ESCAP Support for the SAMOA Pathway - Sustainable Development for Pacific SIDS

Delivered during the Pacific Leaders Breakfast Meeting at the United Nations 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia, Samoa.

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you for joining us this morning, particularly given your very busy schedules during this important Conference on small island developing States (SIDS).

Introduction

There was a noticeable shift in focus from the time of the Barbados Programme of Action to the Mauritius Strategy, which moved the SIDS development dialogue towards implementation.

Perhaps you are familiar with a proverb among the islanders of Niue which says: “When you speak with authority, make sure you follow through with actions”. With the outcome of Rio+20, and now the SAMOA Pathway, there is another shift taking place – towards real action.

Given the number of international commitments and statements of support for the SIDS this week, action and implementation are vital themes. ESCAP would very much like to build even stronger ‘action’ partnerships for implementation of sustainable development in the Pacific.

The SAMOA Pathway reinforces the role of the regional commissions in supporting implementation, monitoring, reporting and accountability for delivery on the outcomes of sustainable development and this Conference.

At our 70th ESCAP Commission session in Bangkok last month, we pledged to renew ESCAP’s focus on countries with special needs, especially the SIDS.

ESCAP is therefore undertaking an institutional review, to realign how the secretariat will support the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS. In my conversation with you this morning, I would therefore like to share how we are positioning ESCAP, and how we plan to position the Commission in the future, to support you.

The SAMOA Pathway spells out some key roles for the regional commissions, and we will respond with vigor and concrete actions. Let me begin by focusing on some of your priorities, and illustrating with a few examples, how we plan to address them. Given the interactive nature of this breakfast dialogue, we would also really appreciate your feedback and guidance on these issues.

1. Pacific Voice: Sustainable Development Stakeholder Consultations

Over the past six months, ESCAP has held a range of new types of stakeholder consultations – including, among others, the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD), a regional Outreach Meeting on Sustainable Financing for Development, as well as the first regional consultation on monitoring and accountability for the post-2015 development agenda – all of which are also vital elements of the SAMOA Pathway.

We had tremendous support from the Pacific for each of these consultations – the Sustainable Financing for Development meeting, for example, saw the participation of a number of Pacific Central Bank Governors, Ministers and Deputy Ministers, and representatives of our Pacific member States. In conducting these events, we also adopted a new structure for engagement, which saw dedicated subregional dialogues on key challenges, priorities and opportunities within our Asia-Pacific subregional blocs.

The value of these subregional discussions was illustrated by the Pacific consultations leading up to the APFSD, which identified three overarching Pacific priorities for the next phase of global and regional development: (i) Sustaining growth in the context of low economic dynamism and increased vulnerability including to climate change; (ii) environmental and resources sustainability, with a particular focus on ocean biodiversity; and (iii) social inclusion, addressing income and gender inequalities. The extent to which these priorities have now been reflected in the proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs) is an indication of how loudly the Pacific voice is now being heard at the regional and global levels.

2. Climate Change and Natural Disasters

We know from our subregional consultations that responding to climate change and natural disasters is one of your key priorities and we are making it one of ours as well. ESCAP plans to work primarily in four areas:

  1. Supporting climate adaptation, and in this context we plan to help build the capacity of climate vulnerable communities;
  2. Renewable energy and sustainable energy for all;
  3. Climate change and migration – our recent work on which has underscored the potential impacts of climate change on Pacific migration and the potential for mitigation as a climate change adaptation strategy, which has been disseminated at the Conference this week; and
  4. Building capacity in disaster risk management – ESCAP has already developed capacities across the region to make better use of space applications, including remote sensing. Another example has been ESCAP’s work to help build the institutional capacity of National Disaster Management Authorities to establish geo-portals that integrate disaggregated socioeconomic information with geospatial data (overlaying GIS data on satellite images). We will be working closely with our Pacific SIDS to strengthen and support early warning systems as well as damage and loss assessment functions.

ESCAP will also be recommending to our member States, the creation of a subregional fund to provide technical expertise in the areas of disaster risk management and to create a technical group on climate financing support mechanisms.

3. Regional Connectivity for the Pacific

Connectivity of the Pacific SIDS must be nurtured by developing the maritime transport and ICT sectors. Connectivity promotes economic and trade diversification, holds greater promise for attracting investment flows, and builds a more inclusive and resilient society.

Given our strengths in helping member States to drive intergovernmental processes, ESCAP plans renewed deliberations on a new approach to regional connectivity, which emphasizes promoting integrated connectivity of transport, ICT, energy and people to people networks. What ESCAP is advocating is an approach which views connectivity as a shared regional public good.

We also welcome the Pacific’s initiative to take a more integrated approach to connectivity by convening the Regional Meeting of Pacific Ministers of Energy and Transport – which met for the second time in April.

Maritime Transport Connectivity

Over the last year, ESCAP has been working with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) to conduct subregional consultations on maritime shipping and logistics. We plan further work to identify effective strategies to secure regular, reliable and affordable inter-island shipping services, and to offer our capacity-building and advisory facilities.

Also critical for transport connectivity will be an enabling environment to attract greater private sector involvement. In this context, it is encouraging to recognize:

  1. The Pacific Regional Transport Ministers’ Resolution to consolidate three regional maritime associations (Pacific Islands Maritime Association, Pacific International Maritime Law Association and Pacific Maritime Transport Alliance) into a Pacific Islands maritime conference (PIMC) as a fully integrated maritime entity to assist the maritime sector to meet its priorities in a more coordination fashion;
  2. The Pacific Regional Transport (Aviation and Maritime) officials meeting held prior to the ministers’ meeting, which underscored the need for regional harmonization of legislation and standards, as well as the establishment of new process for setting priorities;
  3. The efforts by the CROP (Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific) agencies to improve data, safety, efficiency and economic viability, affordability and accessibility; and
  4. The improvement of operational efficiency in current vessels and related infrastructure, including port design and feeder transport networks.

ICT Connectivity

Faster, cheaper, reliable internet connections will help the Pacific to overcome its geographical remoteness by bridging the gap that separates the subregion from regional and global prosperity. Unfortunately, the Pacific remains the most ICT disconnected region in the world. Less than 10% of Pacific people have broadband access, compared to more than 100% in advanced countries and 17% in the rest of developing Asia-Pacific. Countries in the Pacific are also consistently ranked lower than all other island developing countries in the world, as measured by the ICT development index of ITU.

ESCAP has been working to address these issues. In partnership with ITU, we started to map fibre optic infrastructure connectivity in Asia-Pacific. Our online, interactive map is the first to feature seamless terrestrial and submarine backbone networks, as well as cross-country connections on a single consolidated platform. For the Pacific SIDS the map shows the national terrestrial backbone for PNG as well as submarine cable connections to the international backbone, and among the islands as well.

An in-depth study that examines the prerequisites for faster, cheaper, reliable internet connections in the Pacific is long overdue, and will also require proper resourcing. Such a study is needed to explore hard and soft infrastructure needs of the Pacific, especially the PPP opportunities, and the right balance between competition and regulatory intervention in small economies. Good practices and lessons from within the Pacific and also from other small islands states need to be shared. Opportunities for regional cooperation in ICT should be identified and developed into viable modalities. The study may further examine ways of enhancing Pacific ICT connectivity with the rest of Asia – through the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway Initiative led by ESCAP.

4. Regional Commons – the Ocean

Your stewardship of our greatest natural endowment, the ocean, as encapsulated in the Palau Declaration, is impressive. Oceans have tremendous value not only for your economies and peoples, but are also global common goods which are now exposed to both internal and external threats.

The emergence of a dedicated SDG on oceans, as proposed in the Palau Declaration, is an achievement for regional solidarity, and the umbrella integrated and mixed management approach to conserve and secure oceans is also timely.

In terms of a resolution adopted by our member States, ESCAP submitted a set of proposals for supporting the sustainable management of oceans and seas for sustainable development and poverty. Consistent with the Palau framework and your call to action, ESCAP will also support subregional coherence in policy approaches on the sustainable management of oceans and seas. We will extend support in the intergovernmental process for balancing the various dimensions of sustainable development, and setting up the National Strategy for Development of Statistics and opportunities for the use of SEEA frameworks to monitor the oceans and ecosystem.

In parallel, as requested by the leaders of the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, a report on fisheries management has proposed the need for enhancing regional solidarity and improving governance and management of fisheries to take advantage of the benefits from these valuable resources.

5. Social Inclusion: Pacific Prosperity for All

We know that, despite some achievements in meeting the MDGs in the Pacific, reducing hardships remains the biggest challenge. ESCAP’s estimates suggest that inequality in the Pacific remains higher than in any other Asia-Pacific subregion except South and South-West Asia , with public expenditure on social protection systems amongst the lowest in the region (on average not exceeding 2% of GDP).

Health, gender equality, ageing, disability and youth issues are all key priorities for the work ESCAP has been doing with our Pacific partners – and it is encouraging to see the consensus that has emerged in the SAMOA Pathway on so many of these issues.

ESCAP works to strengthen regional cooperation and enhance government capacity to design and implement policy measures that, for example, empower and protect the rights of older persons and people with disabilities in the Pacific. We work closely with the Pacific Disability Forum, which has been instrumental in raising the political profile of disability issues and the adoption of the Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability 2010-2015. We are also cooperating with other United Nations agencies in an in-depth study to assess the costs of gender inequalities in the Pacific, this will strengthen the evidence for advocating for changes in laws, policies and budgetary allocations.

6. Better Pacific Data and Statistics

For many SIDS, gaps in the scope and quality of data related to sustainable development pose major challenges, which also hinders the ability of the regional commissions to ensure effective monitoring and accountability.

For example, a quick scan of ESCAPs databases shows that of the 169 proposed SDG targets, indicators could be produced for only about 36 in the Pacific at the present – about 21% of the total targets. This indicates that a great deal of work remains to identify potential data sources and to ensure their comparability and general measurements where data gaps exist. Numerous issues exist as to why global data sources often do not comprehensively include information that may be collected by National Statistical Systems in the Pacific. These reasons may involve a lack of knowledge of its existence, brought about by a lack of involvement in the data production, or issues relating to methodology and comparability.

In order to move forward, a proper assessment of why gaps between global data sources and national statistical system databases currently exist needs to take place for SIDS. Furthermore, this assessment should also include the reason why discrepancies between these alternative sources are also occurring at times, with a plan on how best reconciliation can be achieved. Finalization of a global list of indicators which should be produced for monitoring SDG progress, exploring new approaches through the use of big data sources, would then be required. Identification of those indicators which still don’t exist from any source would then need to be identified, with a plan developed on how these gaps may be met. Consideration should also be given to the relevance of these indicators to the SIDS community.

ESCAP has a key role to play in the overall success of this strategy in two key areas:

  • Being tasked with the role of monitoring and accountability of progress towards SDGs for the Asia Pacific region, ESCAP is well placed to support and facilitate the dialogue between all key partners; and
  • In close collaboration with other key agencies involved in institutional strengthening (such as SPC), ESCAP will continue to help member States to build on the national statistical systems ability to meet the requirements of producing the SDG monitoring indicators.

In line with the call in the SAMOA Pathway for United Nations support in improving Pacific data collection and analysis, I will therefore be strengthening our ESCAP Statistics Division and our Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP) to provide better support to the SIDS in, amongst others, Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS), gender valuation, and the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA).

7. Pacific Trade Integration

ESCAP has a long tradition of trade integration, promotion and deliberation with the private sector on issues of regional and subregional sustainable development.

We know that, in terms of participation in preferential trade agreements (PTAs), our Pacific member States are less integrated than those in the rest of Asia, and although major export markets provide generous preferential access for the Pacific SIDS, the degree of trade coverage under PTAs varies significantly between Pacific economies. From 2008 to 2011, PTA coverage of exports ranged from 87% for Samoa to less than 1% in the cases of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Niue. Trade connectivity between the Pacific and other Asian subregions is also poor – with trade costs between our Pacific SIDS and ASEAN double those between SAARC and ASEAN, and nearly four times those between East Asia and ASEAN.

As part of Pacific efforts to address deeper trade integration issues, ESCAP has been able to help with the development of the Micronesian Trade Committee Treaty Initiative, and our event today will see the official signing of the treaty. In connection with the implementation of the treaty, ESCAP will be collaborating with other development partners to help formulate a trade-led development strategy.

We are also exploring the possibility of creating an interface between the Pacific Island Country Trade Agreement (PICTA) and the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA). In partnership with the Pacific Forum Secretariat we have shared with Pacific stakeholders ESCAP’s work on trade facilitation and paperless trade.

Conclusion

I began our conversation this morning by emphasizing the importance of acting on commitments. My undertaking to you is that ESCAP is more committed than ever before to sustainable development of the SIDS – and we are already acting to improve our support and our delivery to Pacific member States.

Delivering on these commitments will, of course, require very substantive resources and I look forward to working with our development partners to ensure this delivery.

I thank you again for the very strong relationship that ESCAP enjoys with all of your Governments, and I look forward to our discussions, today and in the future, about securing the sustainable, inclusive and resilient Pacific we all want.

I thank you.