Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has told the United Nations that the rapid acceleration of climate change is “the menacing manifestation of a failed multilateralism.
“Faced with a common threat, ample warning, and overwhelming scientific consensus on the past causes, future impacts and present solutions, the international community has dithered endlessly, and impotently,” the Vincentian leader told the General Assembly last Friday.
Gonsalves said that as emissions continue to increase, legally-binding limits are recast as voluntary targets, “and the worst offenders hypocritically highlight the specks of pollution in others’ eyes, to distract from the beam in their own.
“At the same time, many more needlessly suffer and die while indisputably urgent global action is intentionally thwarted by selfish short-termists and convenient climate-deniers,” he said.
The prime minister noted that the meeting was taking place in the aftermath of the devastating effect of Hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas, where scores were left dead and hundreds missing.
“In recent UN gatherings, this tale has become sickeningly familiar,” he told the annual gathering in September, the peak of the hurricane season.
“Only the names and locations have changed,” but warned against allowing “the steady drumbeat of climate catastrophes to become background noise” to the annual gatherings.
“We must remain attuned to the urgency of vulnerable states in the path of cataclysmic storms,” he said, adding that annually, the ferocity of these hurricanes increases.
“Every year, island states wait with bated breath, and hope against hope that increasingly frequent storms will thread their way between our countries without incident.
“And every year that we are spared, we grimly acknowledge that our luck will not hold indefinitely.”
Gonsalves said that hurricanes are, sadly, merely the most violent manifestation of
climate change’s insidious effects.
“The floods, land degradation, droughts, landslides, coastal erosions, and unreliable weather patterns across our region, and elsewhere across the globe, place increasingly insurmountable daily hurdles to life, living and production in vulnerable nations, particularly small island developing states (SIDS).”
He said the three international conventions touching and concerning biodiversity, desertification and land degradation, and climate change are to SIDS a composite, integrated whole upon which their very existence depends.
Gonsalves was speaking at the end of a week that began with UN Secretary General António Guterres’ summit to confront persistent paralysis in the face of the accelerating climate catastrophe.
“Stripped of the crafted eloquence, the summit reconfirmed that there are basic litmus tests for commitment to climate action: enforcement of binding emissions targets that result in a global warming of less than 1.5 degrees; investments in clean air and renewable energy; and provision of easily-accessible adaptation financing that prioritises the most vulnerable nations,” Gonsalves said.
“Surely, the catastrophe in the Bahamas must finally put to rest the fiction that arbitrary and inaccurate measures of wealth are of greater import than the self-evident vulnerabilities of small island developing states.
“If measured by per-capita GDP, the Bahamas is a high-income nation, too rich to be eligible for many forms of concessional financing, assistance in building resilience, and post disaster support.
“Measured instead by size, location, geography and the immutable laws of nature, the Bahamas’ vulnerabilities are starkly apparent,” Gonsalves said.
He said that before the fury of Mother Nature, our islands are equally vulnerable, and must be equally assisted by any mechanism that purports to address the impacts of climate change.
The prime minister said there is small island states exceptionalism which must be factored, juridically, and non-discretionarily, in the architecture of global partnerships on this existential matter.
“St. Vincent and the Grenadines has long considered major emitters’ failure to set — and honour — ambitious mitigation pledges to be an act of hostility against the very existence of small island developing states.
“As hundreds lie dead in the Bahamas, and thousands more climate refugees are denied safe, temporary haven in the industrialised capitals of the nearest major polluter, those acts of hostility are brought into sharper relief,” Gonsalves said.
“No nation that contributes to killing us; no nation that closes its eyes, ears and doors to our suffering truly can, with a clear conscience, proclaim friendship towards us.
“A neighbour who pollutes our residence, who brings or facilitates noxious emissions into our homes, who burns fires at our boundaries and smokes us out, commits egregious wrongs against us and is justly subjected to the requisite remedies of compensatory damages and restraining injunctions,” the prime minister told the world body.