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By Desmond Brown

TORTOLA, British Virgin Islands, Jun 23 2017, (IDN) – On the heels of the UN Ocean Conference held in New York between June 5 and 9, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – a tiny British overseas territory – is highlighting the common challenges faced by islands as it calls on international partners to support the efforts of islands to address their unique challenges.

As co-Chair of the Global Islands Partnership (GLISPA), the British Virgin Islands has been at the forefront of United Nations efforts to raise awareness about the challenges faced by islands.

“I take great pride as a GLISPA leader in lending my voice to the cause of islands and the sustainability of the ocean in which islands must exist,” Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources & Labour Dr. Kedrick Pickering told IDN.

“Islands and the ocean are inextricably linked. This is not only a geological fact, but also a social and economic reality for the people who inhabit islands and have developed a whole way of life around the sea. They are the great inheritors and stewards of a rich environmental heritage.”

Urging the international community not to forget the vulnerability of islands and their people and the fragility of their ecosystems which are havens of biodiversity, Pickering warns that “threats to islands are real”, listing climate change, stronger storms, sea level rise, coastal erosion and marine biodiversity loss as phenomena that “post a high risk” to island communities.

“Let us remember that most inhabited islands are largely made up of coastal communities that are vulnerable to storm surges and tsunamis,” he says. “Thus, we can understand why the UN Sustainable Development Goal calling for conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources (SDG 14) carries so much importance for islands, particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDS).”

At the Ocean Conference, the BVI co-sponsored a high-level reception attended by the President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson of Fiji, and senior UN officials who pledged their support for SIDS. They also congratulated GLISPA for its leadership role on island issues.

Commenting on BVI’s leadership role in GLISPA at the Ocean Conference, Pickering said: “We were pleased to do our part as one of the leaders of GLISPA to raise the profile of islands and highlight their challenges.  This is important as the BVI too is affected by the same issues and need partnerships and cooperation to address them.  The level and calibre of attendance demonstrates that by working together the international community is hearing our voice.”

GLISPA is all about advocating for the sustainability of islands and mobilising support regionally and internationally for this purpose. It allows islands and those interested in islands to share best practices and find innovative solutions for solving problems.

Pickering noted that the British Virgin Islands is doing its part to raise the profile of islands and to promote their sustainability.

“That is why we are a part of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative spearheaded by business tycoon Sir Richard Branson and former president of Costa Rica José María Figueres Olsen and current president of the Carbon War Room. Out of the challenge we have protected sharks and rays,” he said.

The Carbon War Room is an international non-governmental organisation and think tank working on issues regarding market-based solutions to climate change.

“We are also promoting the conservation of marine biodiversity in Europe via the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) … [and] … we are also working with the Commonwealth on an oceans policy that will serve as the basis for the governance and management of our marine space,” continued Pickering.

“There is not a Pacific Ocean or Atlantic Ocean or an Indian Ocean,” he stressed. “In reality, there is just one Ocean. One Ocean that we all share, which binds us together. What impacts islands in one place will eventually affect islands in another place.  Let us work together to preserve our islands and the Ocean for generations to come and be a beacon of sustainability for the rest of the world.”

Commenting on the high-level UN Ocean Conference, Milton Haughton, executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), said that “the CARICOM delegation used the opportunity to showcase the region’s policies and activities aimed at balancing food security and sustainable livelihoods with the need to protect and preserve the oceans and seas and their biodiversity.

According to conference organizers, the event served as a game-changer that will reverse the decline in the health of oceans for people, planet and prosperity.

A key area of focus was on furthering efforts to make fisheries sustainable.  The Caribbean helps to meet the global demand for fish, on which more than three billion people rely for animal protein, while 300 million people globally rely on marine fisheries for their livelihoods.

During the Oceans Conference, CRFM also supported a series of side events, including one led by the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), focused on harnessing the ‘blue economy’ to increase economic benefits for SIDS and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), which include member states of the CRFM.

Haughton shared regional perspectives at the ACP event, which provided a forum for a high-level exchange of views on ongoing blue growth initiatives in ACP countries.

“The forum also provided an opportunity for the sharing of best practices and the engagement of partners to secure blue growth momentum,” Haughton said.

“Ultimately, the aim was to work towards the achievement of SDG 14, Target 7. This envisions that by 2030, there will be an increase in economic benefits to SIDS and LDCs from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 June 2017]

Photo: Deputy Premier of the British Virgin Island, Dr. Kedrick Pickering (left), with President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson (centre), and Director of the BVI London Office, Benito Wheatley (right). Credit: Desmond Brown

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