Foreign AffairsSpeeches

James Cleverly – 2023 Comments at Coronation Small Island Developing States Reception

The comments made by James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, in London on 5 May 2023.

Welcome, your Royal Highnesses, your excellencies, my lords, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a privilege to meet you all this morning at the start of a historic weekend for our country as well as for observers across the world. Tomorrow marks a new era for the United Kingdom.

This chapter of world history will be defined by our efforts to survive and thrive in spite of the immense and unique threats we currently face.

As such, His Majesty the King has asked that sustainability be a central theme of the Coronation. Concern for the state of our planet characterised his work as Prince of Wales and no doubt will distinguish his reign as King.

His Majesty’s government shares his passionate engagement with this pressing issue and has so far set the international standard for climate action.

We have committed £11.6 billion for climate finance, have pledged to reach net zero by 2050 and are tirelessly working to realise the epic potential of the Glasgow Climate Pact. The time for complacency is long gone. The need for action has never been more urgent.

This is true first and foremost for Small Island Developing States. Our friends and partners in SIDS are on the frontline of climate change, suffering from natural disasters, facing catastrophic sea level rises and daunting adaptation challenges.

This is compounded by extraordinary economic challenges. Island economies experienced some of the harshest economic downturns globally as a result of COVID-19.

These unique structural vulnerabilities mean that you deserve all the support and provisions required to protect your people and safeguard your economies.

I recently saw for myself in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea the challenges governments and communities face when it comes to climate change. It touched me deeply. Exposure to extreme elements is a burden whose brunt should be borne by as many powers as possible.

That is why we’ve proposed the expansion of disaster risk finance. We must ensure that the right resources are readily available so that you can respond rapidly to shocks like hurricanes and the loss of critical infrastructures like water and health when they are needed most.

SIDS leadership is unmatched in calling for ambitious climate action. You also have a special role as large ocean states in protecting rich biodiversity and nature.

We want to support your vital leadership. In that spirit we have set out an ambitious vision for SIDS in our development strategy. It is a vision that focuses on climate and economic resilience.

But the UK cannot do this alone – others in the international system must strive to meet this challenge. Our most revered poet, William Shakespeare, once wrote ‘a touch of nature makes the whole world kin’. The dangers of our rapidly transforming environment ought to do the same; ought to alert us all to the perilous prospect of an inhospitable habitat.

The 2024 SIDS Summit is perhaps our last best chance to agree collectively on how to make this happen.

In my view, an international system that is fit for purpose for SIDS is one that is:

  • country-focused – with rules and processes suited to small states and to the unique situation of our SIDS partners
  • pragmatic – adapting to realities on the ground, and not stuck in outmoded models; and one which is
  • committed – and fully focused on delivering tangible change

We are not there yet. The international community has squandered too much time bickering over the direction our lifeboat should take, rather than attending to its maintenance and plugging potentially lethal leaks.

Reforming international finance is a good starting point for action. Indeed, the international financial system desperately needs reform. The Bridgetown Initiative has been a clarion call for change across the IMF, World Bank and regional development banks.

The UK is prioritising international finance reform to better address developing countries’ needs. And we believe that the 2024 UN SIDS Summit is our opportunity to get priorities right for you.

I will visit Jamaica later this month for the biennial UK-Caribbean Forum and the UK-Jamaica Strategic Dialogue. And beyond the SIDS Summit many of us will gather in Samoa for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. I look forward to further discussions at those events including our shared values, our commitment to democracy and our people-to-people links.

We are a proud and vocal partner of SIDS in international forums and will continue to be so. As Prime Minister Mottley said “How many more surges must there be before the world takes action?  None are safe until all are safe.”

We must work together. Not just to survive, but to thrive, and to thrive indefinitely. Thank you and welcome to London.