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US highlights commitment to small island communities at conference

Updated: May 30

Deb Halaand

St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda (DOI) — The U.S. government is committed to advancing a bold and timely global response to the climate crisis, investing in strengthening and expanding multi-hazard early warning systems across the Pacific and Caribbean and partnering with small islands to access clean energy and improve food and water security, according to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.

The secretary of the Department of the Interior this week led the U.S. delegation to the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda.

Throughout the conference and in meetings with counterparts and partners, Haaland and the delegation – which included senior officials and experts from across the Biden-Harris administration – underscored the U.S. government’s unwavering commitment to SIDS and to advancing their sustainable development for a resilient and prosperous future.

SIDS are disproportionately affected by the impacts of multiple global crises, including the climate impacts of sea-level rise and extreme weather events. The conference served as a critical opportunity for the United States to demonstrate its ongoing commitments to establishing the policies, systems and partnerships needed to strengthen SIDS’ resilience and promote their long-term sustainable growth.

Throughout the visit, Haaland met with international leaders from Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the UN secretary general to discuss efforts to tackle the climate crisis and support small island communities.

On Monday, Haaland delivered the national statement on behalf of the United States, where she highlighted the administration's all-of-government approach to uniting around SIDS and their sustainable development.

In support of these efforts, the Biden-Harris administration released the first-ever U.S.-Pacific Partnership Strategy in 2022 and has launched efforts with Congress to provide more than $8 billion in new funding and programs for the Pacific Islands.

The United States is also expanding diplomatic and development presence in SIDS, including opening new embassies, expanding the U.S. Agency for International Development’s footprint in the eastern Caribbean and Pacific, and sending Peace Corps volunteers to several islands in the Pacific region.

The United States opened embassies in both Solomon Islands and Tonga last year, has plans to open an embassy in Vanuatu this year, and has initiated an ongoing process to establish two new embassies in the eastern Caribbean.

Haaland also highlighted the Department of the Interior’s implementation of the amendments to the Compacts of Free Association, which together will provide $6.5 billion in sustainable economic assistance over 20 years to the freely associated states, which include the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau.

Haaland joined Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne and United Nations Development Program Administrator Achim Steiner for a conversation with conference attendees, including government, private sector, and non-profit partners, to discuss the future of SIDS development, the importance of creating sustainable economies, and the international community’s role in supporting SIDS.

Haaland discussed the United States’ approach to development assistance that is rooted in working with local partners to drive local solutions, reflected in U.S. financial support to SIDS, 95 percent of which is in the form of grants, free of debt and dependence.

During the program, the secretary also highlighted the Interior Department’s commitment to the Pacific islands and U.S. territories.

In 2022, Haaland traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and in 2023, she and Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Carmen Cantor traveled to the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Palau and the FSM.

During the visit, they toured natural and cultural resources across the islands and saw first-hand how small island communities are feeling the impacts of the climate crisis and how U.S. investments, including from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, are making a difference for people, wildlife and economies.

On Wednesday, Haaland joined Prime Minister Browne, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., and Guam Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio for a roundtable conversation with the Local2030 Islands Network, the world’s first global, island-led network devoted to addressing the climate crisis by advancing the Sustainable Development Goals through locally driven, culturally informed solutions.

Haaland discussed the Biden-Harris administration’s continued commitment to working with Congress to provide $5 million in funding to support the activities of the network.


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