Editorial: Helping small island developing states embark on sustainable development pathways

We are all affected by what happens to small island developing states. The strength of their economies, people, and land brings shared prosperity for everyone. Small island developing states are the custodians of the oceans that connect the world. At the same time, the families that live on these islands hold the frontline against the impact of natural disasters. These threats are increasing as a result of the climate change for which we all bear responsibility. Small island developing states are placed at the centre of a vicious cycle of high vulnerability and low growth. In response, development co-operation for this group of countries requires a unique strategy that is tailored to building long-term resilience against external blows.

We stand at a critical juncture, where action taken today can determine whether individual small island developing states are able to meet the 2030 Agenda goals. The devastating 2017 storms should be a catalyst for the international community to change the way it approaches development co-operation with small island nations. With and following the humanitarian response, attention should be turned to tackling the underlying drivers of vulnerability and reversing the broader challenges that hamstring development gains.

While development progress is fragile for all countries, small island states remain uniquely vulnerable. The paradox of developed small islands is a good example. Even islands that achieve relatively high income levels remain one exogenous shock away from a development crisis with long-lasting effects due to their size, remoteness and natural vulnerabilities. These factors mean that, as small island developing states achieve higher levels of national income, their access to the range and sources of development finance is reduced, yet their inherent vulnerability remains. Development co-operation must be tailored and strategic, to support approaches and instruments that reward small islands’ upward economic trajectory.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development promotes an effective use of development finance globally, with a special focus on “countries most in need”. These include small island developing states, fragile states and least developed countries, which can include middle-income countries. Building a body of evidence around what is needed to support these states is central to better understanding new distributions of need driven by fragility, climate change, inequality and other challenges.

This report, for the first time, draws upon a range of established and original statistics to quantify the specific development context of the small island developing states, the overall financing for development landscape and the allocation of concessional finance for the period 2000-2015. The international community mobilised an extraordinary amount of concessional finance in 2010 in response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. After 2010 the volume of official development assistance to small island developing states decreased every year until 2014. In 2015, this volume increased for the first time above the 2009 level but it remains to be seen if this is a one-off or the beginning of an upward trend. The development co-operation landscape that has emerged for small island developing states includes a three-pronged mix of: a handful of OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members providing the majority of ODA; a range of multilateral providers meeting critical needs; and, non-DAC sovereign providers that are increasingly meeting demands, especially for islands with relatively higher income levels as they lose access to concessional resources. To harness these financial flows in the most effective way for building resilience in small island states, the international community requires new ways of working. This report reviews the most promising ideas, best practices and new instruments for activating a broader range of public and private resources, as well as innovative approaches that can make a difference now, and mitigate future vulnerabilities in small island developing states.

Strengthening the blue economy, for example, has big potential for promoting resilience in small island developing states. Targeting development co-operation to focus on the sustainable management of oceans and coastal zones can boost production, serve as a route into global value chains, sustain more inclusive growth, and tackle debt burdens. In addition to driving national progress, fortifying blue and green economies will advance SDG14, to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

The governments and citizens in small island developing states are, and must remain, the driving force behind their development but they can’t do this in isolation. We have a shared responsibility for promoting small islands’ progress. The success of the 2030 Agenda, and the future prosperity of the planet, depends on healthy oceans that are supported by the small island states.


Jorge Moreira da Silva,


OECD Development Co-operation Directorate