They used the United Nations podium in New York, during the 72nd Session of the General Assembly Debate, to remind the world of the utter salience in addressing climate change in the wake of the ravages of some of their islands and territories by hurricanes.
CARICOM leaders also used the opportunity to appeal for immediate aid for countries mostly affected by the hurricanes’ onslaught, such as Dominica and Barbuda, whose prime ministers personally made their feelings known to the world in their passionate presentations.
Declaring that he had come “straight from the front line of the war on climate change,” Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit called for urgent action in addressing the issue, as his country reels from the massive devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
“With physical and emotional difficulty, I have left my bleeding nation to be with you here today, because these are the moments for which the United Nations exists,” he said.
“Mr. President, my fellow leaders, there is no more time for conversation. There is little time left for action. While the big countries talk, the small island nations suffer. We need action, and we need it now!
“We, in the Caribbean, do not produce greenhouse gases or sulphate aerosols. We do not pollute or overfish our oceans. We have made no contribution to global warming that can move the needle. But yet, we are among the main victims – on the frontline.
“But what is our reality at this moment? Pure devastation, as Dominicans bear the brunt of climate change,” Skerrit said, adding “I repeat, we are shouldering the consequences of the actions of others – actions that endanger our very existence and all for the enrichment of a few elsewhere.
“We dug graves today in Dominica! We buried loved ones yesterday; and, I am sure that as I return home tomorrow, we shall discover additional fatalities, as a consequence of this encounter. Our homes are flattened, our buildings roofless, our water pipes smashed, and road infrastructure destroyed,” Skerrit said.
Yet, he said 72,000 Dominicans “lie on the front line in a war they did not choose, with extensive casualties from a war that they did not start.”
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne appealed to the international community for urgent aid in rebuilding the smaller of the two islands that was ravaged by Hurricane Irma.
“Antigua and Barbuda urgently requires the assistance of the international community, including the international development and finance institutions, to accomplish this vital task of rebuilding Barbuda,” said Browne .
“And, I should say, Mr. President, that we have not outstretched the palm of our hand because we crave; we plead because we need. Barbuda is not only a natural disaster, it is a humanitarian crisis that now consumes Antigua.”
The Antigua and Barbuda leader noted that, on September 6, the small, two-island state was “the victim of the ferocity of Hurricane Irma, the largest storm ever endured in the Atlantic in human history.
“The island of Barbuda was decimated; its entire population left homeless; and its buildings reduced to empty shells,” he said, adding that the country was spared the full blast of Hurricane Maria just nine days later.
Browne said he came to the General Assembly because he considered it of “utmost importance, to speak to the world’s representatives collectively about my country’s experience and the huge challenges faced by the Caribbean islands”.
He said Barbuda did not stand the “faintest chance against such size, such ferocity and such intensity,” declaring that the island was “destroyed, and my government was compelled to evacuate all of the inhabitants to Antigua.”
In less than a month, he said Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Cuba, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, the Dominican Republic, St. Barts, St. John, St. Thomas, the Turks and Caicos, St Maarten, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Houston and Florida “have all been victim to the ravages of hurricanes that have left death and carnage in their wake.
“The impact has been without discrimination, impacting independent and non-independent countries alike. Let us acknowledge the fact that Small Island Developing States have repeatedly warned the international community that the failure to adequately respond to climate change would betray our children and condemn future generations to certain doom.
“I daresay that we do not have the luxury to be silent on this front anymore; we must act. The future is now, and the challenges are profound. What is fast becoming the ‘new normal’ is the intensification of extreme weather events, which demands from us real solutions in real time,” Chastanet said.
Guyana’s President, David Granger, said the issues surrounding climate change are “not a fiction or the invention of a few extremists,” adding that the small-island states of the Caribbean and parts of North America have “felt the devastating fury of a series of hurricanes – Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee and Maria – to whose frequency and ferocity mankind has contributed through the reckless exploitation of earth’s resources.”
He said Guyana “signed and celebrated” the Paris Agreement on climate change last year and that his country renews its commitment to the climate change goals this year.
In his first address to the UN General Assembly Debate since he was sworn into office, Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise expressed deep commitment to the environmental targets in the global goals on sustainable development.
He said the French-speaking CARICOM country is seeking to build its resilience against the natural disasters and extreme weather events that consistently beleaguer its people and other countries in the Caribbean.
“My government is committed to the Paris Agreement on climate change,” he declared, adding that he wished to see those countries most responsible for greenhouse gas production contribute the resources necessary for implementing that accord.
“Such weather phenomena are due to the impact of humans on the environment,” he said.
St. Kitts and Nevis described as “unimaginable” the “carnage in a wide swath of the Caribbean” caused by recent hurricanes with the Foreign Minister Mark Brantley noting “lives have been lost; homes and infrastructure destroyed; economies reduced to tatters.
“Years of development wiped out; and, in the case of Barbuda, an entire island evacuated and rendered uninhabited and uninhabitable for the first time in 300 years.
“It is worthy of note that the carnage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria took but a few days. In just a few days and in many countries a mere few hours, the world had front row seats to the most horrific destruction ever seen in our beloved Caribbean region,” Brantley added.
Barbados used the occasion to call on the United Nations and the World Bank to convene an International Pledging Conference on the Recovery and Reconstruction of Caribbean islands ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“I urge all member-states to support the recovery and rebuilding of the Caribbean,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Maxine McClean. “For Barbados and other SIDS, whether in the Caribbean, the Pacific, Asia or Africa, climate change is a matter of life or death.
“It is not an issue for sterile debates and endless meetings. For our people, it is about loss of life and livelihood. For our economies, heavily dependent on tourism, it is about a cycle of constant recovery and rebuilding, which is a serious impediment to sustainable development,” she said.
“Barbados, by the grace of God, has so far been spared, but we in the Caribbean are one family; we are brothers and sisters, and, when one of us hurts, we all feel the pain,” she added.
As Caribbean nations seek recovery from the recent onslaught of hurricanes, the Bahamas says it was deeply concerned about the dangers of environmental degradation and climate change, stating that they threaten the region’s very survivability.
“With what we have witnessed just recently with the passage of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and now Maria, I cannot underscore sufficiently the importance the Bahamas attaches to combating climate change, and the preservation and protection of the environment,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield, noting that it was the third time in three years that the Bahamas has been hit by a major hurricane.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines says the death and destruction wrought by this hurricane season were not merely freak weather events or the vengeful acts of God, but were “the direct result of the acts and/or omissions of man.”
“They are the manifestations of climate change; the symptoms of the prescient predictions made by the overwhelming majority of scientists,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sir Louis Straker.
“Almost every year is hotter than the preceding one. Almost every hurricane season more intense. Almost every storm, drought and flood more destructive than the previous one. Today, it is a barefaced insult to the intelligence and experience of the peoples of island states and coastal areas to call climate change a hoax.”
Jamaica said it was “deeply moved” by the onslaught of two massive hurricanes that have forced thousands of people across the Caribbean into a life that is dramatically different from what it was just a few days ago.
“For us in the Caribbean, climate change is not a philosophical concept, or an academic debate, it is an existential issue,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith.
“It is our reality! It requires urgent and effective action. We are ever mindful of our responsibility to strengthen our resilience and expedite efforts towards adaptation and mitigation.
“Yet, our ability to do so is greatly impacted by the new catastrophic events that cause social dislocation and severe misalignment of our economies. The limited resources that we have are dwarfed by the huge sums required to meet recovery and reconstruction measures.
“How do small states like ours, many already facing adverse debt dynamics, mobilize the financing required to build climate resilient frameworks?” the Foreign Affairs Minister asked.
Suriname said it cannot but give “special attention” to the extraordinary fashion in which the annual hurricane season has presented itself in the Caribbean.
“Our thoughts go out to the many families, the mothers, the children, the elderly and the sick who are living the worst possible nightmares,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Yldiz Pollack-Beighle.
“We must assist the respective governments in restructuring the socio-economic and physical infrastructure, in a way that these states can become more resilient and reduce their vulnerability in the future.”
As the Caribbean region embarks on the arduous task of recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction together, Trinidad and Tobago joined its Caribbean colleagues in calling for a multidimensional approach for development assistance.
Dennis Moses, Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, said that this approach takes into consideration “real national needs and priorities, and takes into account these extraordinary circumstances, to provide access to development assistance, aid and debt relief.”
From shifting weather patterns, to global warming, to sea level rise, Moses said the impacts of climate change are “global in scope and unprecedented in scale.
In welcoming the UN Secretary General’s commitment to SIDS, Wilfred Elrington, Belize’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, commended him for holding a special session on Hurricane Irma.
“I wish to extend my own government’s pledge of solidarity to our Caribbean family that was devastated by that unprecedented storm and more recently Hurricane Maria,” he said.
“Irma and Maria expose at once the acute humanitarian challenge and the equally acute development challenge that SIDS face.
Stating that Grenadians’ hearts and prayers go out to all the victims in the Caribbean region, Mexico and across the world, who are presently suffering adverse effects of climate change and natural disasters, Grenada Foreign Affairs Minister Elvin Nimrod implored the international community to “recognize, without delay,” its responsibility to assist all those affected by natural disasters.
“Certainly, based on recent activities in the Atlantic, we just cannot dispute that the climate is changing,” he said. “In fact, 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.
“For those that question the veracity of this science, the cluster of ‘extreme’ weather events over the last few weeks ought to suffice in sounding the alarm,” Nimrod added.
- Countries: Caribbean