H.E. Mr. Resio S. Moses
Secretary of External Affairs of the
Federated States of Micronesia
at the Global Conference on the
Sustainable Development of Small-Island Developing States
Barbados, 28 April 1994
It gives me great pleasure to address this historic conference on behalf of the Government and people of the Federated States of Micronesia. Ours is a developing country made up entirely of small islands and a vast expanse of the northwestern Pacific Ocean. This delegation represents a broad spectrum of our society, including our federal and state governments. We hope to contribute in some small part to the overall understanding of the situation of small-island developing countries, in context of the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21.
First, we wish to congratulate you, Mr. President, on your election to lead us in our efforts here. We also recognize and congratulate all the members of the Bureau, and pledge the total support of our delegation throughout this Conference.
We sincerely thank the countries that contributed to the voluntary fund, as well as individual contributors, without whose understanding and support we could not have come from so far away to this conference which we regard as crucial to the future generations of our people and indeed, to all peoples of the world.
We have been aware for many months that the people and Government of Barbados were heavily engaged in preparing to host this Global Conference, but even our high expectations are far exceeded by the warmth of your hospitality, Mr. President, and the beauty of your country. The name, “Barbados,” now takes on a historic new meaning and will always evoke warm feelings in our hearts.
By the time we gather here, almost two years after the Rio Earth Summit, the term, “Sustainable Development ” has become firmly embedded in all efforts directed at development all over the world. The traditionally divergent approaches of developers and environmentalists were finally merged in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. And so today, any respectable discussion, any program of assistance aimed at development, must include consideration for sustainability in measures contemplated.
Similarly, the world community now generally recognizes that small island developing states must develop with particular attention to problems that set us apart from other developing countries. This is not to say that our particular problems or disabilities are more difficult than the problems of other developing countries, but they are problems shared by a very large group of countries spanning all the oceanic regions of the world. Because our island nations collectively cover such a large part of the world’s surface, we must work together to identify our shared concerns, analyze them and design common approaches.
An additional motivation for the attention of the entire world community to the situation of small island nations is that all states, large and small, developed and developing, at last have begun to realize how closely the world’s oceans are linked with the well-being and long-term survival of mankind. The previously-unimagined fragility of oceanic eco- systems is being shown in frightening ways. Coral reef structures are being seriously damaged and in many cases destroyed. Fish stocks once thought to be inexhaustible are disappearing. And even in distant oceans, scientists are finding alarming evidence of degradation in water quality traceable to faraway sources of human pollution. These discoveries are undeniable evidence that we all have a stake in assisting small-island states to develop in a way that minimizes human-induced damage to our indispensable and all-pervasive resource, the oceans.
Mr. President, it is not necessary in our brief time here to describe in detail the extreme vulnerabilities of small-island developing countries. Such statements have already been made repeatedly in New York, in Geneva, in Rio and elsewhere, and thankfully, they have had their effect. Otherwise we would not be here today. Similarly, it is not necessary for me to catalog the areas of particular developmental sensitivity that we are faced with, because this work has been done in the preparatory meetings to this Conference and has found expression in the excellent draft program of Action which is already under discussion here, and on which we anticipate reaching consensus agreement before we leave this beautiful island.
This Conference, then, is not about raising concerns, and it is not primarily about setting an agenda. Rather, it must be about commitments to action – and here I do not refer only to commitments by donor countries to assist, but first and foremost to commitments which only small island countries ourselves can make. We ourselves must be very serious and resolve not only to recognize our special development obstacles, but to institute and carry out the programs that overcome them – not as a temporary, short-term or even medium-term proposition, but as a way of life for generations to come.
No amount of outside assistance can provide sustainable development. Our small-island countries must individually and collectively commit ourselves to follow the course once we have seen it and possess the means to travel it. Without that commitment, our sails will never fill and we will be like boats without power, adrift on a journey that can only come to a sad end.
But I am happy to say that during the past several years, and even in the first few days of this Conference, I sense that just such determination and commitment has already taken root as small- island developing countries have acquired better understandings of what we ate dealing with when we speak of development. I noted in Rio that our ancestors in the islands have always been experts in sustainability, and that we grasp the concept and its special applicability to modern-day island development more readily than most. I therefore regard small-island developing countries as a very appropriate starting point in the implementation of Agenda 21, because while our need for development is great, we are particularly well-equipped to demonstrate that the road to sustainability can be opened up despite seemingly insurmountable barriers. You will notice that I have spoken first of commitments by small-island developing countries. This is the proper order of things. But the fact remains that we lack at the outset the resources tomeet most of them in an effective way. For that reason ourundertakings will be doomed to failure unless we can be confident that developed countries will ensure our access to resources which we genuinely lack, and which are essential for these purposes,
We do not urge upon the donor countries a Pandora’s box of entitlements. In no way are the principles of Agenda 21 seen by us as simply new clothes to wear on an endless foreign assistance shopping spree, The fact is, Mr. President, that only with sustainable development will we ever move toward self-sufficiency. We therefore firmly believe that when our heads of state gather here next week to explore the forging of partnerships for sustainable development, it will be very much an exploration guided by mutual self-interest.
I now turn to a brief overview of the Federated States of Micronesia, in order that the delegates can better see where we fit into the process under discussion. After all, while we island states have many common characteristics and problems, we are by no means all alike.
The 400 atolls and high islands of the Federated States of Micronesia lie within an area of approximately three million square kilometers in the tropical Western Pacific Ocean, just above the Equator. Our current total population is about 110,000, of whom some 75,000 live on the four high, volcanic islands that are home to our four state capitals. In other words, while our land area is small – altogether about the size of the US State of Rhode Island – the four states of our federation encompass an ocean area almost the size of the continental United States.
Not until late in the last century did the rest of the world take much notice of us, at which time we entered a colonial period that brought death, destruction and war to our peaceful islands. Finally, in 1979, our sovereign statehood was enshrined in a Constitution and self- government commenced. We joined the United Nations in 1991.
Thus, we are not only a developing country, but one which has had to learn quickly how to serve a widely separated and culturally diverse society, faced with the classic conflict between aspirations toward a modern standard of living and a scarcity of almost everything necessary to achieve and maintain it. These scarcities, felt most strongly in rural areas, combined with rapidly increasing population pressure, are causing an upward rate of migration into our main island centers – draining our rural areas of the vitality that they need to build a sustainable future and greatly increasing the demand for social services and facilities in already overstressed urban centers.
As the FSM observes at the opening PrepCom last October, this is a vicious cycle that is not peculiar to island developing states, but for us it is made even more problematic by our extreme remoteness, our wide dispersion and our small economic base.
Mr. President, I am pleased to say that despite the difficulties of my country’s situation, the Federated States of Micronesia has already begun to take steps toward Sustainable Development. I would like quickly to mention some of them:
For over a year prior to the Rio Conference, we worked with other Pacific island countries who are members of the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program to conduct a thorough environmental analysis of our laws and policies. This analysis led the FSM to adopt a detailed National Environmental Management Strategy (NEMS), under which the first projects, such as our Pohnpei Watershed Protection Project, are already being funded and implemented.
In light of the NEMS, we have reviewed all of our State and National 5-year Development Plans and have incorporated measures to strengthen their environmental focus.
We are moving forward with a comprehensive legislative review within the FSM to incorporate recommendations of the NEMS and see where else our existing laws may need changing or supplementing so that environmental protection and development goals both can be pursued concurrently.
After considering a variety of institutional adjustments to our governmental structure. we are creating a widely- representative National Sustainable Development Board to monitor the integration of sustainable development policies into government actions, to assist with analysis and arrangements for projects and to support proper coordination with other governments and international bodies,
We are a member of the Alliance of Small Island States, and, since its formation, have participated in the UNCED and Climate Change processes. We are party to the Climate Change and Biodiversity and Ozone Conventions, and are giving priority analysis to others such as the Basel and London Conventions having to do with toxic and hazardous wastes. We also are currently chairing discussions within our community of Pacific Islands to finalize a draft regional treaty on hazardous waste movements which would supplement the coverage of the Basel Convention.
I pause here to say that we are in full agreement with the remarks made in this debars by his Excellency, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas, Mr. Turnquest, when he alluded to the pressures being brought on small-island developing states to accept importation of hazardous wastes. The movement, storage and disposal of such wastes is a matter of grave concern to all remote island nations today, because our very remoteness and individual political weakness makes us vulnerable to powerful countries who grow more desperate each day to rid themselves of the indestructible and deadly byproducts of the nuclear age.
We are making conscientious efforts within our limited resources to fulfill our role in the international community where national inventories and reports are called for so as to establish baselines for international action in essential areas such as Natural Disaster Preparedness, Climate Change, and Biodiversity, to name a few.
We participated in the recent successful restructuring of the Global Environmental Facility and will continue to participate to see that the terms of the UNCED documents as they relate to small island developing countries are fully met in the operation of that facility. To that end, we have joined with other Pacific Island countries to seek for the islands one of the six seats on the GEF Governing Council allocated to the so-called, “Asian and Pacific Island” region.
We have begun to make Sustainable Development a primary focus in all dealings with donors of external assistance, both bilateral and multilateral. For example, our Compact of Free Association with the United States once was driven largely by considerations of mutual security, Now it is spoken of more often as a “Partnership for Sustainable Development,” and the US, teaming with multilaterals such as the Asian Development Bank, is taking a new interest in helping us realize sustainable development goals with their very much appreciated assistance.
We encourage at local levels in the FSM all possible efforts to use environmentally sound technologies and approaches suited to our island societies. For example, the concept of eco- tourism has been promoted in the State of Pohnpei for a number of years already, in the operation of cultural centers that showcase our traditional practices and with the well- known Village Hotel which was accorded the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s Eco-Tourism Award for 1992. Recently, in the State of Yap, another hotel devoted to eco-tourism, Pathways, opened to wide acclaim. In the States of Kosrae and Yap, we just completed a pilot project with Greenpeace demonstrating a waterless biological toilet technology. This project is the first of its kind in the Pacific and has great Promise for at least limiting some of our extreme difficulties with waste treatment and disposal. Finally, I refer to sustainable development of a different kind – initiated a number of years ago in our State of Chuuk, when the removal of artifacts from sunken ships in the lagoon was forbidden by law, out of respect for the past and to preserve the past for those who would learn from it.
I would like to close by saying that while Pacific islanders reside in many countries we have great solidarity throughout our vast ocean region. Even more, this Conference is making it clear that the hopes of our people for the future are very much like those of island citizens everywhere. The Federated States of Micronesia stands proudly with our brothers, and so would recall here what President Olter stated in Rio:
“We … devoutly hope this historic Summit and its mechanisms will at last make the World realize the Pacific is both valuable to future generations for its vast resources and home to present generations of peoples who have never willingly accepted that their backyards be made dumping grounds or testing and disposal areas. Since our small size and wide dispersion has in the past denied us the political power to protect ourselves against these forces, we look forward henceforth to a world order in which new environmental imperatives will teach others the inequity of past attitudes and practices.”
Forbearance, discipline, concern for others, commitment, action. These are the building blocks of sustainable development not only for small-island developing countries, but for the World. What we succeed with at Barbados obviously will have critical value to small- island peoples, but should we fail to achieve our purpose, it will be a grave loss for all humankind. With common resolve and God’s will, this Conference will succeed.
Thank you, Mr. President.