IEF activity at the United Nations
Mauritius International Meeting
on Small Island Developing States
St. Louis, Mauritius, 6-14 January 2005
The President of the International Environment Forum participated in the Mauritius International Meeting on Small Island Developing States organized by the United Nations (10-14 January 2005) as part of an official delegation, as the accredited representative of the Global Islands Network and as the representative of CSD Education Caucus, so he could also represent the interests of IEF. The IEF co-sponsored with the Education Caucus, the Stakeholder Forum and other organizations a parallel event "Engaging People in Sustainability: the Strategy" at the Civil Society Forum on 11 January 2005, which was chaired by Dr. Arthur Dahl, IEF President.
While the attendance was moderate because of the distance between the main conference site and the exhibition centre where the NGO activities were held, the panel was able to engage in a lively discussion with the participants from around the world, including two representatives of the Bahá'í community of Mauritius. Arthur Dahl of IEF discussed the specificity of educational processes and participation in small island countries and communities, such as the need for generalists more than specialists. Kesaia Tabunakawai of WWF-International in Fiji gave a very good presentation on stakeholder processes at the community level. She described their community-based protected areas, with management plans based on full stakeholder involvement. She said it was necessary for the community to define its vision of what the resource (coral reef, mangrove) should be like and what they wanted to get out of it. The panel presentations were followed by a good discussion with the participants from Guam, Madagascar, Mauritius, New Zealand, Samoa, UN/DESA and UNDP. Among the points raised were the importance of getting a tangible output from local ownership, which was easy with fish but more difficult for low productivity tropical forests. If these did not have sacred or cultural value, then conservation payments were necessary. Customary land ownership on many islands permitted sustainable uses in the past, but there were now economic pressures to change the tenure system to facilitate development, and it was hard to convince people that there were other development options. The importance of the traditional knowledge of old people was raised, and the need to transmit it through educational systems, and to link it with scientific knowledge to help people find the best compromises between old and new ways towards sustainability. It was clear that the strategy for engaging people in sustainability in island communities needed to be small scale, inclusive, multi-generational, and harmonized between traditional culture and modern science.
The Bahá'í Community of Mauritius participated in the Civil Society Villaj (forum) on 6-9 January preceding the intergovernmental meeting, and sent the second largest delegation (8 representatives). The IEF assisted them with guidance on the SIDS issues and relevant Baha'i principles, background reading for the delegation from the IEF web site, and a statement (in the annex below) which they printed and distributed widely. The head of the Bahá'í delegation participated in a panel on the role of faith communities. The Bahá'í Community also organized a reception for participants at the Bahá'í Institute which was addressed by the IEF President.
Small Island Developing States in an Integrating World
A paper for the Mauritius International Meeting Civil Society Forum
Mauritius, 6-9 January 2005
by the Bahá'í Community of Mauritius
based in part on statements of the Bahá'í International Community*
The international community recognized in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 that small islands are a special case and an important part of the diversity of nations. A first effort to give concrete international expression to that specificity was the adoption of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Programme of Action in Barbados in 1994, which defined various challenges that SIDS face in their efforts to achieve sustainable development. As governments reflect on their progress in implementing the Barbados PoA ten years later, and identify new challenges to be incorporated in their ongoing efforts towards sustainability, it is worth reflecting on the larger context of trends and processes at work in human society, in an effort to help islands find their own special place in an integrating world.
As globalization advances, islands need to find forms of development that can profit from their particular advantages while compensating for their limitations and handicaps. In the long term, however, these efforts will succeed only to the extent that they link material progress to the fundamental spiritual aspirations of island people, respond to the increasing interdependence among the islands, peoples and nations of the planet, and establish a framework within which all island people can become active participants in the governance of their societies.
It is to these three foundational elements of sustainable island communities that the following comments are addressed.
I. Material progress must reflect spiritual principles and priorities
Human nature is fundamentally spiritual. Island communities are unlikely, therefore, to prove prosperous and sustainable unless they take into account the spiritual dimension of human reality and seek to foster a culture in which the moral, ethical, emotional and intellectual development of the individual are of primary concern. It is in such a milieu that the individual is likely to become a constructively engaged, service-oriented citizen, working for the material and spiritual well-being of the community, and that a common vision and a shared sense of purpose can be effectively developed. This common vision is particularly important on small islands.
It follows that the material aspects of development - environmental, economic and social policies; production, distribution, communication and transportation systems; and political, legal and scientific processes - must be driven by spiritual principles and priorities. Today, however, the substance and direction of development are largely determined by material considerations.
Island societies need to ask what kind of civilization they want on their islands. Western material culture may be quite inappropriate to island needs. A shift in visions of development towards social relationships and spiritual values would be more sustainable than copying outside models. The present materialistic concepts of the economy and society are especially unsustainable on small islands, requiring alternative models of sustainable development that will also be more in harmony with traditional island cultures.
Our challenge, therefore, is to redesign and develop our island countries and communities around those universal principles - including love, honesty, moderation, humility, hospitality, justice and unity - which promote social cohesion, and without which no community, no matter how economically prosperous, intellectually endowed or technologically advanced, can long endure.
Among the considerations and principles that should guide this undertaking are the following:
• The protection of the family and the promotion of its well-being must become central to community processes. The family is the primary institution of society and the principle incubator of values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. When it is spiritually healthy, it contributes significantly to the development of happy and responsible island citizens.
• The physical, social, economic, legal and political designs of our islands must serve all members of society, not just the privileged. A truly just and equitable society will require a citizenry which understands that the interests of the individual and of the community are inextricably linked; that the advancement of human rights requires full commitment to the corresponding responsibilities; and that when women are welcomed into full partnership with men in all fields of human endeavour, families, communities and nations will prosper and advance.
• Work is both a means of livelihood for the individual and a way of contributing to the prosperity of the island community as a whole. As such, it helps give meaning to one's life. Therefore, development must ensure that the creative energies of the individual have a channel of useful employment in which they can be expressed. For his or her part, the individual must assume responsibility in carrying out this trust. Progress in this area will lend great momentum to the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty.
• Island development will need to incorporate principles of environmental preservation and rehabilitation, not only to bring our current civilization into a sustainable pattern of development, but also to respond to the human spirit's great need for close contact with the natural world. The primary roles of the farmer and fisher in food and economic security also need to be carefully considered.
• The vast forces of science and technology must be made accessible to all and harnessed to serve the material, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs of the entire island community. The planned consortium of island universities should contribute to this end. Communications and information technologies need to be widely adopted to reduce island isolation. This will require that all islanders be involved in generating scientific knowledge and determining its appropriate applications on islands. As participation increases, technologies that have tended to desensitise and erode community values, to alienate from island cultures and make islands more dependent, to make satisfying work and crafts redundant, to destroy the island environment, and to cause pollution, sickness, infirmity or death, will, no doubt, be reconsidered, redesigned or abandoned.
II. Interdependence among the islands, peoples and nations of the world will only increase in the years ahead
The islands, peoples and nations of the planet are being drawn together as they become more and more dependent upon one another. Islands worldwide - from island dependencies, overseas territories, and self-governing entities to small island developing States - are becoming home to increasingly diverse populations. This growing interdependence and the intensifying interaction among diverse peoples, accelerated today by island tourism, pose fundamental challenges to old ways of thinking and acting. How we, as individuals, communities and nations, respond to these challenges will, to a large degree, determine whether our island societies become nurturing, cohesive and progressive, or inhospitable, divided and unsustainable.
Many islands have specific cultures and traditions adapted to their island situation. These have been eroded due to colonial impacts in the past and the media, tourism and other outside influences more recently. Only when people appreciate their cultural heritage, and see it as part of the richness of human diversity to be preserved and shared as equals, will this erosion be stopped and reversed. This will ensure a cultural resilience that will allow island cultures to evolve and adapt to an integrating world while preserving the unique characteristics that enrich island life.
Unity in diversity is at once a vision for the future and a principle to guide island communities in its response to these challenges. Not only must this principle come to animate relations among the nations of the planet, but it must also be applied within both local and national island communities if they are to prosper and endure. The unifying, salutary effects of applying this principle to the redesign and development of island communities would be incalculable, while the consequences of failing to respond appropriately to the challenges of an ever-contracting world will surely prove disastrous.
Obviously, small island developing States must be prepared for the opportunities and responsibilities that are emerging as a result of this growing interdependence. People need to develop the knowledge, values, attitudes and skills necessary to participate confidently and constructively in shaping their island nations and the world community, on all levels, so that they might reflect principles of justice, equity and unity.
Education will play an indispensable role here, but an education specially adapted to the needs of small islands. Generalists able to take an integrated, holistic approach may be more useful than specialists in achieving sustainable development. Education must help the individual develop a sense of place and community - not limited to the local or national level, but extending out to include the whole world. It should cultivate virtue as the foundation for personal and collective well-being, and should nurture in individuals a deep commitment to the welfare of their families, their communities, their islands, their countries, indeed, all mankind.1 Education should also encourage thinking in terms of historical process, seeing in history an inexorable movement toward a world civilization, a movement whose successes are the patrimony of all peoples and whose challenges we must now, as a single race, address. The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) provides an excellent opportunity to review island educational systems, approaches and priorities.
III. Island States must move toward more participatory, knowledge-based and values-driven processes of governance
Top-down models of development can no longer adequately respond to modern island needs and aspirations. The usual sectorial approaches to development and governance are a particular problem on small islands, where sustainable development that respects the fragile ecological balance of the island needs to consider economic, social, environmental and even spiritual factors. Island States and communities must move toward more integrated, participatory, knowledge-based and values-driven systems of governance in which people can assume responsibility for the processes and institutions that affect their lives. These systems need to be democratic in spirit and method, and must emerge on all levels of society, including the global level. Consultation2 - the operating expression of justice in human affairs - should become their primary mode of decision-making, as it was traditionally in many island cultures.
Naturally, old ways of exercising power and authority must give way to new forms of leadership. Our concept of leadership will need to be recast to include the ability to foster collective decision-making and collective action. It will find its highest expression in service to the community as a whole.
IV. Toward a common island community, a common destiny
In conclusion, island States and communities that thrive and prosper will do so because they acknowledge the spiritual dimension of human nature and make the moral, emotional and intellectual development of the individual a central priority. Their centres of learning will seek to cultivate the limitless potentialities latent in human consciousness and will pursue as a major goal the participation of all peoples in generating and applying knowledge. Remembering at all times that the interests of the individual and of island society are inseparable, these communities will promote respect for both rights and responsibilities, will foster the equality and partnership of women and men, and will protect and nurture families. They will promote conservation of the special natural heritage of islands, and incorporate principles of environmental preservation and rehabilitation. Guided by the concept of unity in diversity, they will support widespread participation in the affairs of society, and will increasingly turn to leaders who are motivated by the desire to serve. In these island communities the fruits of science and technology will benefit the whole society, and work will be available for all.
Small Island Developing States such as these will prove to be distinctive pillars of a world civilization - a civilization which will be the logical culmination of humanity's development efforts over vast stretches of time and geography. Bahá'u'lláh's statement that all people are "born to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization," implies that every person has both the right and the responsibility to contribute to this historic and far-reaching, collective enterprise whose goal is nothing less than the peace, prosperity and unity of the entire human family.3
1. The concept of world citizenship helps integrate all levels of community: being a responsible citizen on the local, island and national levels is not at odds with love for all humanity; rather, these multi-layered allegiances and obligations form a tightly woven web, an inseparable whole.
2. In consultation, the individual participants strive to transcend their respective points of view, in order to function as members of a body with its own interests and goals. In an atmosphere characterized by both candour and courtesy, ideas belong not to the individual who presents them, but to the group as a whole, to take up, discard, or revise as seems to best serve the goal pursued. Consultation succeeds to the extent that all participants support the decisions arrived at, regardless of the individual opinions with which they entered the discussion. Under such circumstances an earlier decision can be readily reconsidered if experience exposes any shortcomings.
3. Bahá'í International Community statements which shed light on the subject of sustainable development include The Prosperity of Humankind; World Citizenship: A Global Ethic for Sustainable Development; Turning Point for All Nations; and Valuing Spirituality in Development.
* prepared with the assistance of the International Environment Forum
Last updated 6 February 2005