Our Perspectives

Oceans and small island states: First think opportunity, then think blue


For Small Islands Developing States like Haiti, the Ocean Conference and the blue economy can contribute to addressing some of the concerns associated with economic and environmental vulnerability. Photo: UN MINUSTAH

In the run up to the Ocean Conference in June, this blog series explores issues related to oceans, seas, marine resources and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life below water.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are thinking differently, especially when it comes to the ocean. Their self-characterization as Large Ocean States is more than symbolic, more than just words.  It represents a re-think on opportunities and challenges for small island states.  At the Ocean Conference in June in New York, we will all need to embrace this new mind-set.  

SIDS have often been characterized by their constraints – smallness (in land area at least), distance from markets, fragile ecosystems, narrow economies and vulnerability to natural disasters. And now they stand on the frontlines of sea-level rise and the consequences of a warming climate. That is a deficit-based model.

As large ocean states, the focus shifts to a strengths-based approach.  SIDS are custodians of 15 of the 50 largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Tuvalu’s EEZ is 27,000 times larger than its land area.  SIDS represent almost 20 percent of the UN membership – if we are going to leave no one behind we need to think innovatively on development solutions tailored to the smallest countries, with some of the largest ocean estates.

The Ocean Conference will be the time to continue to move this opportunity-centred thinking into action. And one opportunity is – ‘think blue’ strategy. SIDS know the importance of establishing an equilibrium between economic and social progress and environmental sustainability.  That is where the concept of blue economy comes in.  The blue economy simultaneously promotes economic growth, environmental sustainability, social inclusion and the strengthening of ocean ecosystems. 

This is recognized in SDG 14. Target 14.7 challenges us to “By 2030, increase the economic benefits to SIDS and least developed countries (LDCs) from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.”  

The Ocean Conference, first and foremost, is about Action. It is about making tangible progress, through commitments, local, national, regional and global, to collectively progress the agreed targets under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG14) – Life Under Water. SIDS are determined to make sure that the importance of their voice to the oceans agenda is heard and to play their part in building a blue economy for their peoples and planet. 

At the Third International Conference on Small Islands Developing States, SIDS outlined a challenge to the international community for ‘genuine and durable partnerships’ as part of the S.A.M.OA. Pathway.

UNDP has taken up that challenge, supporting SIDS on management of ecosystems through our globally-recognized Small Grants Programme (SGP), management of large marine ecosystems, oceanic and coastal fisheries (through the UNDP-GEF International Waters Programme) and supporting innovative financing modalities through UNDP’s BIOFIN programme.      

Our action supports initiatives in the smallest and remotest island communities in the world – it is local. We support international cooperation and collaboration across oceans or large marine ecosystems – it is global. 

The Preparatory Meeting for the June Ocean Conference has just concluded.  Now the hard work begins to move the focus to the national and regional level and build up a stock of voluntary commitments that will be a game-changer for our ocean. UNDP has established the Ocean Action Hub, an online knowledge platform to support the sharing of ideas, activities and best practice on oceans. So get engaged, learn, and importantly, act!

For SIDS the Ocean Conference, and more generally the blue economy, are an opportunities agenda. It can contribute to addressing some of the concerns associated with economic and environmental vulnerability. 

It is up to the international community to get behind this effort and support voluntary commitments and new partnerships at the Ocean Conference. We should support SIDS in this endeavour, with ambition and partnership. So when you are thinking about SIDS in the context of sustainable development and oceans, the challenge is to first, think opportunity, and then think blue.


Sustainable Development Goals Oceans Small island developing states Craig Hawke Agenda 2030 Environment Oceans blog series

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