SIDS New Emerging Issues meeting, UN DESA

On 14-16 May 2013, in Cambridge, United Kingdom, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) co-hosted an expert group meeting on “Emerging Issues in Small Islands Developing States.” 

cambridgeegmcamuk.jpg Photo: CEESP

The meeting was held in the midst of the UNEP-initiated “Foresight” process, which uses a methodology originally designed to identify new issues in environmental science. CEESP's Regional Vice-Chair for Oceania, Faustina Rehuher-Marugg attended.

Because of this context, the meeting was initially organized with the environment discussion separate from the socio-economic discussion, with one short exchange on inter-linkages between them. However, over the course of the meeting it was often difficult to make clear distinctions between the environmental issues and the socio-economic issues, and so while UNEP and DESA have developed separate lists of environmental and socio-economic emerging issues respectively, many of the social and economic issues have strong environmental components and vice versa. The experience of the expert group meeting is inspiring DESA and UNEP to explore a more integrated approach to identifying and refining emerging issues in the future, with great potential benefits for the advancement of holistic sustainable development in SIDS and beyond.

In 2011 UNEP carried out a rigorous Foresight Process to identify and rank the most important emerging environmental issues. The outcomes of the process were released in a report in 2012: 21 Issues for the 21st Century: Results of the UNEP Foresight Process on Emerging Environmental Issues. The report was widely circulated within and outside the UN system in the run-up to Rio +20 and at Rio +20, and has stimulated lively discussion about priorities for policy action.

At the heart of the 2011 Process was a Foresight Panel consisting of distinguished scientists from around the world. But would the list of emerging issues be the same if it was produced by experts from Small Island Developing States (SIDS)? Would the distinctive perspective of the SIDS provide new insights to policymakers? To answer these questions, UNEP recently launched a unique new Foresight Process to identify and prioritize global emerging environmental and sustainability issues from the perspective of the SIDS. The process will provide a significant new avenue for incorporating the viewpoints of the SIDS in global sustainability policymaking. It will also be a UNEP contribution to the preparation of the Third International Conference on SIDS in 2014, of which one of the four thematic foci is “Identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of small island developing States and ways and means to address them, including through the strengthening of collaborative partnerships between small island developing States and the international community”. The output of the process will also inform the UN community, policymakers and other stakeholders in general about critical emerging sustainability issues that require immediate and/or adequate attention.

In the first step in the SIDS Foresight Process, UNEP solicited initial ideas on emerging issues in SIDS from experts in the three SIDS regions (Pacific, Caribbean, and Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea). The SIDS Foresight Panel was established, comprising of ten experts from the three SIDS regions and whose expertise covering various aspects of the environment in the SIDS and its linkage with sustainable development. This was followed by the SIDS Foresight Panel meeting in May 2013 in Cambridge, UK, which brought together Panel members and UNEP experts to refine the preliminary list of emerging issues in SIDS. In the Foresight Panel meeting in May 2013, there were joint sessions organised with the DESA-organised Expert Group Meeting on the emerging issues with focus on socio-economic aspects of SIDS sustainable development. In these joint session discussions were developed on the interlinkages of the identified environmental issues and the socio-economic issues.

An emerging issue is an issue that is:

  • Critical to achieving sustainable development (positive or negative) in many parts of the world.
  • Could be related to any of the three pillars of sustainability – environment, social and economic but should have particular relevance to the global environment.
  • Recognized as very important by the SIDS, but has not yet received adequate attention from the policy community. Hence it is considered an "emerging issue" from the vantage point of the policy community and requires immediate and/or adequate policy attention. The definitions of very important and adequate attention are left open to participants in the process.
  • Evidence-based, including scientific and traditional sources of knowledge.
  • Recognised as ‘emerging’ based on newness, which can be the result of new knowledge; new scales or accelerated rates of impact; or a heightened level of awareness.

Twenty-two Emerging Environmental Issues include the following:

Invasive Alien Species; Irreversible Loss of Tropical Montane Cloud Forest; Coastal Squeeze: Coastal Deforestation and Loss of Ecosystem Services; Pacific Deep-sea Minerals Mining and Associated Risks; Disproportionate Impact of Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise in SIDS; Intensification of Extreme Events and External Shocks and Increasing Vulnerability of SIDS; Accelerated Beach and Coastal Erosion and Breakdown in the Sand and Sediment Budget; Accelerating Decline of Ecosystem Functions Affecting Food and livelihood Security; Energy Dependency and the Need to Develop Renewable Energy Resources; Increasing Degradation and Scarcity of Water Resources; Reaching the Limit of Land Capacity; Waste for Resources; Indiscriminate and Increasing Use of Pesticides; Synergizing Local, Traditional and Modern Science as a Basis for Sustainable Island Development; Developing an Ocean-based Blue-Green Economy; Overfishing and Potential Collapse of Inshore Marine Ecosystems; Unique Human Capacities for Island Sustainability; Climate and Environmental Change Driving Population Displacements; Exploring the Potential of Unexploited Natural Resources in SIDS; Global Contaminants Affecting SIDS; Impending Agro-ecosystem Breakdown and Loss of Agrobiodiversity; Beyond GDP- Appropriate Indicators for SIDS Sustainable Development2

Fifteen Socio-economic issues include the following:

Need to diversify SIDS economies; Innovative approaches to debt relief; Shoring up traditional local and indigenous knowledge; Reinforcing social cohesion; Rediscovering opportunities for youth; New challenges in gender; Health challenges in SIDS; Preserving an authentic cultural heritage and identity; Making tourism sustainable; Climate and economic drivers of migration;
The future of food security in SIDS; Freshwater management for the 21st century; Need for enhanced disaster preparedness; Economic and social impact of climate change; Diminishing resources for development financing.

Planning regional meetings will take place this year in preparation for the 3rd International Conference on SIDS in 2014.

Work area: 
Social Policy
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