Small islands must explore the value of the "oceans economy" and develop sustainable and resilient transport systems

17 September 2014

​Small island developing States must develop resilient transport systems and look towards opportunities offered by the ocean if they are to boost their economies, a high-level side event organized by the Pacific Island Forum and UNCTAD heard during the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) on 3 September.

The event, co-chaired by UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi and the Secretary General of Pacific Island Forum and Oceans Commissioner Tuiloma Neroni Slade, heard from speakers including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Regional Integration and International Trade of Mauritius, Arvin Boolell, the Minister for Works, Transport and Infrastructure of Samoa Manualesagalala Enokati Posala, and the Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth Deodat Maharaj.

The meeting heard that most small island developing States (SIDS) are isolated, and have small populations and limited natural resources, meaning that economic diversification and connectivity are key to their development. Participants were told that both the ocean economy and resilient and sustainable transport systems are crucial to the promotion of the sustainable development of poor small islands.

The ocean economy embodies a set of economic and trade activities in the "ocean space" that integrate the conservation and sustainable use and management of living and non-living marine resources, including maritime ecosystems, fish resources and minerals in the sea bed.

"The ocean economy seeks to use sustainably untapped marine resources and seaways within the each country's Exclusive Economic Zone toward economic diversification, trade specialization and connectivity," Dr. Kituyi said. "The economic potential of marine resources and seaways is particularly strong for SIDS, because their Exclusive Economic Zones are often much bigger than their land territories."

The ocean economy is currently taking shape in the crafting and negotiation of sustainable development goals that incorporate a standalone goal focusing on oceans and seas.

Sound economic resilience requires the building of links between transport, trade and supply-side capacities. One of the main reasons for the high cost of shipping in the Pacific is that containers come back empty from most islands, Mr. Slade said.

This means that there is a need to expand productive capacity and business opportunities to fill those containers with locally grown and produced products.

"Maritime transport is the lifeline of SIDS in supporting economic performance, trade and productive sectors, such as tourism, fisheries and agriculture," Dr. Kituyi said.

Links between transport systems and tourism need to be also explored, particularly in light of the current boom in the cruise sector in the Pacific.

A related concern is the cost generated by inefficient and inadequate maritime transport fleets and infrastructure as well as the high cost of fuel. This increases operational costs and maintenance, which in turns undermines transport services.

SIDS have jurisdiction over significantly large ocean areas, with access to both living and non-living marine resources that could play a critical role in their development.

"Conceptualizations of the 'green economy' so far have tended to be land-based, but this narrow definition does not make sense for SIDS," Mr. Maharaj said.

For example, he said, the Cook Islands have an ocean/land ratio of 75, 000: 1. For Tuvalu the ratio is 28, 915: 1, and for the Maldives it is 3, 000: 1. Therefore, the greatest opportunities for the future of small island developing states lie in the ocean that surrounds them.

Mr. Boolell said that Mauritius has recently adopted an "Oceans Economy Roadmap" under the directions of the prime minister's office. The plan was the result of a wide-ranging national dialogue that sought to expand trade and economic opportunities in the "oceans space". This policy focuses on the development of oceanic sectors including seabed mining, fishing and seafood processing, aquaculture, deep-water applications, maritime and container logistic services, renewable energy and sustainable tourism.

Maritime transport is the lifeline that sustains the survival of small islands yet persistent transport-related challenges derive from their inherent features including insularity, smallness, and remoteness from commercial centers and shipping routes.

Other concerns include climate change impacts, environmental vulnerability, exposure to high fuel price volatility, and disaster risks.

Among the priorities that need to be explored by SIDS include investing in green ports linked to renewable energy, port infrastructure, and facilities resilient to climate change impacts, as well as in safer and less polluting ships.

The government of Samoa has developed a five-year national transport sector plan that defines key strategies for improving efficiency and competitiveness through partnerships with the private sector to ensure funding for transport infrastructure and maintenance while integrating environmental sustainability, climate change adaptation and energy efficiency into all transport planning, design and construction, including sea port development in Samoa.

"It is important that freight transport infrastructure and systems take into account suitability and resilience criteria at the early stage of investment and development planning," said Mr. Posala.

Related issues such as piracy; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities; safety and security measures need to be addressed and a collaborative and regional approach needs to be considered.

In the debate Executive Board Member of the Palau Chamber of Commerce Jennifer Koskelin-Gibbons, Director of Economic Development Division at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community John Hogan and Elisabeth Holland of the University of the South Pacific highlighted some of the initiatives undertaken by their countries and institutions to promote sustainable and resilient transport systems and develop oceans economy.

These included:

  • The Palau Declaration that underscores the importance and value of the ocean to the livelihood, the economy and culture of Pacific nations

  • The role of shipping commissions including the Micronesian, and Eastern Pacific Commission, in improving sustainable service delivery in the Pacific

  • The development of a network by University of the South Pacific in the region which targets research and projects aimed at promoting sustainable shipping

Mr. Slade and Dr. Kituyi closed the meeting by reiterating the support of their institutions to the small island developing states and expressed the will to forge partnership between their institutions to work on specific deliverables in the Pacific based on the discussions at the event and the priorities of the region.

These included: the development of national and regional ocean economy strategies, promoting economic diversification and trade specialisation in key sustainable sectors, linking the ocean to transport, and the development of effective maritime transport and trade facilitation options for the Pacific region.