Climate Change & Covid – Challenges & Collaboration

The Second Virtual Islands Summit is well underway and is proving even more successful than the first in 2019.

Hosted by Island Innovation the Virtual Summit brings together digitally a variety of speakers from across the world with the focus on Islands.

‘Islands Collaboration and Planning for the Future‘ was the topic for an online presentation and discussion on Wednesday 9th of September.

Contributions came from Neville Aquilina, Malta Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Stuart Minchin of The Pacific Community, Ovais Sarmand of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat and Paul Wheelhouse Minister of the Islands in the Scottish Government. It was ably chaired by Celeste Connors , Hawaii Green Growth, who also posed questions to the speakers.

Although each speaker covered different topics and related practical examples from their own organisations or states, there were strong overarching links.

There is no part of the world unaffected today by the public health crisis of Covid19. Many island states have been profoundly impacted with restrictions on travel resulting in the loss of the tourist industry and more worryingly – the food supply chain.

The UN’s Ovais Sarmand, referring to Covid19 as the greatest global challenge since the Second World War, also reminded us that we are in the midst of another more profound emergency. He said that ‘climate change remains humanity’s biggest challenge.’

He stressed the importance of countries working together as an international community which he termed ‘inclusive multilateralism’, to be successful in both the challenges of the Covid pandemic and in taking action to limit Climate Change.

‘Nations cannot put this off’, he said. And that countries must ‘integrate Covid recovery into climate change’ strategies for a more sustainable future. He urged nations to seize this moment for transformational change through science based solutions with international co-operation.

The theme of collaboration wove its way also through the input from Malta, the Pacific communities and Scotland. The sharing of knowledge, the transfer of knowledge and looking at best practice across islands creating an enabling environment to tackle both the Covid pandemic and Climate Change.

Malta’s Neville Aquilina, said that this was a time for solidarity and that there should be universal access to any future Covid vaccines. He pointed out that the pandemic had accented existing inequalities across society and throughout the world.

‘Island nations don’t want to be seen as victims,’ said Dr Stuart Minchin of The Pacific Community, ‘but they do have limits to capacity building’ which his organisation is able to provide.

He presented two examples of success in the Pacific region 1. in fisheries, 2. PPE, Covid Response

60% of the world’s tuna is found in the area served by The Pacific Community. This is an extremely valuable food and economic source – $500million worth.

Using science and working with the islands of the region the West Pacific is now the largest and most sustainable tuna fishery in the world.

The Pacific region was also quick to respond to the threat of the Covid pandemic with border closures and the lockdown of airports. This was devastating to the tourism sector which many of the islands rely upon but it is the least impacted region of the world for the virus. The border closures created the problem of getting PPE and Testing kits out to islands . In response a Joint Incident Management team was set up and a Pacific Humanitarian Pathway was developed to allow the flow of these vital materials. TB testing kits which were already in use were re-purposed and the design used for a Covid testing kit.

The theme of collaboration and consultation was developed further in the Scottish dimension by Paul Wheelhouse, Islands Minister in the Scottish Government. The National Islands Plan was published on 27th of December 2019 and is neither the end of a process nor the start. Developing from Our Islands Our Future, then the Islands Scotland Act 2018, The Plan is a working document. It includes the assessment procedure termed ‘Island Proofing’ which although not yet in force, organisations are expected to be operating in the spirit of it.

Paul Wheelhouse described the Islands Plan as an opportunity for robust and meaningful development and his personal determination to see it make real change. A Human Rights thread runs through the Plan and there is a key focus on Young People. As a result a Young Islanders Network is developed for they are the ones who will eventually be the ‘key actors in driving forward change.’

The National Islands Plan in Scotland includes powers which can be used by 6 local authorities should they so choose to do so. Paul Wheelhouse said that it will be interesting to see how the local authorities use the powers within the Act which recognises the importance on the islands of Scotland.

This session illustrated the importance of the sharing of ideas, knowledge and experience in island communities and how it can all be done digitally – with zero emissions. We face global challenges – Covid and Climate Change – low lying islands and coastal areas will be the first areas seriously affected by the latter. Islands are also places where the solutions are – and to do this the sharing of ideas and knowledge is the way forward.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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