Empowering Small Island Nations and Ocean States

7 June 2024 | By: Newcastle University | 2 min read
Commitments from the SIDS Global Children & Youth Action Summit

A delegation from across Newcastle University recently attended the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Antigua and Barbuda.

Dr Andrea Wilkinson, International Relations and Partnership Manager and Researcher on Small Island Developing States, Trade and Natural Disasters, reflects on the main themes of the conference and the continued importance of working together with SIDS nations to help build global climate resilience and to protect our oceans for future generations.

Amplifying collective voices

I was lucky to join fellow Newcastle University colleagues and leaders from around the world at the United Nations fourth Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in Antigua and Barbuda 27-30 May 2024. Held once every decade, it’s a momentous occasion bringing together leaders from the UN’s 39 independent States and 18 Associate Members, regional commissions and experts from business, academia and civil society, with the collective aim of contributing to critical dialogues, exploring solution driven strategies and positively advancing the agenda of small island nations.

Opening Cultural Ceremony - 4th International Conference on SIDS - 27May2024 - Photo

The 4th International Conference on SIDS opens with a local cultural ceremony. Photo by IISD/ENB - Diego Noguera

The conference theme for 2024 was ‘Charting the Course Toward Resilient Prosperity’, and it served as a critical platform for highlighting the unique and enduring challenges faced by SIDS nations (also referred to as large ocean states), in steering a path towards sustainable development despite increasing global challenges. These challenges include climate change and natural disasters such as rising sea levels, extreme weather events and biodiversity loss, to economic vulnerabilities and increasingly limited resources. At the forefront of these discussions was an understanding that these challenges are often ‘faced first’ by small island nations despite their minimal contributing impact.

Prime Ministers and leaders from Barbados, Cape Verde, St. Vincent, and beyond came together to share their concerns and aspirations, calling for decisive action and tangible solutions to help safeguard the future of their communities.

As discussions unfolded, one thing became abundantly clear: the urgent need for international solidarity and global collaboration to support SIDS in their quest for enduring resilience and prosperity.

Coastal challenges are a global issue

As a university, our attendance at SIDS underscored our ongoing commitment to working collaboratively with our partners to address these challenges, to help amplify their voices on the world stage and to find practical ‘real world’ solutions. With expertise in marine science and sustainable development, and with social and environmental justice as core university values, we were honoured to be part of the dialogue.

Our Centres of Research Excellence and academic community are dedicated to addressing the unique challenges facing coastal communities both here in North East England and across the globe, from biodiversity and marine pollution, to sustainable fisheries management and coastal resilience. 

Through collaborative research projects, knowledge exchange initiatives, and capacity-building programs, we are working hand-in-hand with small island states to harness the potential of marine resources, promote sustainable livelihoods and build robust communities.

Launch of the new Centre for Excellence for Oceanography and the Blue Economy (COBE)

Richard Davies, Andrea and PVC Justin Robinson and Dr Branson Belle-1

Dr Andrea Wilkinson, Newcastle University, Prof Justin Robinson, Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of the West Indies, Prof Richard Davies, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Newcastle University and Dr Branson Belle, Director of the Centre for Excellence for Oceanography and the Blue Economy (COBE), University of the West Indies. Photo by Andrea Wilkinson.

We are particularly excited to be part of the newly established Centre for Excellence for Oceanography and the Blue Economy (COBE) based in Antigua and officially launched during the conference. This project will further deepen our partnership with institutions like the University of the West Indies, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, and the Commonwealth Secretariat. We are pleased to have been invited to partner with SIDS on their journey and our involvement is a testament to the shared commitment to learning alongside small island nations, and our collective quest for a brighter oceanic future.

As we reflect on the outcomes of the 4th UN SIDS Conference, and against the backdrop that UK Universities are increasingly under financial pressures, we must be careful not to let this distract us from continuing to work with our partners to ensure that island nations are given the opportunity to thrive and prosper and to help build a more resilient and inclusive future for all.

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Header photo credit: Photo by IISD/ENB - Diego Noguera

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