Tuesday, January 12 2021 | 45 minutes | 10:00 GMT
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) consist of 38 United Nations Member States and 20 island territories holding a number of unique characteristics, potentials and challenges. The SIDS have a combined population of around 65 million people contributing to less than 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. They are extremely important for global biodiversity, as islands harbour 20 per cent of all plant, bird, and reptile species on only about 3 per cent of the Earth’s land surface.
Their relative isolation and small populations present a number of economic, environmental and social issues to their development, most notably barriers to economic growth and diversification, access to food and digital infrastructure; extreme vulnerability to climate change, including rising sea levels, extreme weather events and coastal erosion as well as a loss of biodiversity; and concomitant social issues, such as relatively high rates of non-communicable diseases, youth emigration and gender issues.
Many of these issues have been exacerbated by the current Covid-19 pandemic, which has required significant governments’ expenditure to support healthcare and welfare, in countries already overburdened by the containment measures and struggling with external debt issues. The GDP of SIDS will likely shrink by 4.7 per cent this year, 50 per cent more than the predicted global contraction of around 3%. The Bahamas, Maldives, Seychelles and Palau are expected to shrink by 8 per cent or more, making the economic fallout of the pandemic particularly severe in these countries, where tourism is a key growth engine and has been one of the most disproportionately affected sectors.
Adopted in 2014, the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action Pathway (SAMOA Pathway) is the overarching UN framework for guiding global, regional and national development efforts to achieve the development aspirations of SIDS and constitutes an integral part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its related SDGs. Central to the achievement of this framework is the upscaling of scientific, technological and innovation capacities amongst SIDS, as noted in paragraph 111 of the SAMOA Pathway: “…we reaffirm our commitment to support the efforts of small island developing States to gain access, on mutually agreed terms, to appropriate, reliable, affordable, modern and environmentally sound technologies and know-how and to increase connectivity and the use of information and communications technology through improved infrastructure, training and national legislation, as well as public and private sector involvement.” The importance of ICTs is further enshrined in SDG Target 9.c, where the international community commits to “significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”. There has been some progress made in terms of digitalization in recent years.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has noted that SIDS are well on their way to achieving universality and affordability of digital technologies, having attained almost 90 per cent broadband coverage for these populations. The cost of mobile data has almost halved since 2014 while by 2021, five more SIDS will be connected to fibre-optic submarine cables, leaving just three unconnected from global undersea networks.
Evidence shows that telecommunications increases output and capital productivity in SIDS, helping them to overcome some of the challenges connected to remoteness. Moreover, technological advancement and innovation are creating new opportunities for enhancing disaster resiliency and risk reduction: by spreading critical information more quickly, improving understanding of the causes of disasters, enhancing early warning systems, assessing damage in new ways and adding to the knowledge base of the social behaviours and economic impacts after a crisis strikes.
However, SIDS are also currently experiencing many constraints in terms of accessing disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the Industrial Internet of Things, blockchain, drones and mobile money services due to a number of shortages in financing, expertise and digital skills. These issues act as a barrier to SIDS effectively harnessing the full potential of ICT. In light of these and other challenges to digitalization of SIDS, this webinar will focus on how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can foster inclusive and sustainable industrial development in SIDS.