Caribbean leaders and experts preparing for next month’s climate change conference in the United Kingdom say they are beginning to get worried that the world might not be able to slow down the pace of global warming and the region might have to devote more energy towards adapting to that reality as the indicators are not promising.
Leaders met virtually a week ago to harmonize regional positions ahead of the two-week summit from mid-November. Regional environmental ministers did the same last Friday, but officials say there is growing pessimism that temperatures may continue to rise before it stabilizes and therefore policy tweaks might have to be the order of the day.
“We are aware as we go to Glasgow that there is a distinct risk, regrettably, that the world might not make the 1.5 degrees that we need to survive in the region. If that happens, then the conversation has to change seriously to be about adaptation. We have to adapt to that new reality which can literally be upon us anywhere from 12 to 20 years,” Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley said during a meeting with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in the past week. “Today we are on the frontline but, as you quite correctly said, we are not responsible for causing it. What is of lament is that the absence of an understanding of what is needed for adaptation is going to hurt us because time is of the essence now if the world passes 1.5 degrees.”
The region has been preaching that mantra at climate change summits and meetings across the globe for years, contending that if temperatures rise about 1.5 Celsius, then life could become unbearable for the region and other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and low-lying coastal states like Guyana, Suriname and Belize. “1.5 C to stay alive” or nothing regional delegations argue.
Caricom Chairperson and Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne, meanwhile, said the region will waste no time pressing the developed world to ensure that global temperatures are not increased to a point where normal life becomes unbearable so therefore “we will be reminding them about the fact that if the temperature increases beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, it will not only affect our beloved Caribbean nations but all of humanity will be seriously affected. We can’t afford anything above that 1.5 figure. We want our delegations to be vociferous and strident in making their positions known on the world stage as climate change is real and so are its effects,” Browne said.
He said no one needs reminding about the fact that climate and weather patterns are changing as he pointed to the situation in 2017 when megastorms Irma and Maria came ashore in several Caricom and wider Caribbean countries, with maximum winds of up to 178 miles per hour. The storms were a mere two weeks apart and some of those which were lashed by Irma were also affected by Maria before they could properly begin relief and recovery efforts. Superstorm Dorian also came calling on The Bahamas in 2019, devastating some of its more important islands in the archipelago even as the country is still struggling to recover. Dorian is rated as one of the top five strongest storms in recorded history.
“These storms are becoming more ferocious and devastating. There is no doubt about that as we say storms that were the strongest in our history in 2017. And right here in Antigua and Barbuda, we have our own examples as droughts and dry spells have increased in the past nine years and when it finally rains, we have floods to deal with. Also, world-renowned Dickenson Bay Beach, rated as one of the best in the world, has gone under and is now a bay more than a beach,” Browne said.
So far eight Caricom leaders have indicated plans to attend the summit in Glasgow.
At their virtual meeting this week, leaders had preliminary discussions on plans to establish a climate change commission that could give the region and other (SIDS) nations, a mechanism to take developed countries and polluting mega companies to The World Court to make them pay for polluting the planet and for the damage they cause to small island and low-lying states like Guyana, Suriname and Belize. Browne said the details would be announced in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Douglas Slater, the assistant Caricom secretary-general responsible for such issues, says the region will also be pressing the more powerful and richer polluting nations to deal with grant aid and concessional financing to help with climate change mitigation and adaptation issues.
“These same developed states had pledged to raise US$100 billion per year to help SIDS (small nations) and other nations address climate change impacts but they have not been meeting such obligations. They are a long way off and not on the road to meet that figure. We will be pressing them for equal funding for climate adaptation and mitigation,” he said.