World Government Summit Keynote Address By Mr Wavel Ramkalawan, President of the Republic of Seychelles The Era of Climate Change: The urgency of addressing rising seas 14th February 2023
14 February 2023 | Foreign Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me to start with a cup of solidarity for Turkey, Syria and everyone engulfed in pain and tears as a result of Mother Earth’s sufferings and tribulations. We stand together as one family, united in the same aspiration.
Climate change affects the development of all nations, regardless of location, size of the economy or demographics.
Yet, no other group of nations is more vulnerable to its devastating effects than Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Climate change is the current reality and nightmare for SIDS like Seychelles. With the majority of our populations living on land that is less than five meters above sea level or along coasts, the threat of sea level rise, storm surges, and coastal destruction pose existential risks to us. SIDS live through constant assaults from climate change that undermine our livelihood, security and our mere existence. Beautiful beaches, representing the sea, sun and sand that attract tourists and sustain our economy are at sea level, thus making us most vulnerable. Danger is staring us in the eye daily.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the President of a Small Island Developing State, Africa’s smallest country with just under 100,000 inhabitants,I know how vulnerable the Seychellois community is to climate change and how imperative sustainability is and will be to our survival.
Sea-level rise poses a significant threat to small island communities and ecosystems. 95% of Seychelles’ critical infrastructure is located on the coast and is exposed to impacts of sea-level rise, such as coastal erosion,salinization of coastal aquifers affecting ground and surface water, impeded drainage, and loss of coastal and marine ecosystems. Sea level rise has also resulted in contraction of habitats, shifts in the geographical location of coastal species and loss of biodiversity.
Over 40% of Seychellois live in low lying areas which will also be directly impacted by the rising sea level, while also being exposed to flooding and extreme weather that all local communities in Seychelles will have to endure. While the ocean threatens to sink our coralline islands, and make our populated granitic ones uninhabitable, my people also depend on it for their livelihood and nourishment, with our culture and identity intrinsically tied to its vibrancy and health.
With most economic activities lying along a narrow coastal zone, sea level rise due to the impact of climate change is of great concern to the Seychelles. Coastal erosion is already being experienced across the country particularly over the main islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue.
For the past years, observed peaks in the sea level were more likely attributed to thermal expansion of the oceans - a rise in sea level due to rising water temperature, and associated with climate variability. The upward trend in the sea level has gradually become more pronounced and today we are facing the new harsh reality of climate change.
The long-term trend shows a rise in sea level to approximately +6.1mm/year. At the century scale and without adaptation, the vast majority of low-lying islands, coasts and communities face substantial risks from these coastal hazards, whether they are urban or rural, continental or island, at any latitude, and irrespective of their level of development.
Small Island Developing States like Seychelles experience a series of unique social and economic development challenges, and these are linked directly to our small size. Economically, we tend to be high-income countries, but socially we tend to endure widespread inequality which means that we carry some of the largest external debt burdens in the world. We have high levels of social capital and community cohesion, but we are the ones to experience severe capacity constraints in terms of delivery of adequate public services.
Environmentally, we bear little responsibility for the global concentration of greenhouse gases, yet we are disproportionately vulnerable to climate-induced shocks and intensifying ecological transitions, making us the most vulnerable societies to climate change. It should be noted that SIDS have been at the forefront of global discussions on strong climate mitigation efforts, minimizing the risks from climate change, and on mechanisms to address loss and damage.
But we cannot do it alone. Dealing with the impacts of climate change is complex and multifaceted and can only be approached holistically.
Hence why international cooperation is crucial if we want to help small island nations address the impact of climate change. We need not only financial but technological and capacity-building support to mitigate and adapt. There is an urgent need to strengthen international cooperation including North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation now more than ever to ensure genuine and durable partnerships at both regional and international levels. Ultimately, countries like Seychelles need partnerships, equal partnerships to face this climate crisis.
Although Seychelles is considered as a high-income country, we do share similar issues with the vulnerable groups when it comes to climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, recovery and rehabilitation considerations and environmental sustainability.
Countries should not be ‘punished’, as we feel, for their hard work and commitments for the betterment of their peoples.
There needs to be a way that concessional financing and grants are unlocked to make the critical sectors of the economies of such countries more resilient. For this reason, Seychelles fully supports the adoption and implementation of a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI) as a more equitable measure of vulnerability for SIDS and LDCs.
As complex causes for vulnerability will persist, the need and the call for the development of indices that adequately capture the particular vulnerabilities of SIDS like Seychelles is important. It will help to guide programmatic support, viable debt service payment and financing for sustainable development.
Building resilience and adaptation to climate change is important and the whole government approach must be taken. The national and local authorities responsible for critical infrastructures and regulating finance and investment must work hand in hand with authorities responsible for climate change and environmental issues. Information flow and planning between these entities and other parts of government are key for minimizing risks and making informed decisions. Climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction, recovery and rehabilitation considerations and environmental sustainability needs and concerns must be integrated into public as well as private medium to long-term plans.
The ocean and its resources provide SIDS with an opportunity to make use of its vast water territories. It provides opportunities for economic growth, enhance the livelihood of the nation and the reinforcement of energy security. In 2018, the Seychelles launched the world’s first sovereign blue bonds, mobilizing USD 15 million for blue economy projects that support sustainable marine and fisheries projects. Proceeds from the bond support, for example, the expansion of marine protected areas (MPAs) and improved fisheries governance. In March 2020, the Seychelles secured the first-ever climate adaptation debt restructuring. Part of the country’s foreign debt will be forgiven in exchange for designating 32% of its ocean territory as MPAs.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Seychelles, like other SIDS, is building a vision for a climate resilient future that puts adaptation and loss and damage at the centre of its decision-making, while taking immediate actions now to protect the people, the economy and the environment. This is the Seychelles Way that I profess. For this reason, we are second on the Mo Ibrahim Index, first in Africa as far as the perception of Corruption is concerned and first also when it comes to the freedom of the media. Democracy has firmly taken root, political stability is second nature and protecting the environment only comes naturally. We are small, but punching above our weight.
But we cannot do it alone.
The review of the criteria to measure development support and access to funding is important now more than ever. The application of a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index, therefore, remains for SIDS, a coherent and viable approach and strategy to resolving our current predicament.
We are all part of the global climate crisis. We must work harder and faster to maintain a livable planet for this and future generations. If we fail to act now, in this decade, with urgency, we will see a climate crisis on a scale that is unimaginable.
But there is hope that we can overcome the challenges that we face through collective action, global solidarity and with political will.
I thank you.