Island Leaders Discuss Climate Solutions and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

DALLAS, May 5, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — The Island Resilience Forum at Earthx2020 convened heads of state, diplomats, researchers, poets and activists from around the world to engage in meaningful dialogue illustrating the link between public health and climate-driven issues in island communities. The conference, held in partnership with the National Geographic Society, commemorated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and was transformed into a virtual experience held around the world.

In its second year, the Island Resilience Forum’s shift to a virtual format at EarthX underscored the urgency of its mission in the midst of a global pandemic. Despite being separated by thousands of miles, climate change challenges and solutions resonated from islands across the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. The forum was attended by the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga, Prime Minister of Sint Maarten, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister of Curacao, the Premier of Anguilla, and several United Nations Ambassadors and high-ranking island leaders who discussed solutions and challenges for addressing the climate crisis and coronavirus.

Conversations throughout the day focused on how island nations organize and share information to achieve long term environmental goals set by the UN. “The Island Resilience Forum is an action-oriented event that is designed to help island communities achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through the creation of partnerships,” said Matt Tranchin, Executive Director of the Island Resilience Partnership and President of March for Science, who kicked off the day-long conference on Saturday morning in his opening remarks.

Leaders from the Kingdom of Tonga to Anguilla announced new partnerships over the course of the forum. Collaboration was a strong theme, from public-private partnerships and the works of NGOs, to ongoing regional partnerships that bring islands together for dialogue and action. Signature event partner, GridMarket, was showcased in several panels that demonstrated how its innovative platform and marketplace were helping islands achieve their energy and carbon goals.

Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa announced Tonga’s partnership with GridMarket to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. GridMarket, a US-based artificial intelligence company, works with countries around the world to develop economies-of-scale national energy transitions with secured financing to achieve climate goals, strengthen infrastructure resilience, and lower the cost of energy for governments and consumers. “If there is one thing that we lack in the battle against climate change, it is ‘time,'” said Nick Davis, CEO of GridMarket. “So, any partnership that helps accelerate the speed and scale of this global transition is a partnership that’s really worth taking on. We hope other island nations will join our coalition.” GridMarket and the Island Resilience Partnership are already working with the Independent State of Samoa and the Republic of Palau on similar initiatives, with GridMarket’s digital platform enabling progress even while travel and in-person collaboration are prevented by COVID-19.

Premier Victor Banks announced Anguilla’s collaboration with March for Science, the Island Resilience Partnership, and Thoughtful Digital Agency to replicate, a new Anguillan digital platform that centralizes information on COVID-19 news and updates for the public. The comprehensive website incorporates all relevant ministries, effectively bridging the gap between what the government knows and the relevant information that the public needs.  “It’s a collaborative effort in the region and we are always looking out for things we can prepare ourselves for,” Premier Banks said in a morning session. “As soon as we recognized the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we needed to put things in motion.”

As island nations drive climate goals forward, they face unique challenges in the immediate response to COVID-19 and its economic impact on communities. “If this isn’t a wakeup call for humanity, I don’t know what is,” said Taholo Kami, Special Representative for Oceans for Fiji. Fiji is among the Pacific islands recovering from Cyclone Harold, an effort complicated by a pandemic that limits access to aid. “This is the time for the big conversations, while the world is sitting in our living rooms,” he said. Many of the islands shared pressing challenges tied to the loss of tourism, access to healthcare, and the threat to food security.

Leaders addressed initiatives in networks around the world, including the Global Island Partnership’s (GLISPA) work to create sustainable island communities. One session focused on the work of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to advocate for small islands on climate action and the health needs of the most vulnerable. Dr. Al Binger, Secretary General of SIDS-DOCK, addressed his organization’s effort to create awareness around climate change to small island developing states, while developing scalable solutions.

Some regional groups shared how islands are pooling together to combat global warming. UN Ambassador Samuelu Laloniu of Tuvalu explained how the Pacific Island Forum, established in 1971, created a platform for 18 independent government territories, including Australia and New Zealand, to have more influence collectively. “To have 18 self-governing territories speaking as one voice gives us a lot of power,” he said. “We have always called for 1.5 or less degrees. We are living the impacts of climate change in our region. That’s the message.”

Other sessions focused on how data is informing decision making on climate-driven policy. The Global Health Security Index, released in the fall of 2019, assessed 195 countries’ health and security capability. “There’s a lot of power in data. Understanding challenges is powerful to understand solutions,” said Priya Bapat, a project manager for the Economist Intelligence Unit that helped spearhead the GHS Index.

After a day of impactful programming led by the Island Resilience Forum’s expert moderators, the message was clear: though much is left to be done in the effort to combat climate change, island nations draw from collective strength. Moderator Danni Washington captured the sentiment of the programming, “I vote that we change the name from small island nations to mighty island nations.”