Madam Speaker, I would like to update this honourable House on my attendance and participation at the recent United Nations Ocean Conference, which took place at UN Headquarters in New York between 5th and 9th June.
The purpose of the conference was to catalyse support for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which calls for the conservation and management of the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development.
Madam Speaker, the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs as they are called, are 17 universal goals for humanity, agreed by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. The aims of the goals are to reduce poverty, increase prosperity and preserve the environment by 2030. This are also referred to as the 2030 Development Agenda.
I was accompanied and ably assisted by Mr. Benito Wheatley, our London Office Director and UK and EU Representative. His expert knowledge of the UN system was essential to our participation.
As the BVI delegation, we attended in the territory’s own right as an Associate Member of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
The conference provided a meaningful forum in which to engage internationally on the central issue of the sustainability of the Oceans, but also other related issues such as climate change and biodiversity that are key to the health of our planet and the well-being of all in it. The participation of microstates such as the BVI was essential as the UN and partners around the world are grappling with how to address a number of challenges which we ourselves face as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) and microstate. As we are among the most vulnerable societies, our input is essential on issues such as marine sustainability, climate change and biodiversity.
One of the biggest challenges Madam Speaker, is the ability of islands and small countries that are large Oceans states to govern their marine space with limited resources. It is clear that partnerships, technical assistance and other measures will be key to addressing this challenge.
Madam Speaker, toward this end we made a contribution to the General Debate of the conference in plenary where we set out the BVI’s position on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14. We highlighted how important the Sea is to us as a people who for many years depended on our waters for a livelihood. We also pointed out that today we are even more so an Ocean-based economy as one of the premier yachting capitals of the world.
It is important to point out Madam Speaker, that the leisure of our tourists who enjoy sailing in our waters does have an impact on our marine environment that cannot be ignored. Thus the levy not long ago approved in this House was essential to capture additional resources to address the impact of the tourism sector on the marine and terrestrial environment.
Madam Speaker, we also called on the United Nations to provide Overseas Countries and Territories that are Associate Members of the UN’s regional commissions with technical assistance from across the United Nations system in order for them to effectively implement the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This is only a reasonable request Madam Speaker.
If these goals are to be truly universal, then every country, every territory and all people around the world must be given every opportunity to implement them for the betterment of their societies, including Overseas Countries and Territories.
Madam Speaker, at the same time we did acknowledge the commitment of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean to include the BVI as one of the countries it will provide direct support to for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, this did not happen just by chance. It came after much lobbying regionally and internationally for UN support for territories such as BVI. At the Third International Conference on Small Islands Developing States in Apia, Samoa in 2014 we raised this issue on behalf of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) which the Premier chaired at the time. We subsequently went as far as Santiago, Chile to ECLAC Headquarters where we made our case to the Executive Secretary Ms. Alicia Barcena. Even earlier than this at a UN Symposium on SIDS in the Bahamas we again raised the issue with senior UN officials in attendance.
Madam Speaker, if we do not make our voices heard at these international forums, no doors will open up for us. We are living in a time when there is a less and less support for Overseas Countries and Territories from traditional sources such as the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU). Political shifts in the UK and Brexit may very well cut this support off sooner than expected. So, it is imperative that we open new doors. We cannot do so without engaging the wider world.
We are pleased that all of our lobbying of the UN is paying off with commitments from ECLAC.
Separately, Madam Speaker, we made a statement during the Ocean Conference’s partnership dialogue on making fisheries sustainable. In it, we highlighted the importance of ensuring sports fishing is done sustainably. We mentioned the importance of sports fishing here at home and our keen interest in ensuring we are meeting best practices in the sector.
Madam Speaker, also while at the Ocean Conference in New York, we participated in the side-events of the Global Islands Partnership (GLISPA) to help raise the profile of islands at the conference and to advocate for their sustainability. The BVI is one of the co-Chairs of GLISPA, which provides us with a platform to raise our voice internationally on relevant matters, and which partners us with other island societies from the Pacific, Indian Ocean and the Caribbean. This alliance puts us at the forefront of advocacy for Small Island Developing States.
Along with our fellow co-Chairs Palau, Seychelles, Grenada, we co-sponsored two side-events at UN Headquarters that included senior UN officials and saw attendance from many conference delegates. The President of the UN General Assembly, His Excellency Mr. Peter Thomson, attended our latter event in a show of support for GLISPA’s efforts. He is very familiar with the BVI having spent some of his youthful years here.
Madam Speaker, we used the side-events to remind our international partners and friends that islands will suffer the most from climate change and sea-level rise and that it is only by maintaining a common front that we will get the attention of the world to address our concerns.
It is important that we stand in solidarity with other islands on the common challenges. It is a big world and we need each other to make a difference. We can also learn from each other’s experiences in sustainable development.
Madam Speaker, I close by saying it is my honour to represent this Territory as the Minister responsible for environment and to raise our voice when I can so that our interests are heard loud and clear.