Opinion July 17, 2015 | 10:02 am

Climate change andthe Caribbean voice

Climate change is an issue on which the Caribbean hasevery reason to have its voice heard and be taken very seriously.

Not only does its position on changing sea levels genuinelyreflect the interests of every Caribbeanstate – 50 per cent of its population and the majority of the region’sproductive enterprise and infrastructure is within 1.2 miles of the sea – but the low lying nature of the region, itsfragile eco-systems, its ability to demonstrate the changes already occurring inthe form of sea surge, more extreme weather, drought, general climatic change,and damage to coasts and reefs, make it a prime candidate to influence internationalopinion to its own and the world’s advantage.

The issue is high on Caricom’s agenda and it is a goodexample of where even a diminished institutioncan come into its own, demonstrating in this case to Caribbean citizens and theworld beyond, the region’s ability to speak with a single voice in the face ofa common threat.

This was particularly apparent at the recently concludedheads of government meeting held in Barbados; although you would have beenforgiven for thinking from the media coverage that it was all about inter-regionalcross-border issues.

Reading its lengthy and detailed declaration on climateaction it is clear that much serious preparatory work has been undertaken, thatthe Caribbean knows what it wants, and it has an agenda with which it can lead.

In outline, Caricom’s declaration observes that Caribbean ecosystems are in some casesapproaching the limits of their adaptive capacity, and for the region there isan urgent need to close the gap between the mitigation pledges made globally andpractical support. The full declarationwhich appears on Caricom’s website at the end of the Heads of Government Communiquémakes clear the regions’ concerns about the response of the internationalcommunity to the threats posed by the impact of climate change, and the inadequacyof the financial resources available to date.

While countriesin the region are often accused of allowing mendacity to drive their foreignpolicy , here is an example of the language used being wholly justified, aswhatever resources may become available will have to be dedicated to adaptationif parts of the region, quite literally, are not to disappear beneath the sea.

The declarationis strikingly specific.

Not only does itdo the obvious by urging the international community, with developed countries taking the lead, toachieve an ambitious, comprehensive outcome when the 196 signatories toprevious climate change protocols meet in Paris this December to discuss thelimits to greenhouse gas emissions; but it also sets out a range ofrequirements that address the specific circumstances of small island developingstates (SIDS) and their need for adequate, predictable, finance, technology andcapacity building support.

In a Caribbeancontext it also details some of the key supporting measures and mechanismsrequired.

Specifically itsstresses the need for the region to receive improved and prioritised access togrant-based financial support to address climate change; calls for the GreenClimate Fund (GCF) which is meant to be capitalised to the level of US$100billion, to play a central role in supporting Caribbean countries achieve low-carbonand climate resilient development; emphasises the importance of there being aclear process to obtain such funds; and calls for the GCF to receive proposalsfrom the region before the Paris meeting. It also, which is less common in Caricom documents, calls for the fundto give particular consideration to ‘small to medium enterprises in SIDS,including in the highly vulnerable tourism and agriculture industries giventheir importance to many Caribbean economies’.

The document additionallyproposes that there should be close cooperation between the new global bodyresponsible for compensation for climate change damage, and the CaribbeanCatastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, in order to help develop innovativeapproaches that address loss, including in the agriculture sector.

It concludes bycalling on the international community to ensure an ambitious internationalagreement that limits global warming to as far below 1.5°C as possible, ‘inorder to ensure the survival of the Caribbean States and territories’.

What hopefully will make at least some of this achievableis that the preparations for the Paris Conference involve the US and China working separatelyand together to try ensure a positive outcome. In the past the sense has been, as at the World Trade Organisation, thatadvanced economies have been reluctant to concede anything that might hold backtheir right to development and that the US for domestic political reasons hasbeen reluctant to make concessions.

As vital as the detail of an agreement on climate changeis for the region, the matter also has a strategic importance. It enables the Caribbeanto demonstrate an approach that owes more to the future than to the past; itsrepresents an issue on which it has a better chance to exert leverage thanothers it has chosen to pursue; and it is one that can deliver national andregional development objectives. It is also an issue on which the regionoccupies the moral high ground.

For small island andlow-lying states, climate change is like no other issue: it is existential. Sealevels and water temperatures are rising and by extension it will be some ofthe world’s smallest nations that will suffer first.

Although thereremains a popular global debate about the causes of climate change, there isgovernmental agreement that it is due to greenhouse gas emissions, and there iswidespread acceptance of the scientific evidence that as a consequence ourclimate and environment is changing.

Logic would therefore suggest that the Caribbean – aregion of vulnerable, low or zero carbon emitting states – should be a significantearly beneficiary of any resource transfer for adaptation.

This is not a case of special pleading or unsubstantiatedentitlement: rather it reflects the need for the region, its people andeconomy, to pursue with others what has been well thought through, and preparedin good time, and is central to the region having aviable future.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council andcan be contacted at


Previous columns can be found at www. caribbean-council.org

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