H.E. Mr. Bailey Olter

at the Global Conference on the
Sustainable Development of Small-Island Developing States


Mr. President, distinguished Heads of State and Heads of Government, Ministers, Delegates, friends:

I am pleased, once again to address the United Nations community on my favorite subject – the sustainable development of small-island developing states. Quite honestly, had I suggested to my people a few years ago that a world conference devoted exclusively to island development would occur, I would have been considered a dreamer. Even when the idea of such a conference emerged in Agenda 21, I hesitated to count on it.

But here we are, for once not just a small voice among many, but the first specific group to receive attention in the Rio follow-up. There are a great many who deserve our thanks for this historic opportunity. Certainly, our host country, Barbados, must head the list. Many others also have worked long and hard, but if I may be forgiven for mentioning only one country here, the Republic of Vanuatu and its delegation to the United Nations stands out. Had they not devoted themselves so unstintingly and so brilliantly to the cause of small-island states, this Conference very well might not have taken place.

And so, Mr. President, it is now incumbent upon us all to reward the efforts of those who brought us here by making this Conference a true beginning, not just for small-island states, but for people everywhere, North and South, who expressed their hopes for future generations in the Rio Declaration.

In my view, the starting point for examining the development needs of small-island states, as with all developing countries, is the Right to Development – a principle that has finally taken its place with other basic human rights. Another focal point is the concept of Frontline States, for just as small-island states are in the frontline of those exposed to adverse consequences of global climate change, the World’s awakening interest in ocean resources calls for early attention to the pressing developmental vulnerabilities of the oceans’ island peoples.

But while no one denies the Right to Develop, and though a frontline situation focuses priority attention, we do not seek aid in the old context of donor-donee relationships. Thus, to find the proper application of these and other principles for Small-Island Developing States in the Rio context, we turn to our theme today – Partnerships.

The term, “Partnership” can have many meanings. Here at Barbados, we are speaking of partnership in the best sense, that is, of people working together in a common enterprise, where all stand to benefit by its success. In fact, the existence of our common interest is what makes the partnership. This kind of partnership cannot be forced, or created simply by agreement.

We also have in mind a great network of such partnerships – some large, some small, some highly focused and specific, some quite diffuse. In other words, we are talking about a good deal more than seeking out aid donors and calling them “partners.”

In asking ourselves how to forge these partnerships for sustainable development, it occurs to me that thinking of sustainable development as our ultimate goal is not enough. This may appear to be an odd statement, since everyone knows that sustainable development alone is a big challenge. The human, technical, financial and political complexities of sustainable development are staggering. One hundred twenty delegations have spent the last two weeks here in a massive effort to finalize a program of action that is a comprehensive guide to the sustainable development of small-island developing states.

Make no mistake, that has been an indispensable exercise, for which I congratulate and thank all who have worked so hard. But as demanding as it has been, I respectfully submit that this has been the easy part. Similarly, implementing the Program of Action will involve much effort , but there is no doubt it can be done. But if development is pursued as our only goal, I believe that we will not honor fully the extraordinary opportunities which have recently been created for us. Partnership participation in the sustainable development movement will require our going further, and giving thought to the deeper quality of life – the kind of world we want to have for ourselves and future generations.

I would like to suggest that the highest role for our partnerships So sustainable development is not only to provide settings far cooperation, but rather to promote a many-faceted dialogue through which small-island states can both define their rightful place in the society of mankind, and make their best contribution in pursuing the broader goals of that society. That contribution includes participating in the great effort that occupies the World’s mind today – the redefinition of its visions for a new millennium.

It is clear the industrialized counties have seen that human society as we have known it needs redefinition. If that were not the case, we would not be here today. In Rio, we all joined to pursue a new agenda for the 21st century, charting new courses for development, to be sure, but also addressing for the first time in a focused way the nature of what we came to call the “New World Order.” Rio was a splendid start, but now it is incumbent on us, in partnership, to continue the work of definition.

Recently the industrialized countries have generously cooperated in opening up several new avenues of opportunity for SlDS to help define the new development goals. For example, at the last meeting of the INC for the Climate Change Convention, it was recognized that small-island states should sit on the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties. Even in the restructured GEF, the role of island states on the new Governing Council is receiving close attention. Positions such as these give us an opportunity not only to receive foreign aid, but to participate in shaping its goals both for ourselves and for the industrialized world as well. These are the kinds of partnerships of which I speak.

We island countries would not be matching the confidence placed in us if we merely set our sights on the old industrialized model, rather than helping to craft a new vision for the future. I do not criticize the industrialized model, but even in the North there is now a strong focus within intellectual circles on questions such se the future concept of work, play, art and human enrichment, much of It pointing toward a revival of older cultural values.

So, as we forge new partnerships let us certainly work together to make a sustainable world, but in doing so, let us also be sure to reflect upon our. own historical and cultural traditions and try to incorporate those elements which, in the past, enabled the inhabitants of small islands to live sustainably without the benefits of Western society. It may just be that islanders have mote to contribute than we realize.

Mr. President, we will always be deeply grateful to you and the people of Barbados for this Conference. Thank you.