Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary

Interview with Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Anwarul Chowdhury

In a Newswatch interview, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury discusses the implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.

Ambassador Chowdhury is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States and was Secretary-General of the Mauritius International Meeting that reviewed the Barbados Programme of Action.

Tiempo Climate Newswatch: The past ten years have seen an increased awareness in the global community of the very special risks facing Small Island Developing States in the context of climate change and sea-level rise. Are Small Island Developing States more or less vulnerable to climate change and impacts today?

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury: Small Island Developing States are increasingly vulnerable to climate change and its adverse impact today than ever before.

Global warming and climate change are realities supported by empirical scientific data. According to such information available with the United Nations, the average temperature of the earth's surface has risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s. It is expected to increase by another 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 which scientists consider a rapid and significant change. The main reason for such rise in temperatures is a century and a half of industrialization: the burning of ever-greater quantities of oil, gasoline, and coal, the cutting of forests, and certain farming methods.

The sea level rose on average by 10 to 20 cm during the 20th century, and an additional increase of 9 to 88 cm is expected by the year 2100. Higher temperatures result in expansion of ocean volume, and melting glaciers and ice caps add more water. If the higher end of that scale is reached, the sea could overflow the heavily populated coastlines of such countries as Bangladesh, cause the disappearance of some nations entirely, disrupt and pollute freshwater supplies for billions of people, and spur mass migrations.

Tiempo Climate Newswatch: The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was just coming into force at the time of the Barbados meeting. It has taken ten years for awareness of the need to support measures to improve coping and adaptation strategies in the most vulnerable nations to reach the point where these issues are on the negotiating table. Still little additional support is available. What needs to be done?

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury: The tragic earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the consequent destruction of life and property to the low lying coastal areas, once again highlights the vulnerability of the Small Island Developing States. This wave of destruction comes on the heels of a number of recent climatic disasters where the impact of sudden climate change has never before been more evident. The 2004 cyclones and hurricanes in the Pacific and the Atlantic that caused large-scale devastation of several small islands were dramatic examples of the destruction that could result from climate change. Increased knowledge and awareness of issues are prerequisites to decisions for actions to implement programmes and measures.

In the preparations for the ten-year review of the Barbados Programme of Action, the Office of the High Representative, in accordance with its General Assembly mandate, has raised this international awareness through its strong and persistent advocacy of the issues of concerns to the Small Island Developing States. This has been done in the Pacific and Caribbean regions, within the United Nations and other multilateral bodies like the World Bank, and amongst the developed and donor countries. Again, international awareness and concern resulting in measures to achieve the objectives of the Barbados Programme must duly translate into timely availability of adequate resources, without which the international development agenda targeted to the disadvantaged groups of countries like the Small Island Developing States cannot be implemented.

Tiempo Climate Newswatch: A major aim of the Barbados Programme was to reduce the vulnerability of Small Island Developing States to environmental change. What progress has been made in implementing the Barbados Programme?

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury: The Barbados Programme of Action has given guidelines and objectives for the international community for promoting sustainable development in Small Island Developing States and to take steps to reduce the adverse impact of climate change and environmental disasters. However, international measures in this regard have been inadequate during the last ten years. Small Island Developing States made their disappointment clear in the subsequent reviews of the Barbados Programme and especially at the five year review in 1999, as well as during the preparatory process for the Mauritius International Meeting, held in January 2005.

Important international instruments like the Kyoto Protocol and the Yokohama Strategy for Disaster Reduction require to be implemented seriously and on a timely basis, and such measures must be continuously strengthened, in order to turn around the adverse effects of global warming. Strong international advocacy as that carried out by High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States will go a long way in achieving these critical objectives.

In view of this lack of forward movement in implementing the Barbados Programme, the 56th session of the General Assembly identified the need for strong high-level international advocacy and enhanced efforts to mobilize resources for the Small Island Developing States. It was in this context, and on the recommendation of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, that the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and the Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) was established.

Small Island Developing States need to understand the impact that the work of this Office has had and can have on the further implementation of the Barbados Programme and strongly support and promote the activities of the Office. Otherwise, even after Mauritius, international awareness will not be promoted and the awareness will diminish resulting in the dilution of international support and resources to implement the priorities of the Barbados Programme. The realization on the part of many Small Island Developing States to the importance of such follow-up activities, and who can do it, and how this can be done, has not been fully revealed in international dialogues. It is hoped that the International Meeting in Mauritius will change their approach.

It is also essential to realize that the Small Island Developing States agenda has gone beyond the Barbados Programme. As discussed on the UN-OHRLLS website, some new and emerging issues, namely, trade, HIV/AIDS, renewable energy resources, and further use of the latest information communications technologies, have been identified and have begun to impact the Small Island Developing States in their development efforts. These need the urgent and deliberate attention of the international community.

It is here that the advocacy and support for the mobilization of resources that can be provided by UN-OHRLLS can go a long way in helping to resolve these vital matters affecting the Small Island Developing States. The Small Island Developing States must realize the importance of the role of UN-OHRLLS and support and promote this organization. Otherwise, these issues may not receive the requisite attention of the international community in the aftermath of the Mauritius International Meeting.

The above background has been given to show that, when it comes to the Barbados Programme, the implementation of the priorities is an ongoing process for the development of the Small Island Developing States. In addition, there are the new and emerging issues. One should not miss this point of the need to use the Barbados Programme as a basis for international cooperation with the need to take continuously into account the stock of new and emerging issues. Hence, the International Meeting scheduled for Mauritius will go beyond sustainable development.

At the same time, it would be impractical to demand the 'implementation' of all the fourteen priorities at once. The objective should be to identify immediate and pressing priorities that address urgent needs of the people in the Small Island Developing States and where resources and capacities will be forthcoming in the next few years. At the same time, the international stage should be set for cooperation towards tackling as effectively as possible the entire range of priorities on a continuous and deliberate basis with resources and technologies sought on a continuous basis in cooperation with international community and the donors in particular by identifying needs periodically.

Tiempo Climate Newswatch: What do you see as your priorities for the Mauritius meeting?

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury: In my role as the Secretary-General of the International Meeting, I am responsible, firstly, for the organizational aspects of the Meeting, and more importantly, to provide advice and guidance to member states on the outcome that would bring the maximum social and economic benefits to the disadvantaged women, men and children of the Small Island Developing States. In addition, it is necessary to clearly consider the process of implementation, the closer involvement of regional organizations, and especially intergovernmental regional organizations, including issues relating to monitoring after the International Meeting. I am campaigning for a more dynamic monitoring process including the intergovernmental regional organizations like the Pacific Islands Forum, the CARICOM and the Indian Ocean Commission.

It should be realized that the International Meeting in Mauritius is an intergovernmental process, and it is mainly the governments that decide on the outcomes based on the preparatory process that has taken place and the political decisions of the Heads of State or Government and other leaders at the International Meeting. Of course, their decisions will be influenced by the nongovernmental organizations and the private sector. A three-day Civil Society meet from 6-9th January 2005 will precede the International Meeting and will submit its recommendations at the opening session of the International Meeting on 10 January 2005.

Tiempo Climate Newswatch: How optimistic are you that the people of the Small Island Developing States will be able to meet the challenge of future environmental change?

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury: While it is always good to be optimistic, seeing what little was done to advocate the issues relating to Small Island Developing States and the inability to mobilize international resources to implement the Barbados Programme in the last decade, some degree of pessimism may have set in. What transpires at the International Meeting in Mauritius will be crucial for the Small Island Developing States agenda. The nature of the outcome and degree of genuine international support that the Small Island Developing States can garner for their cause in Mauritius will determine the degree of optimism that they can afford to have!

The editors thank Francois Coutu of the Strategic Communication Division of the UN Department of Public Information and Nosh Nalavala of the UN Office of the High Representative for their assistance.

Further information
Francois Coutu, Development Section, Strategic Communication Division, UN Department of Public Information, Room S-1040 G, United Nations, New York, NY 10017, USA. Email: coutu@un.org. Web: www.un.org/smallislands2005/.
Nosh Nalavala, Communications and Media Officer, UN Office of the High Representative, 336 East 45th Street, UH-807, New York, NY 10017, USA. Fax: +1-917-3673415. Email: nalavala@un.org. Web: www.un.org/ohrlls/.

On the Web
Further information concerning the review of progress in implementing the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States can be found at the conference website. The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary presents a listing of theme sites on Small Island Developing States.