EarthX Island Resilience Forum
April 25th and 26th, 2020
In it its second year, the Island Resilience Forum’s shift to a virtual format at EarthX underscored the urgency of its mission in the midst of a global pandemic. Despite being separated by thousands of miles, climate change challenges and solutions resonate from islands across the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea.
Leaders, researchers, poets and student activists from around the world joined Saturday over live Zoom feeds to engage in meaningful dialogue that illustrated the link between public health and climate-driven issues. Belize, Seychelles, Tonga, the Marshall Islands, Guam, Fiji, Aruba, Grenada, the Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Maarten were among the islands represented.
As island nations drive climate goals forward, they face unique challenges in the immediate response to Covid-19 and its economic impact on communities. “If this isn’t a wakeup call for humanity, I don’t know what is,” said Toholo Kami, Special Representative for Oceans for Fiji. Fiji is among the Pacific islands recovering from Cyclone Harold, an effort complicated by a pandemic that limits access to aid. “This is the time for the big conversations, while the world is sitting in our living rooms,” he said.
Many of the islands share pressing challenges tied to the loss of tourism, access to healthcare, and the threat to food security.
Beyond challenges presented by Covid-19, conversations focused on how island nations organize and share information to achieve long term environmental goals set by the UN. “The Island Resilience Forum is an action-oriented event that is designed to help island communities achieve the United Nation’s sustainable development goals through the creation of partnerships,” said Matt Tranchin, CEO of Island Resilience Partnership and President of March for Science, who kicked off the day-long conference on Saturday morning in his opening remarks.
Leaders from Anguilla, St. Maarten and Tonga announced new partnerships over the course of the forum. Collaboration was a strong theme from public private partnerships, to the works of NGOs, to ongoing regional partnerships that bring islands together for dialogue and action.
Premier Victor Banks announced Anguilla’s collaboration with the March for Science to replicate Beatcovid.ai, a new Anguillan digital platform that helps communicate information about the pandemic. “It’s a collaborative effort in the region and we are always looking out for things we can prepare ourselves for,” Banks said in a morning session. “As soon as we recognized the impact of the Corona virus pandemic we needed to put things in motion.”
Tonga’s Prime Minister Pohiva Tu announced Tonga’s partnership with GridMarket to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. GridMarket, a US-based machine-learning platform, helps to connect consumers to low-cost energy solutions. While St. Maarten Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs has recently made newswith her swift and vocal comments on the Covid-10 response, she focused on the island’s climate change initiatives, and announced St. Maarten’s plans to work with GridMarket on data mapping to reduce greenhouse gases. GridMarket is already working with Samoa and Palau on similar initiatives, spearheaded by the Island Resilience Partnership.
Leaders addressed initiatives in networks around the world, including Glispa’s work to create sustainable island communities. One session focused on the work of the UNDP to advocate for small islands on climate action and the health needsof the most vulnerable. Dr. Al Binger, Secretary General of SIDS-DOCK, addressed his organization’s effort to create awareness around climate change to small island developing states.
Some regional groups shared how islands are pooling together to combat global warming. UN Ambassador Samuelu Laloniu of Tuvalu explained howthe Pacific Island Forum, established in 1971, created a platform for 18 independent government territories, including Australia and New Zealand, to have more influence collectively. “To have 18 self-governing territories speaking as one voice gives us a lot of power,” he said. “We have always called for 1.5 or less degrees. We are living the impacts of climate change in our region. That’s the message.”
Other sessions focused on how data is informing decision making on climate-driven policy. The Global Health SecurityIndex, released in the fall of 2019, assessed 195 countries’ health and security capability. “There’s a lot of power in data. Understanding challenges is powerful to understand solutions,” said Priya Bapat, a project manager for the GHS Index.
After a day of impactful programming led by the Island Resilience Forum’s expert moderators, the message was clear: though much is left to be done in the effort to combat climate change, island nations draw from collective strength. Moderator Danni Washington captured the sentiment of the programming, “I vote that we change the name from small island nations to mighty island nations.”
Written by: Tamara Warren