BY DAVID JESSOP— The Caribbean rightfully deserves to have a strong voice on the issue of climate change. 50% of its population and the majority of its productive enterprise and infrastructure are located within 1.2 miles of the sea. The region is low-lying, has fragile ecosystems, and is vulnerable to sea surges, extreme weather, drought, damage to coasts and reefs, and general effects of climate change. These factors make the Caribbean a prime candidate to influence international opinion, to the benefit of its own people and the greater global community.
Climate change takes high priority on CARICOM’s agenda. The issue conveys how even a diminished institution can be effective, demonstrating to Caribbean citizens and the world the ability of the region to speak with a single voice in the face of a common threat. This was apparent at the recently concluded Heads of Government meeting held in Barbados in early July, although media coverage made it seem that the conference mainly covered inter-regional cross-border issues. The lengthy and detailed declaration on climate action resulting from this meeting shows that substantial and deliberate preparatory work has already been undertaken, and that the Caribbean knows what it wants and has an agenda it can use to lead.
CARICOM’s declaration observes that many Caribbean ecosystems are approaching the limits of their adaptive capacity and that there is an urgent need to close the gap between the global mitigation pledges and practical support. The full declaration, appearing on CARICOM’s website at the end of the Heads of Government communiqué, elucidates the region’s concerns about the response of the international community to the threats posed by the impact of climate change and the inadequacy of the financial resources currently available. These concerns are significant, as whatever available resources exist will have to be dedicated to climate change adaptation efforts in order to ensure that parts of the region literally do not disappear beneath the sea.
The declaration is strikingly specific. Not only does it urge the international community to achieve an ambitious and comprehensive outcome when the 196 signatories to previous climate change protocols meet in Paris this December to discuss the limits to greenhouse gas emissions, but it also sets out a range of requirements that address the specific circumstances of small island developing states (SIDS) and their need for adequate and predictable finance, technology, and capacity building support.
It also details some of the key supporting measures and mechanisms required, stressing the need for the region to receive improved and prioritised access to grant-based financial support to address climate change; calling for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is meant to be capitalised to the level of US$100 billion, to play a central role in supporting Caribbean countries in achieving low-carbon and climate resilient development; emphasising the importance of a clear process to obtain such funds; and calling for the GCF to receive proposals from the region before the Paris meeting. It also calls for the fund to give particular consideration to “small to medium enterprises in SIDS”, including the highly vulnerable tourism and agriculture industries, given their importance to many Caribbean economies. This last request is less common in typical CARICOM documents.
Additionally, the document proposes that there should be close cooperation between the new global body responsible for climate change damage compensation and the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility in order to help develop innovative approaches that address loss, keeping the agriculture sector in mind. It concludes by calling on the global community to ensure an ambitious international agreement that limits the global average temperature increase to as far below 1.5°C as possible, “in order to ensure the survival of the Caribbean States and territories”.
What hopefully will make (at least some of) this achievable is that the preparations for the Paris Conference involve the United States and China working independently and collaboratively to try to secure a positive outcome. Many advanced economies have generally been reluctant to concede anything that might hold back their right to development, and the United States, for domestic political reasons, has been reluctant to make concessions.
The agreement on climate change has additional strategic importance for the region. It enables the Caribbean to demonstrate an approach that focuses more on the future than the past, and it represents an issue on which it has a better chance to exert leverage than on other issues the region has chosen to pursue. Climate change is a topic that can deliver national and regional development objectives. It is also an issue that is existential for small island and low-lying states. Sea levels and water temperatures are rising, and some of the world’s smallest nations will suffer first.
Although there remains a popular global debate about the causes of climate change, there is governmental agreement that it is caused, at least in part, by greenhouse gas emissions. There is widespread acceptance of the scientific evidence that, as a consequence of these emissions, our climate and environment is changing. Logic would therefore suggest that the Caribbean –a region of vulnerable and low or zero carbon-emitting states– should be a significant and early beneficiary of any resource transfer for adaptation.
CARICOM’s declaration on climate action is not a case of special pleading or unsubstantiated entitlement. Rather, it reflects the need for the region, its people, and economy to pursue, with others, well-planned and executable strategies that are central to the region having a viable future.
Image Credit: Alan Wolf