Oceans are vital for Small Island Developing States, in fact their economies completely depend on them. The same goes for the Seychelles: the country depends on marine tourism and the fisheries sector. Just before a conference on Small Island Developing States in Brussels (see inset), we met Ronny Jumeau, Ambassador of the Seychelles at the United Nations, who highlighted the importance of the oceans for his country.
'Without the ocean, we have no economy', stresses Ronny. The Seychelles have always been an 'ocean economy', with marine tourism and fisheries as the most importance sources of income. The country already started to develop a concept for the 'blue economy' - the sustainable use of marine resources - even before Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.
The Seychelles are currently the global leaders in the area of financing for sustainable development. In 2015, the World Bank even changed the status of the country from 'above-average income country' to 'high-income country'. However, many people were less excited by this promotion: the country had significant debts. The more success you achieve as a Small Island Developing State with limited resources, the harder it becomes to find financing. 'Reaching the summit is one thing, staying there is another matter. Especially due to climate change which affects the oceans; coastal erosion affecting tourism; coral reefs dying; marsh areas, mangroves and fish stocks all being affected...'
The Seychelles have always been an 'ocean economy', with marine tourism and fisheries as the most importance sources of income.
Help us to help ourselves
'There is no point in complaining that we do not have access to Official Development Assistance (ODA). We have found other ways. For example, we have approached NGOs, philanthropists and civil society. Small Island Developing States have their own ideas on how to help their open economies survive. That is why they need innovative and sustainable sources of finance'.
The Seychelles firstly arranged a debt swap with the Paris Club (United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and South Africa). South Africa joined as one of the BRICS, a group of emerging countries. Together with the Club, it would like to help pay off the debt of the Seychelles.
The debt swap generated 21 million dollars to transform 30% of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ - hyperlink) of the Seychelles into marine protected areas. 'The ocean territory of the Seychelles is 3,000 times larger than all of our islands put together. It is the first debt swap arranged by the Club for a Small Island Developing State, and for the oceans. If it turns out to be a success, it can act as a model for all Small Island Developing States or countries with an ocean economy'.
'Of course there is still 70% for which we need to find financing. As such, we approached the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) which funds climate initiatives. That is where the 'Blue Bond' was proposed: a combination of private and public money to foster sustainable fisheries. The money is loaned to the fisheries sector on condition that they incorporate sustainable methods. Of course the sector must repay the Blue Bond.'
Fishermen in the Seychelles have great difficulty in obtaining loans from private banks, and even then the costs are prohibitive. It is a stark contrast to people from the tourism sector.
An initiative of this kind was crucial. Fishermen in the Seychelles have great difficulty in obtaining loans from private banks, and even then the costs are prohibitive. It is a stark contrast to people from the tourism sector. The Blue Bond gives fishermen a financial stimulus so that they don't need to stop their activities.
'The Blue Bond currently amounts to 15 million dollars. We will hopefully launch it by the end of 2017. That way, we can shift our activities to the 70% of our ocean territory which is still unprotected. Thanks to our 'Ocean Blue Bond' initiative, we won the 'Ocean Innovation Challenge' award in Bali'.
Belgium organises a workshop for Small Island States
On the initiative of Minister for Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders, our country organised a workshop between 7 and 9 March, specifically for Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Representatives from 36 countries actively took part. The aim: to debate the viability of the oceans and consider the impact of climate change.
The SIDS representatives were also able to meet Belgian NGOs and companies who offer solutions for a range of challenges affecting Small Island Developing States: stimulating hydro-power, solar, wave and wind energy, cleaning or recycling of marine waste, desalination of seawater, and measures to protect marine life. They also came into contact with the European Commission.
The event was organised together with the FPS Environment and IOC-UNESCO in Ostend (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission). Belgium intends to continue its commitment for the interests of Small Island Developing States.