NZ statement to SIDS Open Debate

  • Murray McCully
Foreign Affairs

Open Debate: Peace and security challenges facing Small Island Developing States, delivered by Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs, July 30, 2015 (New York time).

I thank our distinguished briefers for their informative contributions and the heads of government and Ministers who have come to New York to participate in this debate.

Of 44 small island developing states, only 6 have served on the Security Council.

We called for this debate in order to give the Council the opportunity it rarely has to hear what security looks like to small island developing states.

And to give small island developing states, which constitute about a fifth of the UN membership, a chance to have their voices heard in this Council.

New Zealand is a Pacific country with a significant stake in the peace and security of the small island developing states in our region.

By their very size, isolation and nature, SIDS can often walk a thin line between success and failure. Let’s look at some key characteristics.

SIDS are small: three quarters have a population of less than a million. The majority in our region have populations below half a million.

They are islands with Exclusive Economic Zones significantly larger than their land masses and are often without the capacity to conduct surveillance of their zones, let alone defend them.

They are developing: most receive some level of development assistance to balance the books. 

Their size and capacity limitations make them a target for transnational criminal networks, including those involved in piracy or the smuggling of drugs, arms and people. 

Today I am sure we will hear directly from representatives about the impact of climate change, as we have from our briefers, and natural disasters on small island developing states.

The recent cyclone in Vanuatu caused US$360 million worth of damage - about 45 per cent of Vanuatu’s GDP and Hurricane Sandy cost US$315 million across the Caribbean.

But the important point here is not just about the impact of climate change or natural disasters themselves - it is about the impact on countries that are already vulnerable.

Most SIDS simply do not have the economic diversity or the resources to handle major shocks.

Being a small island developing state is to have an inbuilt force multiplier whenever a natural disaster or man-made conflict occurs.

And these security and development challenges can have regional consequences.

New Zealand views its own peace and security as being directly affected by the prosperity and stability of the SIDS in our region, the Pacific.

So the important strategic question for this Council and for the wider UN community is, in my view: how do we take some meaningful steps to make SIDS less vulnerable in the face of threats to their security from natural disasters and from man-made challenges.

I want to discuss two areas in which we have been working with partners in our region to increase resilience.

First, we can build the resilience of SIDS by helping them to derive full benefit from the sustainable use of their often limited resource base.

The Pacific’s largest asset is the only truly healthy tuna fishery in the world, which should be used to make its owners more economically sustainable than they are today.

Last year the value of the tuna caught in the Exclusive Economic Zones of Pacific countries was US$3.4billion- double the development assistance to the region from all sources.

Around an additional US$400million of tuna was estimated to have been taken from the zone illegally or through under reporting.

They, the Pacific owners, receive around 14 per cent of the market value of the resource. Many other players clip the ticket along the way.

My point is simple: SIDS need the international community to cooperate to ensure that they receive a fair return from their economic assets.

And we need a concerted international effort to stamp out illegal fishing and under-reporting practices. They amount to literally stealing from some of the poorest people on our planet.

For the SIDS in our region, the practical impact of achieving these goals would be, quite simply, transformational for their prosperity and security. 

My second point relates to an equally transformational change that can be made on the other side of the economic ledger: dealing with energy insecurity caused by dependence on hugely expensive fossil fuels.

The Pacific, in common with most of the SIDS, is heavily dependent on diesel for electricity generation. Yet a litre or gallon of diesel in the Pacific costs more than double what you will pay here in New York.

Up to a third of the total import bill of SIDS is the cost of oil for electricity; on average 10 per cent of their GDPs.

That’s why my country has been at the forefront of an attempt to quickly move the small island states in the Pacific from fossil fuels to renewable electricity.

I can report that we are making good progress.  When you are small, you can make things happen quickly.

All three atolls in the Tokelau Islands, previously wholly dependent upon fossil fuels for electricity are now effectively 100 per cent renewable, through the installation of solar generation.

All five islands in the Northern Cooks have been, as of this year, moved from 100 per cent dependency on fossil fuels to 100 per cent renewable.

Most of the Southern Group islands will follow this year.

By the end of this year, all of the islands in Tuvalu, except for Funifuti, will be 100 per cent renewable.

And in more populated parts of the region, significant progress has been made in substituting renewables, mostly solar, for diesel-generated power in Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands capital of Rarotonga.

More recently we have become involved in transporting some of the renewable energy skills acquired in our region to some of the states in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean.

These are not only life-changing developments in their own right- they make a huge contribution towards making small island developing states more resilient, less vulnerable to economic shocks and serious acts of nature.

In conclusion, I want to revert to a point I made earlier.

Being small has its disadvantages, but it has one huge advantage: you can make things happen quickly.

That is the approach we need to take in ensuring that small island developing states become better equipped to deal with the challenges to their security today.