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This progress report aims to provide an overview of UNDP’s global and country-level work in accelerating sustainable development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) through its global integrated offer, Rising Up for SIDS. This draws on the achievements and expertise of the extensive country office network in SIDS as well as the experience of the Regional Bureaux. This report showcases UNDP’s work and results since the launch of the global integrated service offer, and highlights valuable and transformative development opportunities that arise from the specific context of SIDS. The three interconnected pillars of Climate Action, Blue Economy and Digital Transformation make up the three drivers identified as accelerators of transformative and sustainable development in SIDS, grounded in a foundation of equitable, innovative and accessible financial solutions. The offer was developed to reflect the reality that SIDS face and to focus interventions where the impact is intersectional.

We gratefully acknowledge substantive input from UNDP Resident Representatives and SIDS Regional Focal Points and technical team leaders of the Global Policy Network.


1. Turning Challenges into Opportunities

2. Rising Up For SIDS

3. Actions on the Frontlines of the Climate Emergency (click this link to jump to this page)

4. Embracing the Blue Economy (click this link to jump to this page)

5. Accelerating Digital Transformation (click this link to jump to this page)

6. Financing the Sustainable Development of SIDS

7. Looking Ahead


Spread across the oceans and seas of the world, small island developing States (SIDS) are remarkable for their diversity, from the rugged mountains of Papua New Guinea to the coral reefs of Kiribati, and from highly urbanized nations like Nauru and Singapore to mostly rural St. Lucia.

Yet SIDS face common social, environmental and economic vulnerabilities. With small land areas, they tend to rely heavily on imports for food and energy, at high cost given their remote locations. Economic activity often centres on just a few sectors, like tourism, leaving little flexibility to adapt to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fiscal space is tight and debt burdens can be high; most SIDS are middle-income countries with reduced access to concessional finance despite persistent development constraints. Worsening natural disasters drain scarce resources for risk mitigation and response.

SIDS are fully engaged in surmounting their vulnerabilities. They are committed to seeing opportunity and ingenuity flourish, and amplifying their global leadership on critical issues such as climate change and the health of the ocean.

At the same time, international partnership remains vital for SIDS to comprehensively manage their challenges and unlock their many possibilities. UNDP supports SIDS in line with the priorities of the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action or SAMOA Pathway, the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as the priorities defined within each country, as detailed in the following report.


SIDS are home to some of the richest stores of biodiversity, holding immense economic, ecosystem and societal value for island communities and the world as a whole. Some “large ocean States” have ocean territories over 20 times larger than their land area. In fact, in 10 SIDS, marine territories are thousands of times greater. They hold potent cultural and spiritual value in SIDS as well as being an essential source of food and livelihoods.

Globally, the ocean economy amounts to approximately $3.6 trillion a year and contributes 150 million jobs. Knowing the potential of the ocean, but also committed to using them sustainably, SIDS are pioneering blue economy frameworks and solutions for diversifying their economies, building resilience to shocks and sustaining millions of livelihoods. The blue economy also means preserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems, protecting cultural heritage and safeguarding against biodiversity loss.

Building blue economies is also part of an unrelenting fight against climate change, including given the acute vulnerability of SIDS to sea level rise. Responsible for only 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, SIDS have made powerful appeals to the global community to act immediately to reduce emissions, pointing to severe consequences already at work in their countries.

Many have made strong political commitments to a net-zero carbon, climate-resilient future, including through updated and ambitious national climate action plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The unambiguous message from island leaders, particularly during the COVID-19 recovery, is that this is a moment for transformation that must not be missed.

SIDS are demonstrating their promise in incubating solutions to accelerate progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the SAMOA Pathway. Digital transformation is key. Spurred by the socioeconomic shocks of the pandemic, innovations have included deploying drones to provide medical supplies to remote communities. Exploration of innovative finance encompasses the first-ever fund to protect coral reefs, The Global Fund for Coral Reefs. This multi-party initiative will mobilize blended private and public funding to make reefs more resilient. It will back businesses and finance mechanisms that improve the health and suitability of reefs and associated ecosystems while empowering local communities and enterprises.

Traumatic global events have the potential to engender positive turning points in the international community. We have seen this over and over again. Let us use this opportunity to ensure that small island developing States and other developing countries are able to build back better and be more resilient to future shocks.

- H.E. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented enormous challenges, but also inspired countries to rethink and reset. Mastering the uncertainty and complexity of the present and the future will demand continued innovation, a willingness to act across development systems rather than by issue or sector, and a commitment to collaborating within and across countries to devise shared solutions. UNDP stands ready to support SIDS in their efforts to build forward stronger, greener and bluer.


At a pivotal moment, UNDP is proud of its long-standing partnerships with SIDS around the world. Together, we are tackling tricky development challenges and unlocking paths to transformative sustainable development.

Within UNDP, Rising Up for SIDS is a unique, wide-ranging portfolio of programmes specific to SIDS. With an estimated annual value of US$466 million, it helps these countries advance national development priorities during the pandemic recovery and beyond.

Aligned with the SAMOA Pathway, Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda, the offer helps SIDS safeguard and accelerate progress for their people and ecosystems. Programmes centre on human well-being and the careful stewardship of natural capital. They promote nature-based solutions aligned with cultural and societal values to protect, conserve and use ecosystem goods and services.

The offer emphasizes rapid, responsive technical and policy support under three integrated pillars that can kickstart green and blue recovery and transform development: climate action, the blue economy and digital transformation. Each pillar makes links to the others to advance progress simultaneously on multiple SDGs. A fourth pillar opens avenues to financing as a crucial enabler of transformation. An emphasis on the power of technology; capacity development; genuine, lasting partnerships; and gender equality cuts across all support. A commitment to securing gender equality, securing full and equal women’s participation in all fields, and strengthening women’s economic empowerment is mainstreamed across support.

With greater investment in and coordination across these key areas of development, UNDP will expand its capacities to provide responsive and rapid technical and policy support, accelerate progress in tackling complex development challenges, and help realize ambitions for a green and blue recovery.

In many SIDS, the pandemic has brought an urgent need for debt relief and restructuring. UNDP works with governments to access traditional and innovative finance, including through private sector investments, blended financial instruments, financing for conservation and domestic resource mobilization. In the immediate COVID-19 response, UNDP set up a Rapid Response Facility with $30 million, with nearly 20 percent allocated within the first 72 hours. A second facility, the Rapid Financing Facility, has made available an additional $100 million to support countries on the road beyond recovery.

While SIDS face severe structural challenges, worsened by the pandemic, their middle- or high-income status make most ineligible for concessional financing. Currently, only 7 of the 38 UN Member State SIDS are characterized as least developed countries (LDCs) eligible for concessional finance. In December 2020, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 75/215 calling on the United Nations system to coordinate efforts to develop a multidimensional vulnerability index that could help SIDS create the fiscal space necessary to overcome structural and external vulnerabilities, and build resilience to withstand future shocks.

As a contribution to the United Nations response, UNDP has published a discussion paper proposing an index with 11 indicators reflecting the economic, geographic, environment and financial risks and vulnerabilities many developing countries face, and that are otherwise masked by purely income-based criteria. The analysis proves that all but five SIDS are more vulnerable than their income levels suggest. Using the proposed multidimensional vulnerability index, SIDS that are not LDCs could save close to 1.5 percent of gross-domestic product (GDP) annually if their long-term external public and publicly guaranteed debt was funded at the same average interest rate of SIDS that are LDCs.

With its extensive presence in many SIDS, UNDP can deliver tailored support based on specific challenges in individual nations. It is equally well placed to broker and expand SIDS-SIDS networks and knowledge exchanges. Seven UNDP multi-country offices located in Barbados, Fiji, Guyana (covering Suriname), Jamaica (covering Belize), Mauritius (covering Seychelles), Samoa, and Trinidad and Tobago operate in tandem with 12 stand-alone country offices in Bahrain, Cabo Verde, Comoros, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Maldives, Papua New Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Timor-Leste.


The United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), hosted by UNDP, collects and shares good practices in South-South and triangular cooperation for sustainable development in SIDS, with a focus on advancing the SAMOA Pathway and achieving a sustainable recovery. Through the office, an action plan is under development to guide a United Nations system-wide approach to South-South and triangular cooperation in SIDS. It is intended to deepen effective global, regional and national collaboration.

UNOSSC trust funds have supported numerous projects benefitting SIDS. These have included two multi-country projects in the Pacific on climate early warning and solar energy, and 19 country projects ranging from livelihood development to resilient infrastructure. The trust funds have also backed SIDS in participating in workshops and joint research on varied topics such as bioethanol production and trade infrastructure.

A COVID-19 socioeconomic survey brought forward the special needs of Pacific Islands countries for green recovery and climate action, which were prioritized in UNOSSC’s 2021 workplan. A regional office in Asia and the Pacific already supports South-South cooperation on climate change between China and Fiji and has provisionally mobilized support for 2,000 solar home systems for remote villages in the latter.


SIDS are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. But they are also at the forefront of climate solutions. A number have made bold commitments to scale up their NDCs, and some are now among the first countries in the world to officially do so, outlining comprehensive plans and strategies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, transforming energy and improving adaption to climate shifts.

Their high ambitions and perceptions of urgency are mirrored in results from SIDS collected in UNDP’s People’s Climate Vote – the largest survey of public opinion on climate change ever conducted. The aim of the survey was to open a dialogue between the public and policymakers by providing the latter with reliable information on whether people considered climate change an emergency, and how they would like their countries to respond. The highest level of support for recognizing climate change as a global emergency was found among people in SIDS; 74 percent believe that climate change is a global emergency compared to an average of 64 percent across all 50 countries surveyed.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has put forward the SIDS Ambition Package, which outlines far-reaching priorities to tackle climate change. It highlights collective determination to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and includes cross-cutting actions and partnerships defined by and focused on SIDS. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, AOSIS held the Placencia Ambition Forum, hosted by the Government of Belize as the chair of AOSIS, and bringing together major actors in the climate change negotiations focusing on increasing ambition in compliance with the Paris Agreement. The outcome is the Declaration on the Placencia Ambition Forum, urging ambitious recovery efforts aimed at transformation in line with climate goals. This included a call for renewed commitments to finance given SIDS’ great losses from climate, weather and water-related hazards, which collectively total $153 billion since 1970.

UNDP’s vision is to support SIDS to move to a green recovery and decarbonized, climate-resilient societies. Work is firmly rooted in national development and climate policy priorities, under the overarching objective of meeting the SDGs. Three entry points comprise energy transformation, resilience and adaptation, and nature-based solutions, with a cross-cutting emphasis on accessing finance. Underpinning these actions in key thematic areas, UNDP and its partners are supporting 28 SIDS to enhance their NDCs and take to the global stage as effective champions of audacious climate action as part of its Climate Promise. Capitalizing on commitments made under the Climate Promise will enable green and inclusive recovery from COVID-19 in SIDS.


As large ocean States, SIDS have tremendous potential to tap sustainable blue economies. These offer economic growth, jobs, and social and financial inclusion, while restoring and preserving healthy ocean ecosystems. Many SIDS have expressed ambitions to ‘go blue’, including to jumpstart a rapid, sustainable recovery from the pandemic. UNDP helps them realize their goals by supporting blue economy policies and programmes, ocean innovation and blue financing.

Sustainable blue economy opportunities cover a spectrum of sectors, including fishing and coastal tourism, both hard hit by the pandemic. New avenues are opening in aquaculture, ocean-based renewable energy, sustainable maritime transport, desalination, research and education, and marine genetic resources. Non-market economic benefits can come from carbon storage, coastal protection, and the preservation of cultural values and biodiversity.

Unlocking the full potential of their blue economies can assist SIDS in achieving not only SDG 14 on oceans, but also SDGs on poverty, hunger, gender quality, growth and decent work, and climate.

UNDP's blue economy investments now touch $210 million, including current and upcoming projects. These encompass 17 ecosystem and biodiversity projects with a total value of $71 million, and 9 water and oceans projects at $58 million. Seven and five more projects, respectively, are underway.


SIDS are at a moment of great promise where digital technology is concerned. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrency, the Internet of things, drones and satellite monitoring—the future is here. Digitalization is generating opportunities to leapfrog into a sustainable future where government services are more efficient, accountable and accessible to citizens, core sectors are less vulnerable to shocks and natural disasters, and goods and services are more sustainably produced, and affordable and accessible to all.

Many SIDS are small and nimble by nature, making them well situated for pioneering innovations. A number have made significant progress already in improving core infrastructure and moving towards universal and affordable Internet access. Raising awareness and building capacity around digitalization will be key to realizing continued promise.

Using a ‘whole-of-society’ approach, UNDP plays the role of proactively connecting the dots between governments, small businesses, consumers and emerging opportunities in SIDS. It draws on a vast knowledge base from its policy networks and Accelerator Labs to help SIDS harness technology to accelerate progress on the SDGs. Support centres on the design of national digital strategies, using tech to deepen resilience and inclusion, establishing digital ecosystems and developing capacities.


Mobilizing financing for development is at the heart of UNDP’s offer to SIDS. This includes pursuing innovative instruments in line with a call by SIDS in the follow-up to the SAMOA Pathway. Many SIDS lack fiscal space, have limited domestic resource bases and face structural economic challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Overcoming these obstacles is key to recovery and progress on the SDGs and the SAMOA Pathway.

At the Placencia Ambition Forum and in a Statement on Debt issued by AOSIS, SIDS underlined the urgency of global action on both the climate and COVID-19 crises. They have advocated for a multidimensional vulnerability index that considers island States' unique contexts to give policymakers, creditors and investors a better understanding of issues to address. This could in turn enable access to concessional finance and more favourable terms for existing debt.

UNDP works with SIDS to bolster capacities to recover rapidly, build forward better and enhance resilience to future shocks. Support to access finance focuses on innovative finance including blended instruments, financing for conservation and thematic bonds, catalysing private sector investment and leveraging domestic resources.

UNDP targets SIDS in a number of finance-related initiatives, including programmes under the previously mentioned Global Fund for Coral Reefs, the SDG Joint Fund and the Lions Share COVID-19 call. Under the SDG Joint Fund, UNDP has capitalized on opportunities for harnessing the blue economy, unlocking SDG financing, reinforcing national planning systems by aligning budgets and planning, and operationalizing integrated national financing frameworks.

The Lions Share COVID-19 call encompasses rapidly disbursed grants for temporary employment; reef insurance schemes triggered in times of crisis; crisis conscience loan terms for supported business; and partnerships with Blue Finance, a leading adviser on marine protected areas, and The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation leader.

These initiatives complement UNDP’s SIDS debt offer, which encompasses SDG programmatic bonds to address the twin challenges of high debt and large SDG financing gaps. The Maldives is already pioneering this approach with a proposed $250 million bond. It involves an innovative sovereign debt swap instrument to generate funds for high-impact social projects without aggravating the national debt position. Exploration of innovative finance includes the first-ever sovereign blue bond launched by Seychelles. In the Pacific, a $1.5 million project will help establish a blue bond.

Other emerging tools that UNDP can explore with governments include debt-for-nature swaps that free funds for environmental initiatives while reducing external debt payments and/or refinancing risk. A variant is the debt-for-climate swap, which links debt relief to investment in sustainable development and green economy projects.

UNDP has conducted Development Finance Assessments in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste, and supported integrated national financing frameworks in Cabo Verde, the Maldives, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Barbados, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and Suriname. In São Tomé and Principe, UNDP is establishing a blended finance partnership with donors such as the African Development Bank. The Pretoria Finance Hub was set up to support Mauritius on financing, investment and energy issues.


Finance decision-makers are now more aware than ever that biodiversity underpins sustainable development, and biodiversity finance and investment is growing in value and sophistication. This has not yet resulted in a significant shift in financial flows, however. BIOFIN is a UNDP initiative to define and implement optimal, evidence-based biodiversity finance solutions. It is coordinated by a global team that supports application in countries and helps develop related national and global capacities. The BIOFIN methodology is currently being used in four SIDS: Belize, Cuba, Fiji and Seychelles.

In Seychelles, BIOFIN supports increasing investment in biodiversity conservation through promoting sustainable tourism practices with appropriate policies and investments. Work is geared towards a fiscal framework that encourages the private sector to invest more and in better ways in biodiversity, including through tax deductions for expenditures to obtain certifications, the wages of employees working on biodiversity issues and other costs related to biodiversity conservation.

BIOFIN in Cuba is working on a protected areas entrance fee system to mobilize financial resources for managing the areas. A payment for ecosystem services initiative is piloting a certification mechanism incentivizing the private sector to remove atmospheric carbon through sustainable forest management.

Work in Belize focuses on strengthening environmental funds by promoting benchmarking against Conservation Finance Alliance standards, providing capacity development, and assisting with monitoring and evaluation frameworks.

Insurance and risk finance can contribute greatly to development and the SDGs, with their importance highlighted by COVID-19. They are essential to protect lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and homes from the impact of disasters, but also to provide coverage for sustainably protecting health-care and education services as well as employment and agricultural supply chains. Facing acute vulnerability and risks of extreme weather events, SIDS have persistent protection gaps that threaten prospects for rapid, inclusive recovery and set back progress across the SDGs. Little attention has been paid to risk financing at the global and country levels, however.

In late 2020, UNDP launched its Insurance and Risk Finance Facility as a flagship initiative to help countries solve complex problems through insurance, risk and resilience financing. The project will provide a variety of tools and types of assistance related to inclusive insurance, sovereign risk financing, natural capital and risk investment, the integration of industry expertise into development, and investments in technology, research and evidence, vulnerability and empowerment.

UNDP has also supported the Eastern Caribbean SIDS with using parametric insurance products for disaster risk financing. These offer low premiums and fast payouts. In the wake of Cyclone Gita, the Government of Tonga received a $3.5 million payout from the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Insurance Company based on its insurance coverage against tropical cyclones. The model for the company draws on similar initiatives in the Caribbean (Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility) and Africa (African Risk Capacity).

The Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme, in partnership with the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative, has explored potential climate risk adaptation and insurance programmes in the Pacific region and assessed opportunities to set up the Pacific Insurance and Climate Adaptation Programme. It is designed to respond to growing needs for financing solutions for natural catastrophes by federating all Southern Pacific states into a regional sovereign risk pool and offering quick financial assistance after natural catastrophes through insurance at affordable rates. The programme will also support national disaster risk management, and overall resilience through improved disaster risk financing and innovative market-based insurance products for middle- and lower-income groups.


The Connecting Business Initiative resets how businesses engage before, during and after natural and human-made disasters and crises, aiming to catalyse private sector investment and philanthropy in building resilience. Members of the initiative include more than 5,000 companies and reach over 40,000 medium and small enterprises, with strong potential for these numbers to grow. UNDP and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) collaborate to support private sector networks in different SIDS, particularly Fiji, Haiti and Vanuatu given high levels of risk.

As the custodians of some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world…we have a unique perspective and the ability to lead the world into a truly enlightened future.”

—H.E. Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Amor Mottley


The world is in a moment of great reflection on past ways of living and thinking. SIDS have seen their vulnerabilities sharply magnified by the socioeconomic shocks triggered by COVID-19. But in a time of crisis, SIDS raised their voices, emerging as strong advocates for transformational change. The climate crisis remains the gravest threat to their future, and island leaders consistently demonstrate their ambitions and willingness to lead by example for a world not defined by the choice between economic growth and the environment, but by committed actions that ensure the safety and well-being of both people and planet.

SIDS are emphasizing this opportunity to reset, knowing that a future marked by increasingly complex, multidimensional and interconnected challenges requires a new approach to risk as well as rethinking solutions oriented around systems. Development must be balanced and transformative, and unleash the power of local communities and the private sector to drive change at scale, quickly. Integrated solutions that abandon siloed thinking will be key for SIDS to overcome their structural vulnerabilities and realize their ambitions.

Rising Up for SIDS is UNDP’s response to a time of uncertainty and complexity. Aligned with the objectives of the SAMOA Pathway and 2030 Agenda, it offers agile, efficient support to SIDS through integrated solutions targeting systemic challenges. It seeks to demonstrate the necessity for more linkages among climate action, the blue economy, digital transformation, and sustainable and innovative finance as the enabler of change. Achieving progress in each of these pillars is dependent on progress across all.

Moving forward, UNDP will facilitate networked solutions and bring diverse stakeholders into designing development solutions, including youth, people with disabilities, vulnerable groups, local and regional governments and businesses. It will help to build trust and inclusion and mobilize private finance for transformational change at scale. Through the SIDS offer, UNDP sets out to be an innovator, advocate, partner and integrator.

On the cusp of an important series of major international conferences, including on biodiversity and climate change, there is strong momentum for SIDS to champion climate action. UNDP looks forward to supporting them in this role. It will continue to help SIDS tap ingenious local solutions to safeguard the ocean and pursue digital solutions that bridge digital divides. Efforts under the latter will help ensure the business continuity of medium and small enterprises through deeper integration into global markets, ease the transfer of remittances and transform vital tourism sectors, among other steps.

Digital solutions also have potential to rapidly expand climate adaptation and resilience, ensuring the future survival of SIDS. To this effect, UNDP’s newly released Digital Strategy aims to continue empowering and inspiring the development sector by increasing digital capacities among partners, towards fostering innovation, digital literacy and digital communication, and enabling new ways of thinking and working. One of the greatest obstacles SIDS face to realizing their ambitious development goals is their lack of fiscal space and challenges accessing development finance. Converging climate and debt crises exacerbated by the pandemic are increasing these pressures. UNDP will stand behind the calls of SIDS leaders to expand access to concessional finance and harness innovative blue and green finance approaches that unleash economic potential while safeguarding natural environments.

Since appropriate metrics are required to capture the complex reality of the fiscal space of SIDS, UNDP will also back SIDS advocacy for a multidimensional vulnerability index that could change the paradigm of conventional development finance, shifting it towards a more realistic view of the intertwined causes and consequences of debt.

2020 gave humanity a glimpse of what we could expect our future to be if we do not act. It also showed how intricately interconnected people and planet are, a message SIDS have been advocating for many years. The global challenge is to create development models that can achieve human well-being while accounting for the climate emergency and avoiding the depletion of natural capital. The upcoming year offers a chance to focus on innovative and intersectional actions for SIDS to realize fairer and more balanced development.

UNDP’s integrated SIDS offer Rising Up for SIDS articulates a clear strategy to respond to their most pressing needs as well as bring forth innovative solutions to the complex developmental challenges they face for a better future for people and planet. UNDP's increased investment. This offer acts as a vehicle for recovery committing to enhancing current support in areas of climate action, blue economy and digital transformation, with innovative development finance as an enabling cross-cutting area.

To learn more about UNDP's integrated service offer, click the link below:

For more updates on UNDP's development work on SIDS, and news about SIDS-led initiatives, please visit these pages:

Photo Credits: UNDP, UNDP Climate, UNDP Mauritius, UNCDF in the Pacific, Small Grants Programme UNDP GEF, Ecosystems and Biodiversity UNDP, Ocean Image Bank, Unsplash, Getty Images

Videos: UNDP, Ocean Innovation Challenge, Climate Investment Platform

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