By Peter Richards
CASTRIES (CMC) — United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres Wednesday said that the Caribbean’s experience in dealing with the impact of climate change makes it “abundantly clear that we must urgently reduce global emissions and work collectively to ensure that global temperature does not go beyond 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels”.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the 40th CARICOM summit here, Guterres said he is urging all leaders from governments and the private sector to present plans at the upcoming Climate Action Summit or at the latest by December 2020 “to cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and get to carbon neutrality by 2050.
“We must massively increase our ambition to advance low emission and resilient development, including addressing loss and damage from climate change,” Guterres said, adding “and we need all hands on deck to make this transformation possible”.
He said CARICOM and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) have taken the lead from the frontlines, adding “you are our important allies in the fight against climate disruption.
“We hear your voices loud and clear in the negotiation halls. You have been stalwart advocates for a 1.5-degree threshold for over a decade, pushing leaders to devise new models of economic development and affordable, reliable energy access.”
Guterres said Caribbean countries are fast becoming influential test beds for innovative climate action, such as investing in decentralised renewable energy.
“This will not only yield more economically sustainable sources of electricity, but it will provide clean energy solutions. Microgrids and decentralised solar energy systems will also ensure that power losses after storms will be shorter and less catastrophic to homes, hospitals and businesses.”
He said investing in sustainable development also means investing more in concrete conservation and resilience measures.
He said that around eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans annually and in the Caribbean, the impact of this pollution is seen quite clearly.
“We need to fight climate change, we need to fight also against the degradation of oceans that unfortunately we have not been able to stop. We all have to act on a daily basis to counter these grave threats to marine ecosystems and the tourism sector — that are so central to your economies.
“From plastic pollution to coastline erosion, more frequent extreme weather events, sea level rise and biodiversity loss, Caribbean states face immense pressure due to the actions that are committed, essentially, by others,” Guterres said, highly commending the leadership of CARICOM leaders in presenting a bold vision to make the Caribbean the world’s first climate resilient zone.
Guterres said the creation of a Caribbean Resilience to Recovery Facility is an important development that should be fully supported and that when fully functional, this facility will provide a regional indigenous mechanism for sourcing talent, experience and financial solutions to support CARICOM members to build resilient communities and nations.
“I also must highlight that women are at the heart of the resilience equation. This is true in the Caribbean as it is elsewhere. As we shore up the resilience of Caribbean societies we must address the issue of citizen insecurity.”
During his address, the UN Secretary General said that murder rates in parts of the Caribbean are still very significant and that violence against women and girls is a significant dimension of citizen insecurity, which increases in the wake of natural disasters and is an obstacle to resilient societies generally.
“I am therefore also pleased that the Spotlight Initiative will be partnering with CARICOM and six countries in the region to make substantial, focused investments, some 50 million euros, in prevention and redress for violence against women and girls.
“It is important that gender considerations underpin all our efforts to promote citizen security and sustainable development.”
Guterres said that in addition to managing the recurrent and increasing costs of climate-related events, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face a range of economic constraints.
He said the small size of their domestic markets and their limited capacity to participate in global markets, particularly in damaging when it translates itself into the isolation of their financial systems from the global financial system, hinder them in generating economies of scale.
“Their heavy dependence on imports, particularly of energy and food, make them highly vulnerable to price fluctuations and other external shocks. And their very high levels of national debt constrain their ability to effectively address high and persistent levels of poverty and inequality.
“These challenges are further complicated by the difficulties SIDS face in mobilizing development finance on affordable and appropriate terms. These are challenges you know only too well, and we join your call, and will take the steps we can, to improve access to development financing as a priority.”
The Un Secretary General said he was in agreement with the complaints by developing countries including those in the Caribbean that eligibility for Official Development Assistance (ODA) and other forms of concessional financing should include vulnerability criteria, in addition to Gross National Income per capita.
“I have to say that I have assisted too many techonicratic discussion about vulnerability and what it means but having visited several Small Island Developing States in the Pacific and the Caribbean I never found one that was not a clear case of vulnerability. That should be recognized by all.
“I also agree with you that the speed and predictability of climate financing, especially for Least Developed Countries and SIDS, should be improved. And the prevalent use of debt instruments in climate finance needs review.”
He said for middle-income countries that are particularly vulnerable, the multilateral development banks and development finance institutions have key roles to play in providing more long-term, low-cost debt financing.
But the time has also come for the international community to consider seriously how best to address the rising problems of over-indebtedness of middle-income countries, he said, noting this slows their progress toward sustainable development and makes them even more vulnerable to external shocks.
Guterres said that he also strongly supports the ECLAC proposal to convert debt to investment in resilience through the debt for climate adaptation swap and resilience building initiative.
“And I know that several other initiatives are being prepared namely under the leadership of the Prime Minister of St. Lucia and I’d like to express the total support of the United Nations and my personal support to any initiative aiming at creating the conditions to allow for adequate financing for building resilience and for recovering from the devastation of climate accidents.
“There is one thing for me that is absolutely clear. There is no way the countries of the Caribbean can recover from a devastating hurricane or systematically build resilience in relation to climate problems doing that based on the unsustainable growth of their debt. This is a common responsibility that the international community needs to recognise.
“I am determined to change that by bringing more resources and strengthening UN support to SIDS, but to achieve this and other global challenges, we must reaffirm commitment to multilateralism and the United Nations Charter, “he said, adding “we must face the headwinds together. There is no alternative to cooperation and collaboration.”
Guterres said he has embarked upon a far-reaching set of reforms to ensure that the UN development system is fit and ready to help countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the next decade.
“Let us seize this historic opportunity to ensure that every Caribbean country, and all Small Island Development States, receive optimal support to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. “
He said in September, the United Nations will convene five Summits, all of direct significance to the Caribbean:
These include the High-Level Political Forum review of the 2030 Agenda; the Finance Summit to take stock of where we are in implementing the Addis Ababa Action Plan on financing for sustainable development; the mid-term review of the SAMOA Pathway for Small Island Developing States; the high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage and the Climate Action Summit.
He said these five events offer a strategic opportunity for your collective voices to be heard by the global community.
He told the CARICOM leaders that they should use these opportunities to “amplify your story, present ambitious and concrete country plans to address the priority action areas that are the focus of these five Summits and press for more meaningful support for sustainable development in the Caribbean”.