I was really fortunate to participate in the plenary opening meeting yesterday afternoon, on behalf of the Marshall Islands (RMI), which I interned at their permanent mission in New York over the past semester. As I sat there with three ministers of the RMI (foreign affairs, environment and transportation), senior advisor of climate change and two escorts behind the president, Mr. Christopher Loeak, it struck me that this is a once-in-a-life-time experience: to be able to assist one of the most vulnerable small island states on a national, regional, and now international level.
The RMI is a small pacific island nation that sits, on average, two meters above sea level in the Pacific oceans. Twenty years ago at the first Rio Summit, the first President of the RMI, at this very site said, “While the Marshall Islands understands the reluctance of some nations to fully commit to binding and definitive agreements at this time, we are also deeply concerned that if there is not a consensus to undertake serious preventative and restorative action on a global scale, time may run out”. Yesterday, President Loeak started his speech by saying that: “20 years later, time has run out”. RMI has done a lot, with its very limited resources, on climate change adaptation, sustainable fisheries and is very active in search for alternative energy. But RMI is not the only SIDS that has started, a long time before the earth summit, to work towards a sustainable development agenda. I had the privilege to speak with the prime minister of Grenada (as we were stuck in traffic for 2 hours, and I happen to sit next to him!). He told me that their nation has practiced sustainable development way before it was even in the international agenda- because to them, sustainability is deeply rooted in their culture.
At the moment, even though the outcome document seems to be watered-down a great deal, compared to the original version, some heads of states (from SIDS) that I had the privilege to speak to over the past four days expressed some optimism for the outcome of this conference. Mr. George Prime, the Prime Minister of two other islands of Grenada said, the issues that we have discussed in the conference, and awareness that we have raised (on blue economy) have already surpassed what we had aimed to achieve from this earth summit. Some encouragement for us who are helping with small island developing states!