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Remarks by President James Michel, at the UNDP- GEF event under the theme "Small Island Developing States-Large Ocean states: sustainable development from ridge to reef and beyond", held in the margins of the 3rd International Conference on SIDS

15.09.2014

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to share Seychelles' experiences with you.

I would like to convey my sincere appreciation to both UNDP and GEF for organising this event which not only aims to tap into the vast potential of our oceans to build more resilient island nations- but which also provides valuable insights for many organising principles of development.

A key message that must resonate in Samoa, is that without sustainable islands- there is no sustainable planet. They are intrinsically linked.

And there are no sustainable islands without sustainable oceans.

This is why we need to invest in developing a 'Blue Economy'- a framework for development where oceans are not just a 'natural asset' alongside mountains and rivers, but are rather conceptualised as a development space, contiguous with the islands which they surround.

In island societies, oceans are already central to our way of life- and pillars of our economies.  They provide our trade routes.  They are critical to our food security.  They offer us opportunities to develop coastal based tourism.  They connect us in fundamental ways.

But the world's oceans are under-appreciated unfortunately .  We take them for granted for the finite resources they provide.  While we also have yet to actually scratch the surface of all the additional opportunities that they can provide- from energy to new sources of food, and not to mention the mineral resources that lie beneath the waves.

A blue economy implies that we must seek a sustainable framework for the management of this resource.  The status quo is inadequate.  Too many are happy to pillage resources with no responsibility for the management of oceans.

A key part of the solution is to empower SIDS.  We are the guardians of these spaces.

But oceans transcend island states- they cover the majority of our planet.

A real Blue Economy will provide a sustainable model that goes far beyond our island nations.  I am pleased and proud that the African Union has made the Blue Economy a key part of its Agenda 2063- a recognition that Africa's oceans have yet to truly benefit Africans.  We must reclaim our oceans as part of our development process.

Seychelles has been very active in building partnerships on the Blue Economy.  It is a concept we will continue to promote relentlessly. We were pleased to co-host in January of this year with the Government of the United Arab Emirates, a Blue Economy Summit held in Abu Dhabi which aimed to mobilise resources to support our move towards oceans orientated development.

The Abu Dhabi Declaration has set the tone for us to get more support for enhanced oceanic research, more attention given to using oceans as key component in food security, more investment in ocean based technology, and a commitment to re-look at oceans governance.

It is clearer than ever, that as we re-calibrate our development goals towards 'Sustainable Development Goals' that sustainability of our planet will remain a mythical concept unless we can put oceans at the heart of our objectives.  We need an SDG that addresses oceans explicitly.

 

I would also like to emphasise the importance of research as we move to a Blue Economy and we need capacity building for this.  Most islands that are blessed with a large EEZ do not have the technology or the manpower to engage in the research required to properly negotiate commercial agreements that are based on scientific principles or the collection of objective data. We are reliant on partners to assist us with this.  I would like to hereby highlight and thank the Commonwealth for their initiative in assisting Seychelles to develop its Blue Economy Planning based on objective data available.  But going forward, we need a global commitment to invest more in oceanic research.

Marine Spatial Planning is also a critical tool for islands to effectively make use and sustainably manage their oceans and seas.  In Seychelles we are currently engaged in such an exercise with the technical support of 'The Nature Conservancy' (TNC).  Marine spatial planning allows countries to balance effectively between often conflicting activities- the imperatives of conservation and the necessities of preserving community fishing rights for example.

 

In Seychelles, with the support of the TNC we are also aiming to better prepare ourselves against climate change by creating reserves that provide carbon sinks, while also protecting sensitive areas and building resilience against climate change.  This same project is aiming to establish a 'debt swap' whereby through the establishment of these reserves we aim to convince partners to write off portions of our debt.  Debt remains a great challenge for the majority of middle income SIDS, and it is essential that we find innovations such as these which help us to escape from what we call the middle-income trap.

Energy is the other key area that the Blue Economy can address in a fundamental way for SIDS.  We pay too much for the importation of fossil fuels.  And while we have many of the natural conditions ideal for wind or solar energy- we lack the land space and infrastructure and technology to be able to rapidly upscale our capability.  Energy projects that either use our oceanic space or generates it from the ocean will allow us to engage in renewable energy projects at a faster pace.

Finally ladies and gentlemen,

Our engagement in our blue economy must be one that is inclusive.  I am very encouraged that in Seychelles, more and more fishing communities are associating themselves and engaging with the government as part of civil society.  For the Blue Economy to work, we have to place these traditional fishing and coastal communities at the heart of our actions.

We must also engage our young people.  We must build the understanding of our ocean as common heritage, and as opportunity for a new generation.  we must encourage innovation, and entrepreneurship that looks to engage with the sea in new ways.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that all of Seychelles development plans will mean nothing unless we can truly move towards a Blue Economy- that recognises the real challenges from ridge to reef and beyond.

I thank you

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