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More climate funding needed to ‘transition from rhetoric to decisive action’

That was the strong message from President of the Western Pacific nation of Palau Surangel Whipps speaking at an Interactive Dialogue on Wednesday during the Fourth International Conference on SIDS (SIDS4), taking place this week on the twin island of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean.

He told delegates there needed to be a “transition from rhetoric to decisive action”.

But, representatives from two European nations committed to climate financing said substantial progress is being made, pointing to news just hours earlier from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) confirming that a total of $115.9 billion had been raised in 2022 for climate action in developing countries.

In 2009, COP15 established the goal of mobilising $100 billion per year for climate action in the developing world, by 2020.

President Surangel S. Whipps of Palau addresses the Interactive Dialogue on making climate finance work during the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

President Surangel S. Whipps of Palau addresses the Interactive Dialogue on making climate finance work during the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States.

Building on Dubai

Today’s session was designed to build on commitments made in Dubai which established the crucial Loss and Damage Fund to help SIDS and other vulnerable nations to offset the impacts of extreme weather, rising sea-levels and coastal erosion. 

President Whipps said increasing support for SIDS was not just vital for their survival, “but essential for solving the world’s climate challenges”.

He added that “we need robust and accountable international climate finance mechanisms that deliver real results.”

Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s Special Envoy for climate action, addresses the Interactive Dialogue on making climate finance work during the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s Special Envoy for climate action, addresses the Interactive Dialogue on making climate finance work during the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States.

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Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s Special Envoy for climate action, agreed that the world must build on the COP28 commitments, which include a just and fair transition away from fossil fuels, financing resilience and adaptation.

Currently, 90 per cent of all green investments go to developed nations and China.

She hailed the OECD announcement as a breakthrough and said SIDS could make “a really unique contribution” to the COP28 commitment to phase out deforestation by 2030.

Looking ahead to COP29 taking place in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November, she said “we will need to listen to each other even more than ever” to find solutions that can secure climate action at scale.

Naadir Hassan, Minister for Finance Economic Planning and Trade of the Seychelles, addresses the Interactive Dialogue on making climate finance work during the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Naadir Hassan, Minister for Finance Economic Planning and Trade of the Seychelles, addresses the Interactive Dialogue on making climate finance work during the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States.

Naadir Hassan, Minister for Finance Economic Planning and Trade of the Seychelles, said COP28 had been “a significant step forward” for SIDS, but he echoed Mr. Whipps, stating that rhetoric versus action on the ground was key.

“There’s no time to waste,” he said, citing the fact that the coastal infrastructure of the Seychelles already “falling into the sea”.

“This year I will attend my fourth COP, and we’ve been talking about these issues since I’ve been minister for the last three-plus years, but we have not seen a single dollar come into our countries in terms of really funding climate adaptation measures.” 

This is where the lack of action is stark, he added, despite the promise of $85 billion coming into the Loss and Damage Fund and a replenishment of $12.8 billion for the Green Climate Fund, with a further $188 million for the Adaptation Fund.

“We need to see this money materialise” in SIDS economies “in a very urgent way”, he told delegates, estimating the cost of adaptation and mitigation in his island nation over the next decade to be $600 million and warning that over the next 10 years, to fight climate change “we’ve really got to move faster.”

A view of Jolly Beach in Antigua and Barbuda, the host of the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4).
UN News/Matt Wells

A view of Jolly Beach in Antigua and Barbuda, the host of the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4).

He lamented that because many SIDS are categorised middle-income, they were “completely cut off” from concessional financing reserved for the poorest. 

“We’ve got to change the whole global financial architecture in a way that SIDS can really push forward and adapt to the new global environment.”

Tomas Anker Christensen, Denmark’s Special Envoy for Climate, provided more reassurance from a major funder’s perspective when he said that Wednesday’s OECD report was a major success for climate funding.

He said even if countries like the Seychelles had not seen funds reach them directly from countries like his, their support for climate initiatives from the Green Environment Fund, World Bank and others is significant.

Denmark pledged to donate to the Loss and Damage Fund and worked hard to launch it, he added, noting that the Green Climate Fund had taken seven to eight years to become operational while the Loss and Damage Fund would be up and running in just two.

Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), addresses the Interactive Dialogue on making climate finance work during the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), addresses the Interactive Dialogue on making climate finance work during the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States.

Climate goals aligning

The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Simon Stiell, returned to the charge that there was too much rhetoric and not enough action.

He stressed that being on the same page was important.

“There is an alignment in terms of the language, and we ‘ve made great progress within the process over the past few years,” he said.

“Where we are short is in building momentum for action,” he added, singling out the Global Stocktake agreed at COP28 to take an inventory on climate action progress. Not enough progress has been made, “but it gave us that roadmap as to how we now move forward within the next period.”

Mr. Stiell said it was clear that the upcoming COPs in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Belém, Brazil, will be the real test of “whether we are shifting from words into action”.

He too welcomed the OECD figures announced on Wednesday and said there is now an opportunity to consider what the transition to renewable energy really means for SIDS.

It amounts to “economic transformation”, he said.

“Removing that dependency on fossil fuels, the foreign exchange leakages, the high costs of energy which impacts competitiveness, cost of living and disposable incomes – this is absolutely critical to your regional development.”

Mr. Stiell further stated that the next two years will determine “whether we’re shifting from words into action”.

He added that the UNFCCC would assist all SIDS in their pursuit of more climate finance “in achieving the greatest possible outcome in COPS29 and 30”.

UN and Global Environment Facility launch new $135 million fund

In a further boost to financing action to tackle climate change the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) launched a new $135 million Blue and Green Islands Integrated Programme (BGI-IP), which aims to emphasise the crucial role of nature and expand nature-based solutions to combat environmental degradation in three key sectors: urban development, food production and tourism.

The initiative targets 15 SIDS to promote nature-positive change. Managed by UNDP and funded by GEF and partners, it represents a new wave of support for SIDS as they embark on the Decade of Action from 2024 to 2034. 

“SIDS are on the frontlines of climate change and nature loss as they face harsh realities of sea level rise, more unpredictable weather patterns and degraded ecosystems, yet their unique situation also means that they are also driving forward a remarkable range of innovative and interconnected solutions,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

Global unemployment set to decline slightly this year: UN labour agency

The updated World Employment and Social Outlook report predicts that the global unemployment rate will be 4.9 per cent in 2024, slightly down from 5.0 per cent in 2023. 

This represents a revision from the previous projection in January of 5.2 per cent for this year, which is expected to flatten in 2025, with unemployment remaining at 4.9 per cent.

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‘Uneven playing field’ 

The report, however, points to a persistent lack of employment opportunities. 

Currently, the number of people worldwide without a job but who want to work stands at 402 million. This includes 183 million people who are counted as unemployed. 

Women, especially those in low-income countries, are disproportionately affected by the lack of job opportunities. 

“Despite our efforts to reduce global inequalities, the labour market remains an uneven playing field, especially for women,” said ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo. 

Inclusive policies needed 

In low-income countries, more than one in five women, 22.8 per cent, are unable to find work, compared with almost one in seven men, or 15.3 per cent. 

This contrasts with high-income countries, where the rate is nearly 10 per cent for women and 7.3 per cent for men. 

Furthermore, although women in high-income countries earn 73 cents for every dollar earned by men, this figure drops to just 44 cents in low-income countries. 

The report found that family responsibilities are behind much of these differences, “indicating that women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care work plays a major role in shaping gender employment gaps globally”. 

Mr. Houngbo called for countries to work towards inclusive policies that take into considerations of all persons in the workforce. 

“We must place inclusion and social justice at the core of our policies and institutions. Unless we do, we will fall short of our objective to ensure strong and inclusive development,” he said. 

SDG 8
United Nations

SDG 8

SDG 8: ENSURE DECENT WORK FOR ALL

  • Take immediate measures to eradicate forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking
  • Protect labour rights, and promote safe, secure environments for all workers
  • Sustain per capita economic growth and at least seven per cent gross domestic product growth per annum in least developed countries
  • Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technology and innovation
  • Improve global resource efficiency in consumption and production
  • Decouple economic growth with environmental degradation

Global unemployment is expected to fall below pre-pandemic levels, although not in low-income countries

SIDS drowning in debt and ‘running on empty’, warns Guterres in Antigua

That’s the warning from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Day Two of the pivotal Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) taking place in the Caribbean twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda this week.

The 39 States known collectively as SIDS have been uniquely vulnerable to the trifecta of COVID – which crippled the tourism many rely on – the Russian invasion of Ukraine; and “battered by a climate catastrophe they did not create”, said Mr. Guterres.

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SIDS are paying more to service their own debt than they invest in healthcare and education, the UN chief warned, leaving these nations unable to make the investments they need to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Many of them are classified as Middle-Income, shutting them out of the debt support reserved for the poorest nations.

Vulnerability index

SIDS are doing everything they can”, Mr. Guterres continued, pointing to the advocacy of Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne to develop a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index that “truly reflects” the needs of SIDS.

Fellow Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados has also spearheaded the Bridgetown Initiative to transform lending and provide inclusive and resilient finance. The Pacific nation of Samoa has led the Alliance of Small Island States’ initiative to operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund and fairly compensate vulnerable nations for the impact of corrosive climate change. 

“You are leading by example”, the UN chief told delegates from the representatives of island nations gathered in Antigua, “but too often you are facing closed doors – from institutions and systems that you had no hand in creating”.

Three-point action plan

Mr. Guterres went on to outline the vital action on three fronts that is needed from international financial institutions, in addition to an immediate SDG Stimulus for SIDS:

  1. Relieve the debt burden by providing access to effective relief mechanisms, including pauses in payments during times of economic volatility.
  2. Transform lending practices by changing the rules on concessional finance to lower borrowing costs. He said the UN’s Multidimensional Vulnerability Index could play an important role in this.
  3. Greater inclusivity across international financial institutions, with SIDS holding a seat “at every table.”

Today’s global financial architecture fails to deliver for developing countries in general – particularly SIDS, lamented the UN chief.

In closing, he pointed to September’s Summit of the Future in New York, which will offer a rare opportunity for world leaders to advance the SIDS agenda for action.

“It is time to turn the tide and create a global financial future that leaves no island nation behind”, he concluded.

Window of opportunity ‘nearly shut’

Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa of Samoa addresses the high-level meeting on mobilization of resources at the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4).
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Prime Minister of Samoa and Chair of the Alliance of small island States Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa warned  the meeting on resource mobilization that “the longer the crisis, the greater the impact on national responses, with implications for sustained harmful effects.”

She laid out the extent of the debt crisis: “The bare truth is, there is just not enough money to take us far enough. What we access is insufficient and too costly at best…The window of opportunity we so often talk about is not closing – it is nearly shut.”

Bold rhetoric and promises from developed nations have failed to materialize in the form of relief, she added, saying that SIDS need “tailored solutions” which must be “inclusive, fair and responsive.”

European funding gateway

Outlining the Team Europe Strategy in the hall in Antigua, Commissioner for International Partnerships at the European Commission Jutta Urpilainen welcomed the proposed UN vulnerability index stating, “and we hope it will be endorsed for all development institutions to use it.”

She said under the Global Gateway Strategy, EU States and institutions aimed to mobilize 300 billion Euros in public and private investments by 2027 for vulnerable countries as a whole – with many initiatives already underway in SIDS.

She added that Team Europe was also leading the way with a 400 million Euro commitment to the Loss and Damage Fund agreed at COP28.

“We need to make the international financial architecture fit for purpose. It is key to ensure a more stable, equal and affordable access to liquidity.”

Jutta Urpilainen (left), Commissioner for International Partnerships at the European Commission, addresses the high-level meeting on mobilization of resources at the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4).
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Home truths

Moving to a more intimate fireside chat format, some of the key leaders at the conference laid out their hopes for the decade ahead.

Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands said there had to be a sea change in political will, especially by the G20 most developed nations, to reduce carbon emissions. She added that she could envisage a future where islands are protected by nature-based solutions with education and healthcare systems prepared for impacts that occur.

But nothing could happen without “significant scaling up of finance.”

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley of Barbados addresses meeting on Implementation of the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions in the Complex Setting of Overlapping Crises" at UN Headquarters.
UN Photo/Ariana Lindquist

‘You’re not hearing us’

Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados said strongly that using per capita income of any frail island nation to determine eligibility for access to sustainable development funding was “useless” – equivalent to using a years-old blood pressure reading to diagnose a heart condition today.

She warned that if economists and the international finance system continue using this inappropriate “lazy metric” then it will mean that you’re not seeing us, you’re not hearing us, and you are prepared to render a situation where climate migration will be the future [for SIDS] because we will not be able to survive in our islands if we have to choose.

“You cannot finance education and health with 15-year loans.”

Be ‘better, bolder and bigger’: Guterres

Rounding up the high stakes meeting, the UN chief made a passionate intervention “as a citizen of the world”, removing his Secretary-General placard from the table in front of him.

“There are many positive things that have been done” so far, he said, “but when we see these challenges that are moving at the speed of a Formula 1 car and when we see the improvements in the actions to face these challenges, they remind me of the speed of a Trabant, that was a car I saw in the 70s in East Germany.”

What is needed now, is for international institutions to be “better, bolder and bigger at the same time”, said Mr. Guterres. 

Those institutions today, are “too small”, he added, calling for a significant increase in the capital available to support SIDS and other nations in need. 

Let’s make SIDS a real priority in everything we do”, he said, thumping the table for emphasis.

‘We continue to be serfs’

Speaking at a UN SDG Media Zone event later in the day alongside the UN chief, Prime Minister Mottley said there was simply no political will on the part of the developed world to make the financial system work fairly, asking the rhetorical question: how many leaders from there have turned up in Antigua?

“We’re not seen”, she said, adding that “we continue to be serfs” when it comes to the power imbalance.

Mr. Guterres said it was largely a problem of power and with a major restructuring of the world order underway, his chief worry was a fracturing that would mean even less assistance and support for SIDS. Watch the full session below:

UN hub reaches remote Pacific islanders: A UN Resident Coordinator blog

“They do not want to leave their ancestral places, even if they go under,” said Jaap van Hierden.

Jaap van Hierden, UN Resident Coordinator in Micronesia.
© RCO Micronesia

Jaap van Hierden, UN Resident Coordinator in Micronesia.

Appointed by the Secretary-General as the first UN Resident Coordinator for the North Pacific, he oversees ongoing development efforts across a remote region with thousands of small islands comprising of small populations that are the stewards of a vast expanse of ocean and Earth stretching more than 7,000 km from Palau to Kiritimati island. 

He spoke to UN News just ahead of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) which is underway in the Caribbean twin island of Antigua and Barbuda. He explained how the UN Multi-Country Office, known as MCO Micronesia, where 13 UN agencies now operate, was created.

“This mostly undeveloped and rather pristine part of the Pacific is not well known. Except for Palau, these countries are not yet holiday destinations.

Apart from receiving some US funding, all five countries in the region – Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati – appear somewhat forgotten and left behind by the global community.

This triggered the need for an increasingly effective engagement by Micronesian leaders with the UN and its General Assembly, which in turn led to a review of UN multi-country offices and the subsequent establishment of my post.

Frontlines of climate change

Upon my arrival, I quickly learned that Micronesians are at the frontline of climate change with Marshall Islands and Kiribati at risk of disappearing under the waves of our ocean within the lifetimes of our children. Also facing a similar existential risk were the numerous low-lying outer islands of Palau and Micronesia – with its four states of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae.

Workers construct barriers to combat sea erosion along the coastline of Tuvalu.
© UNICEF/Lasse Bak Mejlvang

Workers construct barriers to combat sea erosion along the coastline of Tuvalu.

Micronesians have been champions in our shared fight against climate change and leaders and advocates in highlighting the importance of reviewing vulnerability through multiple dimensions.

They have also contributed to the ongoing “loss and damages” discussion that should help them adapt effectively against rising sea levels and worsening weather events.

Encouragingly, they have acted upon their responsibilities as stewards of our vast ocean through the establishment of marine protected areas as well as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves and more.

Stewards of the ocean

However, Micronesians are highly dispersed, with less than half a million in number, all on small islands with small populations, who neither have the economies of scale nor the skills and resources that we find in countries or subregions with a similar geographical expanse.

Micronesians live across many small islands in the North Pacific Ocean.
© RCO Micronesia

Micronesians live across many small islands in the North Pacific Ocean.

Nevertheless, as stewards of a vast expanse of our ocean and the sea floor, we cannot afford for them to be vulnerable, and I am glad that the UN is stepping up its engagement in Micronesia to ensure that no one is left behind and to ensure that we help build a better future for all.

‘Expanding our UN footprint’

We quickly learned that our islands were small, with our subregional host, Pohnpei, having only about 30,000 people on island with many having left for education or work in the United States.

Yet, we persevered and were able to establish a fully functioning UN MCO Micronesia within two years after arrival in Pohnpei in late 2021. Right now, country coordination offices are in place for Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati, and a fully functioning Resident Coordinator Office has been established.

The new office has enabled UN organisations to initiate the decentralisation of their work from Fiji and Samoa to Pohnpei. That resulted in expanding our UN footprint in Pohnpei from five in 2021 to 13 today.

‘Being on the ground makes a huge difference’

In parallel, I have worked closely with the governments of Micronesia and Pohnpei in setting the stage for the design and construction of the carbon-neutral One UN Micronesia House that incorporates Micronesian history and culture into its design and landscaping.

An undertaking that will include a conference facility will help us in bringing more UN-convened events to Micronesia and allow Micronesian leaders to engage with international leaders and experts on their home ground. We have made good progress with land already allocated by Pohnpei State Legislature, and a launch ceremony for the final design and construction will soon be held.

Children pose on the steps of a building in Micronesia.
© RCO Micronesia

Children pose on the steps of a building in Micronesia.

Not surprisingly, being on the ground makes a huge difference in appreciating and understanding the developmental and humanitarian challenges and opportunities within each of the five Micronesian countries and four states of Micronesia. In order to convey this effectively within our UN team, I travel frequently and engage with government counterparts, embassies, development partners, civil society, faith based leaders, chambers of commerce and communities.

Together, we aspire transformational change that leaves no one behind and helps a better future for all, one in which our planet with its finite natural resources and unique biodiversity is a key stakeholder.”

UN Resident Coordinator

  • During high temperatures, UNICEF urges frontline workers, parents, families, caregivers and local authorities to protect children and B.E.A.T. the heat by taking the following steps:  
  • In this occasional series, UN News invites RCs to blog on issues important to the UN and the country where they serve.
  • Learn more about the work of the UN in Micronesia here.

UPDATING LIVE: Small island States meet in Antigua and Barbuda charting new course to sustainable prosperity

09:14 AM

We were just treated to a performance from the Antigua and Barbuda Symphony Orchestra. Now its a theatrical performance focused on the dangers of climate change for the vulnerable nations gathered in the hall. We have trees, tropical sounds and a warning that the ecosystem is way off balance…

08:45 AM – It all gets going in a few minutes’ time with a cultural opening event. Luckily the sun is shining this morning, in comparison with yesterday’s debilitating rain storms that reminded everyone here of the unpredictability of increasingly extreme weather that will be one of the chief talking points this week.

You can find full coverage of the entire week and special features leading up to the conference, on our landing page here.

‘Resilient prosperity’

More than 20 world leaders, together with representatives from the private sector, civil society, academia and youth – close to 4,000 participants in all – have gathered at the verdant conference venue in the American University of Antigua close to the capital St John’s, to tackle critical issues impacting the future of SIDS. 

Under the theme Charting the course toward resilient prosperity, the four-day Conference (27-30 May) will showcase new innovations and develop practical solutions to address critical SIDS-specific challenges driven by the climate emergency, spiralling debt and health crises. 

For more on the conference, check out our curtain raiser story here, and UN News was at one of the high level events over the weekend organized by more than 80 young changemakers from across the globe and you can check out their demand for action here.

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The Conference will adopt The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS) – a Renewed Declaration for Resilient Prosperity, which sets out the sustainable development aspirations of small islands over the next decade and the support required from the international community to achieve them.

The SIDS across the Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea are home to approximately 65 million people. They manage 19.1 per cent of the world’s Exclusive Economic Zones and the resources they hold.

Accounting for 14 per cent of the world’s coastlines, SIDS boast a high degree of biodiversity. SIDS have pioneered renewable energy solutions, championed sustainable tourism while spearheading conservation efforts and making major strides in developing ocean-based economies. 

In Antigua, island youth build ‘wall of commitment’ to turn tide against climate crisis

The SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit taking place this weekend on the University of the West Indies campus of the beautiful island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, which is hosting SIDS4, bonded together 80 or so young people from all three official SIDS regions – the Caribbean, Pacific and AIS (Indian Ocean and South China Sea) over 3 days of brainstorming.

They noisily and excitedly hunkered down in a large and airy university hall on Saturday to write down their own personal commitments to action.

The “wall of commitment” built by delegates from the SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit ahead of the SIDS4 conference in Antigua and Barbuda.
UN News/ Matthew Wells

The “wall of commitment” built by delegates from the SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit ahead of the SIDS4 conference in Antigua and Barbuda.

Another brick in the wall

One of the cardboard “bricks” even featured an empty plastic bottle – the scourge of many of their island homelands – taped inside with a rallying cry for “plastic-free islands, sustainable islands.”

The powerful event was the brainchild of Ashley Lashley, a lifelong activist who, after being crowned Miss World Barbados in 2018, set up the Ashley Lashley Foundation to build awareness of major social, environmental and health issues, especially through the prism of small island States like her own.

UNICEF Youth advocate and co-organizer of the SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit Ashley Lashley.

UNICEF Youth Advocate Ashley Lashley.

She’s convinced some powerful partners to join her crusade and advocacy mission, with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) organizing the youth summit along with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.

The pioneering UNICEF Youth Advocate has been working for months on a “commitment to action” involving in-person and online consultations, which culminated in Saturday’s presentation and wall building initiative. 

“The focus is four overarching themes that are also linked to the SIDS4 conference: resilient recovery; environmental integrity and planetary sustainability; a secure future and safe and prosperous societies”, she told UN News.

UN reproductive rights agency UNFPA, the Caribbean Development Bank, and the Governments of Malta and Australia have also backed the summit, plus the Global Environment Facility, she added.

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Show and tell

On Friday youth delegates saw for themselves some of the environmental damage wrought by climate change on the shores and hills of Antigua, including the alarming die-off of coral reefs due to warming tropical waters.

On Saturday they took master classes in advocacy, communication, movement building and policy negotiating, culminating in the monumental wall. On Sunday they developed action projects to last ten years within their own regions.

“We are hoping that the projects can receive technical and financial assistance…We are in the middle but there is still a long way to go”, to unleash the full power in the room, she said.

Noah Herlaar-Hassan, 17, from the tiny southern Caribbean diving oasis of Bonaire, said vulnerable low-lying SIDS “are the first to feel the effects of many things”, especially the climate crisis.

“What people that don’t live on SIDS need to realise is that even if they might not feel the direct effects, they do have a large say in changing the eventual results…It’s our generation that will have to pay the biggest price and that’s why we are here today, to see how we can be stronger as a collective.”

Future in our hands

Adelaide Nafoi, 25, from the Pacific island of Samoa, told UN News she was at the summit doubling up as a Pacific delegate to SIDS4 to envision a better future for her country, region and the whole world.

Youth voices “hold the future of all our nations”, as “the changemakers of today”.

“To all the youth around the world simply remember that your voices are not merely echoes in the wind. Your voice changes the future of you, your siblings, your cousins, your families and your country.”

“I urge you to recognise the immense power that resides within each of you. It’s the power that brings change and can bring us to a better future…To anyone that is afraid to talk, now is your time to speak up because if you don’t – nobody will speak up for your youth and your nation.”

SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit delegate Renee Smith (left) after completing her section of the “wall of commitment” to be presented to the SIDS4 conference.
UN News/ Matthew Wells

SIDS Global Children and Youth Action Summit delegate Renee Smith (left) after completing her section of the “wall of commitment” to be presented to the SIDS4 conference.

Sharing and caring

Renee Smith, 28, from the Caribbean island of Grenada, added her brick in the wall by committing to ocean protection “through awareness and responsible behaviour among youth and communities.”

She said they shared the burden of being disproportionately affected by climate change and were together at the summit “so that the developed nations can hear our concern and assist to mitigate the impacts that we face.”

Sharing awareness across all generations is key, she added, imploring youngsters especially to continue preserving and protecting the ecosystems around them.

Once the SIDS4 conference ends, Ms. Lashley is determined that the energy generated in the youth summit will not dim, following through to the UN Summit of the Future and COP29.

“We’ll be developing a youth action taskforce…to really ensure that commitments to action and the action projects are being developed and monitored. 

“We as young people often speak about accountability of our leaders but the basis behind this summit is that we as young people and children are actually willing to be accountable for the actions that we are taking for future generations to come.”

Private sector role in mobilizing resources ‘essential’: UN chief

In his first major speech since arriving on Sunday in Antigua and Barbuda for the SIDS4 conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said a sustained commitment was needed from the international community to shore up vulnerable island nations “and public money will not be enough.”

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Multistakeholder partnerships, including with the private sector, will be essential”, he continued, addressing the SIDS Global Business Network Forum on Sunday.

Financing renewable energy, sustainable tourism and climate resilience will have to include private sector funds, expertise and innovation, he told investors.

Governments must take the lead with regulations and policy through strong and accountable public institutions, while development banks mobilize private funds at reasonable cost.

Private sector plan

He said there were three ways the private sector can play its part most effectively.

“First, by taking deliberate, time-bound action to align your activities with the Sustainable Development Goals, across all dimensions of your businesses.”

Secondly, prioritizing climate action with credible and verifiable net zero carbon emission reduction plans. 

“This means addressing emission reductions across the board, with a view to marine protection and decarbonization of the shipping sector”, the UN chief spelled out.

Third, he called on executives to push for greater ambition to reach the ambitious 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – particularly climate action. 

The SIDS Global Business Network Forum has helped mobilize the private sector and “provides a clear entry point for the private sector into the SIDS agenda”, he said. 

Going digital

Now the network can expand digital connectivity and ensure accessibility and affordability, Mr. Guterres added, which is key to improving access to education and healthcare and enhancing disaster preparedness, prevention and response.

A “digital transformation” also means more diversification, particularly for women and young people. 

The global financial system is outdated, dysfunctional and unjust

“Strengthening the Global Business Network, together with the SIDS Partnership Framework, will help to support implementation of the ideas expressed today.”

He said financial challenges faced by small island States were also “symptomatic of financial turmoil in the developing world” overall. 

“The global financial system is outdated, dysfunctional and unjust, and is failing to provide a safety net for many developing economies mired in debt”, he added. “The United Nations is pushing for deep reforms to make it more representative of today’s world, and more responsive to today’s challenges.”

He ended with a call to work towards a better, more resilient, more sustainable future for all.

“Together let’s raise our voice for the reforms that are needed for a more fair and a more effective international financial and economic system able to provide to the SIDS the resources and capacities that they deserve and they need.”

‘All hands on deck’ in Antigua and Barbuda as small island States chart course to resilient prosperity

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The Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) will bring together governments, the UN, civil society, the private sector and leading youth voices to turn new ideas into action, raise new pledges of support and discuss the key challenges that lie ahead for the vulnerable group of nations.

Living on the edge

There are 39 SIDS, from conference hosts Antigua and Barbuda to Vanuatu in the South Pacific, which were recognised as a special case for support during the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the game changing first Earth Summit.

They are located in some of the world’s most disaster-prone regions, acutely vulnerable to sea level rise, climate shocks and natural disasters. SIDS have small domestic markets and are vulnerable to economic shocks and downturns.

Other challenges include rapid population growth putting pressure on basic services and job availability, while they are literally on the frontline of climate change and prone to environmental fragility.

Many SIDS lack sufficient resilience to deal with the rising incidence of natural disasters, something which the people of Antigua and Barbuda are all too aware of having suffered the devastating impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria which barrelled across the Caribbean in 2017.

Survival at stake

In an interview with UN News, the country’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, said they were among the worst of the external shocks “literally decimating our economies and damaging our infrastructure, our buildings, our homes”.

He insisted that global collaboration to drive down global warming was essential if small island States are to survive the decades ahead:

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Other common challenges include high import and export costs, limited natural resources, population density that is significantly higher than the global average, high debt and limited access to low-cost borrowing.

In 2014, SIDS met and agreed on The SAMOA Pathway for action, expanding the UN body that stands up for the interests of landlocked developing countries and least developed nations to include small island States.

Time to deliver

The UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States in charge of that Office, UN-OHRLLS, Rabab Fatima told UN News ahead of SIDS4 – which runs from 27 to 30 May – that it will “deliver a bold new plan of action to build the resilience of 39 small island nations in tackling the world’s most pressing challenges and achieving the SDGs”.

She highlighted the consensus that has already formed around an agreed programme of action which delegates will take back to their respective capitals when they leave Antigua and Barbuda at the end of next week.

This new agenda will set out the sustainable development aspirations of small island States for the decade ahead.

In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Viola Samuel is able to grow vegetables in her backyard thanks to a WFP-supported Government training programme.
© WFP/Alexis Masciarelli

In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Viola Samuel is able to grow vegetables in her backyard thanks to a WFP-supported Government training programme.

Renewed vows

We are going there to renew our commitment to strengthen resilience and foster prosperity, collectively,” said Ms. Fatima, who is also Special Adviser to the SIDS4 conference.

We need all hands on deck,” she added. “Therefore, NGOs, civil society, government and the private sector, all of them have a role to play.”

She said the new strategy would help build resilience, scale up climate action, mainstream disaster risk reduction, strengthen safe and healthy societies, promote science, technology, innovation and digitalisation, increase prosperity, employment, equality and inclusivity and build partnerships.

To do this, there needs to be more support from the international community assembly in Antigua and beyond.

NGOs, civil society, government and the private sector, all of them have a role to play.
— Rabab Fatima

Fighting climate change on the frontline

But, with limited resources and greater vulnerability, how can SIDS think long-term when transitioning to renewables from fossil fuels, for example, might not be in their short-term interests?

Ms. Fatima said that island nations had been at the forefront of setting ambitious targets to make that transition.

“Many island nations have launched roadmaps towards meeting 100 per cent energy generation from renewable resources by 2030,” including the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Antigua and Barbuda.

In the Pacific, countries like Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Federated States of Micronesia have made major investments in solar, wind and hydropower projects with support from financial institutions, including the Asian Development Bank.

Caribbean islands Jamaica and Grenada have seen growth in rooftop solar, wind farms and other renewable energy projects.

A woman harvests salt in a mangrove in Timor-Leste.
UNDP/Yuichi Ishida

A woman harvests salt in a mangrove in Timor-Leste.

Hope over fear

So, what are the positive takeaways the top UN official for small island State development would like to see emerge from Antigua and Barbuda?

“In addition to furthering the global agenda for sustainable development, my overarching hope is that the SIDS4 conference acts as a catalyst for good change, resulting in noticeable transformation in the lives of those who reside in small island developing States,” said UN-OHRLLS chief Ms. Fatima.

My overarching hope is that the SIDS4 conference acts as a catalyst for good change, resulting in noticeable transformation in the lives of those who reside in small island developing States. 
— Rabab Fatima

She called for concrete action plans to address the urgent problems that SIDS face and the strengthening of partnerships among international organisations, development partners, civil society and SIDS.

Policy commitments are also on the wish list from other nations and organisations taking part to help SIDS reach the 2030 SDGs, “which could entail pledges to offer funding, technical assistance and capacity building”.

Ms. Fatima hopes that SIDS will be empowered to take charge of their own development plans and given the tools and support needed to put resilient and sustainable plans into action.

“I think judging the success of SIDS4 will be based on its capacity to spur significant action, gather resources and promote constructive change for the benefit of the people living in small island developing States.”

Solar panels being maintained by a worker at a photovoltaic farm in Mauritius.
UNDP/Stephane Belleros

Solar panels being maintained by a worker at a photovoltaic farm in Mauritius.

UN News will have a team in St. Johns, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, to give you a front row seat to all the action. From your mobile phone or computer, follow the key events and discussions as the delegates SIDS4 work towards an agreed, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented political outcome document.

INTERVIEW: Developing countries risk missing out on net-zero benefits, but fairer future is possible

The lead author of the World Economic Situations and Prospects mid-year update, the flagship report from DESA released on 16 May, outlines the main findings in an interview with UN News.

Hamid Rashid Inflation has come down significantly from the 2022 peak, but not to the extent that central banks can say that they have won the war. There’s still room for improvement. 

At the launch of the report, we mentioned that the US Federal Reserve targets “personal consumption expenditure inflation”, which is not about what you buy, but what you consume, and includes rent, including “imputed rent” [what homeowners would pay if they were still renting, and how much it would have gone up]. 

Those numbers are pretty slow moving, and that really make it difficult for the number to come down very quickly. 

Some developing countries still have very high inflation, but, overall, the trend is very positive. 

Hamid Rashid, economist and lead author of the World Economic Situations and Prospects Report, UN DESA

UN News And the reason we care about this is because there’s very often a lag between the cost of things and how much wages go up?

Hamid Rashid Exactly. It boils down to standard of living. If prices are going up higher than your wage growth rates, you are basically worse off in real terms. 

When inflation is very high, people feel very nervous because they are not able to spend as much. And that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They spend less, so the economy slows down even more. And that’s the challenge. 

UN News The Ukraine war has been going on for over two years, and now we have a catastrophic war in Gaza. What effect does conflict have on the global economy?

Hamid Rashid When the war in Ukraine started, we saw a huge spike in commodity prices. Oil prices shot up. Grain prices shot up. But they have normalized. Similarly, when the Gaza war began last October, we saw some increases in oil prices and some commodity prices but, again, they stabilized.

The global market is responding to this crisis more efficiently, and alternative sources are emerging, so we haven’t seen a severe effect on prices from the Gaza war. However, we are seeing other effects; freight prices have gone up because the Red Sea route is restricted.

In the early months of the Ukraine war, shipping was disrupted, causing a huge spike in grain and other commodity prices (file August 2022)
© UNOCHA/Levent Kulu

In the early months of the Ukraine war, shipping was disrupted, causing a huge spike in grain and other commodity prices (file August 2022)

UN News Because ships can’t travel through that area? 

Hamid Rashid Yes. And when you’re diverted around the Cape of Good Hope, you’re adding another 15 days of travel time, which really adds up a lot of costs. 

In general, the biggest headwind right now is geopolitical risk, which is why we have adjusted downward the growth forecast for the majority of the countries in Africa. 

UN News Turningto the impact of COVID, your report graph shows that, when COVID hit, the global economy almost comes to a standstill. But then there’s quite a sharp rebound after that. Are we getting back to where we would have been if there hadn’t been a pandemic? Or is it still going to be several years before we fully recover? 

Hamid Rashid There’s an illusion there in terms of a huge spike in 2021; it’s what we call the base effect. For example, if you have a massive drop, to minus 10 per cent growth, and the next year you have three per cent growth, it looks amazing. 

We absolutely have not gone back to the pre-COVID trajectory of global growth. 2023 was a very slow year. Trade is a major driver of economic growth, especially for developing countries that are very dependent on exporting their commodities or manufactured goods, and trade is not back to normal.

UN News And many countries ended up cutting back on public spending and basic services?

Hamid Rashid Yes, and we have always been very critical of austerity measures, especially when an economy is on a recovery path, because then you slow down the recovery. That goes for developed and developing countries: we saw this in Greece, Argentina and many other countries.

Governments have to spend to keep the economic momentum going, because it brings in private investment. For example, when you build a new road, a company can build a factory: if there’s no road, no one can get to the factory. So, public investment is often a critical catalyst for private investment and economic activities. 

A technician installs solar panels on a health centre in Burundi.
© UNICEF Burundi

A technician installs solar panels on a health centre in Burundi.

UN News The UN is urging the international community to speed up the transition to an economy that is no longer based on burning the fossil fuels which are driving the climate crisis. One of the consequences is a massive ramping up of the mining of the rare earth minerals that are needed to, for example, power an electric car. In the report, you say that this could create a new version of the so-called resource curse, meaning that those who mine these minerals we will need to power this cleaner economy, won’t necessarily benefit from the wealth they create.

Hamid Rashid Yes, but this is not inevitable, and we suggest that, if countries have the right policies in place, they can avoid this consequence. Many are actually moving in the right direction, because they’ve learned from past mistakes. 

For example, in many African and Latin American countries, the goal was to get as many minerals out of the earth and export it as raw ore and minerals. But this model is not very sustainable because you don’t get much value.

A ton of copper ore doesn’t give you much money, but if you can turn it into copper wires and other materials, you can add a lot more value. And that’s what countries are trying to do, with innovation and industrial policies. 

You have to bring the technology and the right investment. We are more optimistic about the strategic decisions that governments can make. 

Find out more about the state of the global economy on UN Weekly, an engaging and entertaining guide to the fascinating, little-known and often misunderstood world of the United Nations.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister hopes for high impact conference charting course for small island States

This year’s conference will focus on “charting the course toward resilient prosperity” by assessing small States’ ability to reach the ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

In an exclusive interview earlier this month at UN Headquarters, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, told UN News that he hopes the conference will be a game-changer for formulating strategies to mitigate climate change, crushing debt, and other key issues that may be stunting small island development.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

UN News: Why is Antigua and Barbuda hosting SIDS4?

Gaston Browne: The issue of human development is very important for us and we’re now taking on the leadership of SIDS to help SIDS achieve resilient prosperity.

We have had to contend with a number of challenges during the last two decades, especially the last decade in which we have seen [many] exogenous shocks literally decimating our economies and damaging our infrastructure, our buildings, our homes.

Fundamentally, we want to make sure that we improve the living standards of people living in SIDS to ensure sustainability so that these countries are not as susceptible to the impact of these climate shocks.

Evidently, this cannot be done alone because SIDS have very limited financial and human resources, so we will be galvanizing support from various stakeholders to make sure that we can raise enough resources to help us adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change while building over time more prosperous communities so that people can enjoy acceptable living standards.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda talks to UN News ahead of the 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) taking place there from 27-30 May 2024.
© Andy Liburd

Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda talks to UN News ahead of the 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) taking place there from 27-30 May 2024.

UN News: What are the main barriers to successful climate adaptation in your country and for SIDS generally?

Gaston Browne: The key issue is funding and technology. Some of the cutting-edge technologies that are available, we don’t have access to them primarily because we don’t have the funding. That is why we continue to advocate for increased funding for SIDS, adaptation mitigation and loss and damage.

A low-carbon future is imperative for us. The vagaries and the instability associated with fossil fuel prices have created serious challenges for us.

SIDS have been pushing at the various Conference of the Parties (COPS) for the establishment of the loss and damage fund. We have made some headway within the last COP and I’m hoping that by the next COP later this year we will have the operationalisation of funds that will start to be made available to these SIDS so that they can acquire the technologies and also reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and to reduce their carbon footprint – to have enough funding to build out more resilient socioeconomic infrastructure so that future storms will not be as impactful as in the past.

UN News: We know that SIDS are heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Can you imagine a low-carbon future for your country? And how can we make this a reality by 2030?

Gaston Browne: A low-carbon future is imperative for us. The vagaries and the instability associated with fossil fuel prices have created serious challenges for us.

In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, we’re actually moving away from fossil fuels and transitioning to green technologies, including solar and wind.

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We have even utilized [liquefied natural gas] as a transition fuel as we seek to reduce our carbon footprint and to have it reduced by about 30 per cent within the next few years, 50 per cent by 2030, and ultimately to become carbon neutral by about 2040.

Small States, including Antigua and Barbuda, have to lead by example. Making that transition is important to encourage the large users of fossil fuels, those who use fossil fuels in a very profligate way, to follow our lead and to reduce emissions because ultimately the issue of the use of fossil fuels goes beyond the issue of small States.

It’s about human survivability and protecting our planet and this is where we need global collaboration and cooperation to ensure that we all commit to reducing emissions.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda in studios with UN News' Shanae Harte ahead of the 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) taking place there from 27-30 May 2024.
© Andy Liburd

Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda in studios with UN News’ Shanae Harte ahead of the 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) taking place there from 27-30 May 2024.

UN News: How are SIDS worldwide coordinating and helping each other with climate issues? And is it feasible at anything beyond a regional level?

Gaston Browne: There’s been strong collaboration dating back over 30 years. This issue of climate has been driven primarily by small States.

We have advocated for the loss and damage fund to help us raise the necessary funding to recover from the consequences of ferocious and frequent storms and at the same time to help us to adapt and mitigate.

We’ve been collaborating in terms of taking certain legal opinions into the various tribunals including the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

There’s been strong collaboration among the small States. We’re doing this within our collective interests and to protect our civilisation. We continue to fight unrelentingly to get large polluters to reduce emissions.

There’s been strong collaboration among the small States. We’re doing this within our collective interests and to protect our civilisation. We continue to fight unrelentingly to get large polluters to reduce emissions.

UN News: What is your hope for the SIDS conference this year? What do you hope it’ll achieve?

Gaston Browne: I think it will be a conference with a difference, one in which we will mobilise all the players and we hope to have an outcome document that will chart the course towards resilient prosperity.

I’m pretty sure that the various issues that have affected small States – issues of climate change, debt, pandemics, even the consequences of wars – will be dealt with in a very holistic way, and that we will come up with strategies to help SIDS to mitigate against these issues that continue to undermine our development and ultimately make sure that we have more prosperous societies.

UN forum in Bahrain closes with calls to support women entrepreneurs in conflict areas

Hailing from Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Sudan and Gaza, women entrepreneurs were in the spotlight at the closing of the 2024 World Entrepreneurship Investment Forum (WEIF), which has been running since Tuesday in Bahrain’s capital, Manama.

During a panel discussion on ‘Women, Peace and Security’ and later in exclusive interviews with our UN News team that has been reporting from the forum venue, the businesswomen shared moving stories of how their projects inspired them to help others, and of the need for more funding.

Gaza conflict hampers women-led projects  

Tahani Abu Daqqa, a Palestinian businesswoman from Gaza has been in the enclave since the start of the most recent conflict, about seven months. She left three weeks ago and was about to return, but the crossing was closed, giving her the unexpected opportunity to attend the WEIF.

Ms. Abu Daqqa said she was “the first Palestinian woman to work in Gaza to create job opportunities for women such as clothing and biscuit factories, so that they could…remain in Gaza because many Gazans were going to work outside the Strip.”  

Tahani Abu Daqqa (on the screen,) a Palestinian businesswoman from Gaza.
UN News/Abdelmonem Makki

However, her work towards women’s empowerment has faced challenges. Recurring conflict in the Gaza Strip since 2007 has impeded the progress of her projects.  

By example, she said: “I established the Damour Foundation, focusing on environmental initiatives, like water-attracting devices and sewage treatment units powered by solar energy. I also created ‘Gaza Life for Renewable Energy,’ while facing financing challenges. Eventually I succeeded, only to see the project destroyed before completion.”

After the outbreak of the current conflict, everything changed.  

“Suddenly I became displaced in an area near the sea. I could have rented a small place to stay but the women and children were staying on the streets in the rain because they had been displaced and I had to do something to help them. We had nothing, no banks, no money.”  

Ms. Abu Daqqa said she completed a recent project but fell into more than $2.5 million worth of debt, yet “I forgot all the problems I was going through…I started thinking about the women who stay with their children in the rain [without shelter], so I began collecting money from friends and relatives to build camps.”

Participants take part in a panel discussion on women entrepreneurs in conflict zones at World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum in Bahrain.
UN News/Abdelmonem Makki

Unfortunately, she continued, there were no tents because international institutions were not prepared. “So, for this work in a time of emergency, I started buying wood, gathered relatives and volunteers, and started building tents day and night.”

“Jewish friends raised $5,000 for me to get out of Gaza, but I allocated the money to build tents for the people,” she explains to UN News.

‘Sudanese lives and dreams matter’

Alaa Hamadto, a Sudanese mother of three daughters, is the CEO and founder of Solar Food, a clean tech startup and a pioneer in the dried foods industry in Sudan.  

“Solar Food uses a solar drying process to produce a variety of organic dried food products which are packaged in environmentally friendly packaging, catering to both the retail and wholesale market.”

Ms. Hamadto’s factory was destroyed amid the conflict in Sudan. “We used to export our products to seven countries, including the UK, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Qatar. My business was located at the factory premises in Sudan,” she explains.

She went on to say, “My ultimate vision was to have a good impact on people’s lives. This can be achievable by helping smallholder farmers. I’m also trying to spread the concept of solar drying and how it’s beneficial to the people.”

Alaa Hamadto is a Sudanese mother of three daughters and she is also the CEO and founder of Solar Food.
UN News/Abdelmonem Makki

After war broke out a little more than a year ago, Ms. Hamadto says she lost everything.  

“Sudanese lives matter. Sudanese dreams matter. We have faced horrible things. Sudanese people lost everything. Their factories have been destroyed. We lost our valuables. We lost our people. Women have been raped.”

“Everybody says what is happening in Sudan is a… civil war, but that’s not true. It is a war over resources that has [become] an ethnic [conflict].”

When the conflict erupted, Ms. Hamadto at first fled to Egypt, but later decided to return to Sudan.  

“I chose to go back again to establish a drying factory, but it’s really difficult to operate again in Sudan,” she said, citing such challenges as inflation, equipment scarcity, communication barriers, frequent power cuts, and security threats like bombings and drones.

Despite all this, she stated: “I think we’re building resilience. We know that nobody is coming to save us, and it is up to us to get up again.”

Empowering Afghan mothers 

Malalai Helmandi, Chief Operations Officer of the solar energy-producing organization Helmandi Solar in Afghanistan, and her husband Hamid Helmand are implementing projects to empower women in the Asian nation.

Over the past two and a half years, their company has been setting up greenhouses for women affected by conflict and crises, she explained and added that 47 years of war in Afghanistan have weakened the role of mothers as the backbone of the household.  

Malalai Helmandi, Chief Operations Officer of the solar energy-producing organization Helmandi Solar in Afghanistan, and her husband Hamid Helmand, the head of the company.
UN News/Abdelmonem Makki

“[A mother] spends most of the time in the most important years of a child’s development. And in a culture like Afghanistan, where the family unit is so strong, I find that those families [are more stable] where the mother is empowered, has knowledge, and is given an opportunity to either bring in her own income, or at the very minimum, be part of a decision making through something that might be… income generating.”

For his part, Mr. Helmand said that after three days at WEIF, he will return home believing that “with our efforts, ideology and thoughts, I think we can restore those responsibilities and jobs to women because 80 per cent of those women have lost their jobs due to war and due to what has been happening in that area.”  

‘Conflict in Iraq could not stop me’

In 2018, the Iraqi Government was combatting the ISIS militant group, but these conditions did not deter Basima Abdulrahman, Founder and CEO of the KESK company, which seeks Greentech energy solutions through technology.

“I decided to build a sustainable business because I loved sustainability, [but] I didn’t know that it would end up a climate action business,” Ms. Abdulrahman told UN News.

Basima Abdulrahman, Founder and CEO of the KESK company.
UN News/Hisae Kawamori

She added: “I was not afraid of the ongoing conflict because climate change is as big a threat as ISIS, so actions to counter [both] must go together and not be fought in a specific order, so I decided it wasn’t too early, but it could be too late.”

Ms. Abdulrahman believes that for Iraq, the transition to renewable energy is not just a strategic plan or a luxury but a necessity. There is a 50 per cent shortage of electricity in the country, and this gap is currently being filled by generators that pollute the environment and which do not actually close the gap. Above all, they are expensive.  

She urged women entrepreneurs in conflict areas or in areas where there is peace, but where patriarchy is entrenched, to “start a big business and grow it. You can always be resilient and strengthen your business and move forward despite any challenges you face.”

A group picture of participants at the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF) in Manama, Bahrain.
UN News/Abdelmonem Makki

Entrepreneurs’ voices have been heard  

As the curtain fell on WEIF2024 here in Manama, Dr. Hashim Hussein, Head of the UNIDO Office for Technology and Investment Promotion in Bahrain, which facilitated the forum, said he was proud that “we have been able to ensure that entrepreneurs raise their voices.”

“We have seen that entrepreneurs within the United Nations system had the opportunity to speak. And, young people, we are listening to them now; they used to be just listeners.”

“I think the greatest achievement of WEIF 2024 is that we have…involved the international community in recognizing and understanding the problems and hardships of women in conflict and how we can help them,” he went on to say.

He told UN News on the margins of the forum that such support should be through economic development, to ensure that they sustain their families “and, of course, the communities and the countries which they are living in. I think this is going to be our major achievement this year of the World Interference Investment Forum 2024.” 

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