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Voicing the future for small-island developing states

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Team Euro: Jutta Urpilainen, right, the EU Commissioner for International Partnerships

Animals roam freely in the road, rain-filled potholes serve as impromptu birdbaths, and motorists speed down narrow side streets with little to no regard for the odd pedestrian. No, this isn’t Bermuda. St John’s, the capital of Antigua & Barbuda, is hosting the United Nations’ Fourth International Conference on Small-Island Developing States — an event that seeks to educate, enrich and empower developing nations and territories the world over.

More than 5,000 people have converged on the northeastern Caribbean island for the four-day event, providing local hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and taxi operators with a post-pandemic injection of capital. A minibus collects a Trinidadian SIDS4 attendee and me from a guesthouse in the city centre.

Central St John’s, Antigua

Kevin, the driver, admits that the United Nations has not provided adequate instructions to the companies contracted to shuttle SIDS4 passengers. Driving from 6am that morning until some hour in the evening, he is unsure of how and when he will be compensated for today’s work.


Dignitaries, media representatives, NGO workers and an array of local volunteers jostle towards security at the American University of Antigua’s main campus, hub for the bulk of this week’s meetings. I’m underdressed. A distinction is quickly made at the registration booth: the colour and letter on your badge determines what areas of the conference you have access to. The bright green letter “P” underneath my photo identifies me as press, granting access to the media hub but barring me from the rooms where the “important” talks are taking place (there are plenty of armed, stern-faced security personnel to point me in the right direction lest I lose my way). Thankfully, the food court is an equal-opportunity location concerning admittance.

Press pass with categorisation


After grabbing a bite from the food court and locating the SIDS4 media hub, I make my way upstairs to the ID room for the first open discussion of the day: “Enhancing Access to Climate Finance for Small-Island Developing States”. A joint discussion hosted by The Green Climate Fund, the Government of the Dominican Republic and the British Government. There are 13 different discussions scheduled from noon to 1.30pm, and of the bunch this one seems the most relevant to Bermuda. We’re not technically classed as an SIDS, but gathering information on how to potentially secure cash for green initiatives back home couldn’t hurt … right?


Barred. Delegates only. Back to the media hub.


A sigh of relief. There’s a room for press briefings where the media can hear from government representatives after delegates-only discussions. This briefing is being conducted by the European Union. We’re introduced to Jutta Urpilainen, the EU Commissioner for International Partnerships. Referring to the EU as “Team Europe”, she reiterates the bloc’s commitment to SIDS via its funding of projects in the realms of health, energy, climate and scientific research.

Ms Urpilainen accepts three questions from the press before excusing herself; she has a very important meeting with the UN Secretary-General that she must get to. A quick Google search for one of the stats Ms Urpilainen provided — more than one billion euro in funding pledged to assist SIDS — leads me to a website containing what appears to be the press release that Ms Urpilainen just read, verbatim.

Inside the venue at the American University of Antigua


Back to the media room. Some of the journalists sitting among me are also part of the United Nations’ Voice the Future SIDS Journalism Campaign. The United Nations has flown in a handful of journalists, including yours truly, from SIDS and SIDS-adjacent territories to provide coverage of the event back in their home countries. The fellowship covers airfare, lodging, on-island transportation and meals.

I think back to my self-funded coverage of the UN’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, 2½ years earlier. Dignitaries and celebrities – the rich and powerful — mingled inside the official venue while Greta Thunberg led a disgruntled mass of protesters through the streets outside. There was a divide in Glasgow then, and I can feel a divide in St John’s now.

While global movers and shakers set policy and determine where they will place their billions in the coming years, Kevin is somewhere out there swerving to avoid potholes and wondering when he’ll be paid.

Grae Minors is a Bermudian broadcast journalist, covering stories related to climate, culture and social issues

• Grae Minors is a Bermudian broadcast journalist, covering stories related to climate, culture and social issues

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Published May 28, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 27, 2024 at 6:59 pm)

Voicing the future for small-island developing states

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