Celebrating World Biodiversity Day 2014

© Y. Chavance/Tara Expéditions

Interview of Dessima M. Williams, diplomat / rights advocate.


As the former Chair of the AOSIS, and Ambassador of Grenada, what would you tell us about islands ? What are the specificities of islands ?

The 43 islands of the AOSIS which Grenada chaired, (2007 – 2011), are quite diverse in size, ethnicity, history, economy, ecology and so on. However, small island developing states (SIDS) share great similarities of working toward sustainable development in the context of barriers such as small size, climate change challenges and lack of effective control over international policies. With small populations, islands face the challenges of remoteness from large markets and transportation routes; high cost of operations, (fuel, administration); lack of understanding by many institutions in the metropolitan areas and constant assault from international economic and trade policies. Determined to survive against these odds, islands are therefore societies with great resilience, models of peoples determination and capacity, in fact, achieving some success. Nevertheless, without adequate resources, much of the potential of SIDS is not yet realized and people and their societies are at risk of non-achievement.


What about islands biodiversity? Why islands are so fragile / vulnerable ?

Due to the relative remoteness of islands, (from mainland species and activities), they are generally less exposed, or “disturbed” and so they develop unique species not found elsewhere (e.g. Madagascar). The biological diversity of islands is therefore an incredible source of unique plant and animal species both terrestrial and marine. The fragility of islands mostly comes from sudden and massive invasion to ecosystems that are generally under-exposed from day-to-day harshness. We also recognize that human degradation (poor land use policies, dumping, sand mining) erodes island environment and contribute to loss and fragility.


What can be done by the international society to protect islands biodiversity ?

The International community can and should support islands to protect, expand and to more directly benefit (benefit sharing) from their incredible assets. Happily, UNESCO, UNEP and other UN bodies lead this effort by recognizing and supporting the heritage of islands. This is the International Year of Small Island Developing States (IY-SIDS). The major conference to this (September, in Samoa), is dedicated to partnerships and it will be opportune for the whole world to enter into partnerships with islands that protect and enhance their biodiversity. These can include sustainable development programming, including adaptation measures, and provision of the means of implementation – capacity building finance and technology as well as support for disaster risk reduction, prevention and response. One way of protecting the biodiversity of islands is to support strong climate change adaptation actions. For example support water supply, re-build and protect mangroves, offer support for integrated agricultural, farm and trade policies, gender-sensitive and fair land use and more. Also, a strong climate mitigation regime should be agreed to (2015 in Paris), led by the international target close to 1.5 degrees centigrade as a global average temperature.


Are islands the sentinels of the world ?

In some sense, yes, islands are the sentinels of the world; I offer two examples. Our rich and often unique land and sea resources inform the world of humanity’s total heritage; simultaneously they often signal losses that have occurred in other parts of the world. Seeing the heritage of islands, some societies adjust policies, and choose restoration activities –e.g., coastal management and tree-planting. Another sentinel function of islands is in the field of climate change impacts. That which climate science anticipates is currently occurring in islands– destruction from sea level rise, ferocious and untimely hurricanes, draught, floods and more. Thus the climate alarm bell has a loud sound and much credibility. Indeed, islands have moved the climate change needle from speculation and forecast to happening now. In every sense, then the “sentinels” are already on duty! Please hear our message: islands’ biodiversity is life itself! Support islands.


Dessima M. Williams Ph. D. , diplomat / rights advocate.