wait for global goals to be set.  Will the rest of the development world pay attention?

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