May 24, 2020

With Caribbean island life under threat, UN chief pushes to face ‘headwinds together’


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From Menafin

(MENAFN – Caribbean News Now) CASTRIES, St Lucia — To counter global challenges that are a particular threat to vulnerable island nations like those in the Caribbean, it’s vital to ‘face the headwinds together’, especially in the face of the destruction being wrought by climate change, the chief told the annual Caribbean Community (CARICOM) conference in Saint Lucia on Wednesday.

It is no surprise that just the way from the airport to this room with a short stop between the two Pitons was an enchanting experience. As Derek Walcott, one of Saint Lucia’s two Nobel Laureates, once said: ‘You cannot wake up in the Caribbean without a sense of astonishment.’

‘The beauty of Saint Lucia and the uniqueness of the voice and way of of each of the Caribbean islands is threatened’, said Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday at the Conference of heads of CARICOM governments gathered to focus on obstacles to sustainable development. 

‘I would like to focus on some of these challenges, especially climate change and other obstacles to sustainable development, including the imperatives of citizen security and building resilience and the importance of access to development finance,’ Guterres said.

Guterres recounted his visit to the South Pacific in May where he saw how ‘Pacific island nations are addressing the climate crisis’ by focusing ‘a climate lens’ on development investments. He also recalled his visit two years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc in 2017, when ‘in only a couple of days’, years of ‘hard-won development gains’ were destroyed in Barbuda and Dominica.

‘Hurricanes Ivan and Thomas – and the many others that came before Irma and Maria in 2017, are still etched in the memories of Caribbean people’ he noted. 

As climate-related natural disasters grow in frequency and severity, the UN chief pointed out that ‘the risks to families and to development overall will only intensify’. 

What the Caribbean has endured makes ‘abundantly clear’ the urgent need to ‘reduce global emissions and work collectively to ensure that global temperature rise does not go beyond 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels’, he continued, inviting government and private sector leaders to come with concrete plans to the UN Climate Action Summit in September, at UN Headquarters, which could result in a 45 percent cut in greenhouse emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. 

‘We must massively increase our ambition to advance low-emission and resilient development, including addressing loss and damage from climate impacts’, he stressed, saying ‘we need all hands-on deck’.

CARICOM and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre have taken the lead from the frontlines.

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.

Island nations in the Caribbean are fast becoming influential test beds for innovative climate action, such as investing in decentralized renewable energy.

This will not only yield more economically sustainable sources of electricity, but it will provide clean energy solutions.

Microgrids and decentralized solar energy systems will also ensure that power losses after storms will be shorter and less catastrophic to homes, hospitals and businesses.

Investing in sustainable development also means investing more in concrete conservation and resilience measures.

‘Act daily’ to counter plastic threat

Guterres signalled the need to ‘act on a daily basis’ to counter the ‘grave threat’ that eight million tons of ocean-polluting plastics are posing to marine ecosystems and tourism sectors. 

‘From plastic pollution to coastline erosion, more frequent extreme weather events, sea level rise and biodiversity loss, Caribbean States face immense pressure’, maintained the UN chief.

He commended the ‘bold vision’ of CARICOM leaders, to make the Caribbean the world’s first Climate Resilient Zone and drew attention to the creation of a Caribbean Resilience to Recovery Facility. When completed, it aims to provide a regional indigenous mechanism to source talent, experience and financial solutions for the region, to build resilient communities and nations. 

Economic constraints 

In addition to managing the recurrent and increasing costs of climate-related events, small island developing States (SIDS) overall, face a range of economic constrictions, from small domestic markets to heavy dependence on imports and high national debt constraints, according to the UN chief. 

‘These challenges are further complicated by the difficulties SIDS face in mobilizing development finance on affordable and appropriate terms’, he said. 

The Secretary-General said he backed steps to improve access to development financing; eligibility for Official Development Assistance, including vulnerability criteria in addition to Gross National Income per capita; and speed and predictability of climate financing, especially SIDS. 

Guterres threw his ‘strong support’ behind the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) proposal to convert debt to investment in resilience, noting that ‘to achieve this and other global challenges, we must reaffirm commitment to multilateralism’. 

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 recognize.

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.

‘We must face the headwinds together’, the Secretary-General underscored, ‘There is no alternative to cooperation and collaboration’. 

UN Summits in September

  • High-Level Political Forum review of the 2030 Agenda.
  • Finance Summit to take stock of implementing the Addis Ababa Action Plan on financing for sustainable development.
  • Mid-term review of the so-called SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action Pathway.
  • High-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage.
  • Climate Action Summit.

He urged the leaders to ‘seize this historic opportunity to ensure that every Caribbean country, and all SIDS, receive optimal support to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’.

The UN chief drew attention to five UN Summits in September where the ‘collective voices’ of the Caribbean Sates can ‘be heard by the global community’.

Moving forward

In closing, he thanked CARICOM for its ‘strong cooperation’ with the UN, welcomed the Counter-Terrorism Strategy for the region, developed with the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, and recognized its leadership on key UN priorities, ‘not least climate change and financing for development’.

Guterres commended Caribbean nations’ commitment to foster regional cooperation on fighting illegal drug trafficking and saluted their response efforts to the refugee and migration crisis in the wider region ‘as a result of the situation in Venezuela’.

Later this month, the UN System and CARICOM institutions will hold their tenth General Meeting in Georgetown. The meeting will provide an opportunity to review the cooperation between our organizations, explore areas where the reform effort I am leading can deliver greater dividends, and where we can expand our fruitful cooperation.

‘Let us cooperate ever more closely in fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of the people of the Caribbean’, concluded the Secretary-General.


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