The COP 26 global environmental conference ended in Glasgow, Scotland at the weekend with agreement, among other decisions, to downgrade the use and importance of coal to reduce carbon emissions. But a leading Caribbean Community head of government argues that the time is now to press the richer western nations to compensate them for damage to the environment or miss that window of opportunity altogether.
The problem in this case is that current Caribbean Community Chairperson and Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne appears now to be fighting proverbially as the lone Caribbean wolf in trying to get colleague leaders to sign on to his idea to set up a climate change commission that would take the leading polluting nations, corporations and others to criminal and civil court.
Browne, 54, had championed the idea to fellow heads of governments at a virtual preparatory summit in the lead-up to Glasgow but appears to have not received the type of feedback he was expecting. He is mighty disappointed. The issue was also a discussion topic at the lower foreign minister’s session ahead of COP.
During his presentation in Glasgow, for example, Browne devoted a few paragraphs to the issue, complaining that Caribbean and other Small Island Developing State and Low-Lying Coastal countries (SIDS) are least liable for the damage to the world’s environment but are forced to pay the largest bills in rebuilding economies and infrastructures after a catastrophic event. He argued, therefore, that the time has come for such “excesses and injustices to end.”
But the problem the sometimes-militant prime minister is facing is that most of the other leaders in the 15-nation bloc are leaning away from supporting Browne and his efforts to establish a mechanism to take the rich and powerful to court. He told CN3 television in Trinidad at the weekend that he thinks they are fearful of the geopolitical backlash the region would suffer if they took such radical action even though western nations and other powers like China and India acknowledged their environmentally destructive role in Glasgow more than at any other time.
So far, Browne has been left on his own and he is speaking out, urging regional colleagues to sign on to the idea. In Glasgow, Browne was only able to get Tuvalu to sign on to the climate change and international law commission despite the presence of more than 60 SIDS nations, all complaining about a lack of compensation for decades. Yet Tuvalu is the only one on board so far.
“I have to tell you that I’m a little disappointed that none of my colleagues within the Caricom region would have volunteered so far to join but I remain hopeful that they will because if we do not have this type of harmonized approach in defending our interests and to utilize all the tools available to us, including the legal tools, in order to agitate for change, then obviously we will be overlooked and the large polluters will ignore interest. They will continue to prejudice our development and leave us on the margins of global development. We cannot afford to be leaders who are inactive, and who may be afraid of our own shadow, and who may be afraid of possible repercussions. If we are going to rely exclusively on these voluntary efforts, we are pretty sure we will not achieve the objective of 1.5, and if we don’t achieve that goal then our own civilization will be in peril.”
The plan is to prosecute countries and large corporations at The International Court of Justice in The Netherlands and force them to compensate victim nations for environmental damage rather than depend on grant aid handouts and/or loans with tough repayment conditions attached. Like other leaders, Browne says there is ample evidence that the polluting nations which have for decades promised and pledged to set aside billions for climate change adaptation and mitigation, have mostly reneged while the smaller nations continue to be at the dirty end of the stick year after year.