Climate change, the Pope and the Caribbean
In a little over amonth’s time negotiators from around the world will gather in Paris to try toreach a final and globally binding agreement on a new treaty on climatechange. It is no exaggeration to saythat achieving this is of existential importance to the Caribbean.
The meeting, fromNovember 30 to December 11, will be the largest since 2009 when a similarattempt in Copenhagen failed, only to be followed by recriminations between thedeveloped world, advanced developing nations, and those countries most at risk,over who was to blame.
Since then theprocess has moved on and the positions of many nations, most notably the UnitedStates and China, have become closer. One general reason for this is that thetwo countries among many others have since the Copenhagen summit agreed toregulations, policies or laws that now enable them to make specific pledges onhow they are going to cut greenhouse gas emissions, rather than the non-specificapproach taken in 2009.
Despite this,agreement in Paris is not assured. There remain many difficulties over thedraft text, with participants in the most recent negotiations in Berlinexpressing concern about the slow and convoluted process, given that themeeting in Paris is just under two months away.
More significantlythere remain hard to reconcile issues relating to long-term finance, and how todifferentiate obligations.
Although developednations have affirmed their commitment to providing annually up to 2020 US$100billion for climate change financing, the details will only be revealed at theWorld Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in early October, and thepost 2020 level of commitments have yet to be agreed.
Differentiation ofobligations between developed and developing nations also remains unresolved.While Europe and the US want an approach that would see all nationalcommitments converge, China and India are arguing for an alternativedifferentiated approach.
Other issues still tobe addressed include uncertainty about the criteria that will be applied forat-risk nations like those in the Caribbean and Pacific when it comes toclimate-related loss and damage; a matter that was highlighted by the recentdamage caused to Dominica by tropical storm Erika. There is also disagreement overending the use of fossil fuels such as coal by 2050, a measure opposed byChina, India and others.
More worryinglystill, reports suggest that when all of the national pledges have beensubmitted, the cut in global emissions may be around 3°C; not enough to meetthe projected global target of 2°C, let alone the 1.5°C or lower that theCaribbean is hoping for.
Climate change hasbecome an issue like no other. Despite the continuing sometimes angry debateabout whether global warming is man-made or cyclical, it has also become a muchbroader moral issue related to inequity, development and the role of capital ina globalised economy.
In this context it isstriking that in the last few days how, in different ways, this aspect ofclimate change has been highlighted by both President Obama and PresidentCastro using language driven by the common presence in their nations of avisitor able to speak from the standpoint of morality. In both nations PopeFrancis was able to demonstrate though his words and writing that socialjustice and equity require a compatible moral response from the world, when itcomes to climate change.
“I find itencouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution”,Pope Francis told President Obama at the White House. “It seems clear to me also that climatechange is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When itcomes to the care of our ‘common home’, we are living at a critical moment ofhistory. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about asustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change,” hesaid quoting his recent Papal encyclical, Laudato Si.
He also told the USCongress: “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementinga culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoringdignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
It is an approachsummed up in recently comments made by the Indian President, Narendra Modi,when he called for a change in language from "climate change to climatejustice," because of its disproportionate affect on the poor.
As this column haspreviously observed, climate change is an issue on which the Caribbean hasevery reason to have its voice heard and be taken very seriously.
The science apart,for most citizens the circumstantial evidence is powerful. A severe drought isaffecting most of the region, nations are introducing water rationing, there isthe likelihood of crop failures in Haiti, tropical storms and sea surges arebecoming more intense, and other manifestations such as flooding, abnormallyhigh temperatures, sargassum seaweed, and coral bleaching can be observed inevery nation from the Bahamas southwards to Suriname and French Guiana.
Not only is 50 percent of the region’s population and the majority of its productive enterpriseand infrastructure within 1.2 miles of the sea, but its low lying nature andits fragile eco-systems demonstrate the danger of a change in sea level, makingit voice central to influencing international opinion to its own and to theworld’s advantage.
A little earlier thismonth Caribbean climate change negotiators, ministers and regional experts metfor three days in St Lucia – the country has lead responsibility within CARICOMfor climate change and sustainable development – to establish a single coherentposition to take to Paris and to deploy in preparatory meetings. The meeting,organised in collaboration with the Belize-based Caribbean Community ClimateChange Centre (CCCCC), focussed on areas of convergence and divergence in thenegotiations ahead of the meeting in Paris in December.
Let us hope that thevoice of the Caribbean will be heard loudly in the coming months, and it isable with other small island states to convey the nature of the common threat.
David Jessop is aconsultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at
Previous columns canbe found at www.caribbean-council.org