Antigua and Barbuda says it should be no surprise to anyone that two years after Hurricane Irma lashed the island, climate change and its catastrophic consequences are still foremost on the minds of citizens.
“We know and live the terrible reality of climate change. Those who continue to deny its existence, cannot gainsay the massive destruction to property and loss of life that so glaringly stare them in the face year after year,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the 74th session of the United Nations that continues here on Monday.
“No one can repudiate the awful scenes – flashed globally, across television screens and social media – of the decimation of the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, in The Bahamas Island chain,” he added.
Browne said that the lament of the people of the Bahamas, as the entire nation suffered in hopelessness, should echo in the ears of all who feel any compassion for their fellow man.
HE told the international community that the consequences of climate change have become “our annual Hiroshima, the effects, are as horrific as any battle ground and as devastating and long-lasting as an atomic bomb.
“But in this war that we did not start, that we do not wage, and that we do not want, the peoples of small island states have no means to defend themselves, and little means to recover.
“We are simply the hapless victims of those governments whose destructive climate policies are killing small island states, with brutal storm, after brutal storm; each more destructive than the last.”
The Antigua and Barbuda prime minister noted that the economies of Caribbean small island states are rooted in tourism and agriculture, “which are very dependent on stable climatic conditions.
“Already, these activities are being persistently disrupted, losing revenues to our countries, and incurring large recurring debt to finance both reconstruction and resilience building. With few exceptions, pledges of assistance, when they have been made, are inadequate and slow in delivery, if delivered at all.”
Despite all the targets set by climate change conferences, to limit global warming to 1.5°Celsius over pre-industrial levels, Browne said every nation should understand that, even if, that small level of ambition was achieved, the damage already done by climate change will continue for at least 1,000 years.
“This Assembly should take urgent and special note of the IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming and the recent report on oceans. In small island states, we have come to the painful conclusion that 30 or more generations of our people will, year after year, suffer from the conditions already created by the harmful greenhouse gas emissions of a handful of countries.
“We also know that if this profligate behavior does not stop, many of our island-states will not last 1,000 years. We also fear that the necessary action to halt greenhouse gas emissions might only come when a few countries and coastal communities are entirely washed away and eliminated from the face of the global map.
“And, even then, after a ritual wringing of hands and pledges, to act to stop the obliteration of small island states, business might continue as usual,” Browne added, noting however that, “of course, is not a prospect that the people and governments of small states will contemplate for a second.
“That is why this is pre-eminently, a time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly in this Assembly, without fear or favour. The very existence of our small island states and our civilization are imperilled. However, we will not sit by idly in silence. Action is imperative, and we will act now.”
Prime Minister Browne also urged access to financing on “fair and concessionary terms, commensurate with our size and vulnerabilities,” adding that “we have a proud history of seizing the reins of our independence and sovereignty against all odds to develop our countries rapidly after centuries of colonial or hegemonistic exploitation.
“But, we know that our underdevelopment and financial vulnerability were created by centuries of exploitation in slavery and bound-labor for which no compensation was made. That is why Caribbean countries, in all sectors driven by non-governmental organizations, have urged relevant governments in Europe to repair the debilitating social-economic conditions: the destruction of resources, the dehumanization and genocide of Caribbean people resulting from the slave trade, slavery and the ravages of colonialism.”
Browne urged the relevant European nations to provide reparations, not only because, at last, it would compensate for their development on the backs of our people, but because it is the morally correct thing to do to restore equity and justice.
“And, we should be clear, reparation is not aid; it is not a gift; it is compensation to correct the injustices of the past and restore equity,” he said.
Similarly, the prime minster said the provision of finance to support mitigation, adaptation and resilience in small states, such as Antigua and Barbuda, is not aid.
“It is compensation for the damage done to our countries, for the reversals in our economic gains, and for the additional money we must spend, to counter further injurious effects of climate change, in which we play little part,” he said.
Browne noted that anti-competitive actions have been forced on the region by the European Union in the area of taxation, “despite the compliance of our countries with standards set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“Further, despite our vulnerabilities as remote islands, confronted with high interest and insurance costs, unsustainable debt and frequent disasters arising from climate change, we are disqualified from access to concessional financing based on a single criterion – per capita income,” he said.
“That cannot be fair. It cannot be just,” Browne said reiterating a call for the removal of the per capita criterion, which precludes vulnerable small island states from accessing needed concessional funding.
In addition, he said climate funding to adapt, mitigate and build resilience, should not be subject to any conditionality but based exclusively on vulnerability and need.
“That is what is equitable,” he declared.
The prime minister said another injustice confronting the Caribbean is the phenomenon of the withdrawal of correspondent banking relations, or financial abandonment – “financial abandonment by banks in the US and some parts of Europe from our region.”
He said this is based primarily on profit motives and “the false allegations that our countries are major money launders and tax havens. And that is not so.”
Browne said both the Financial Action Task Force and the Global Forum of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have assessed and found most of regional countries to be fully compliant with rigorous international standards.
“Yet, the process of withdrawing correspondent banking relations continues unabated, threatening to exclude Caribbean countries from the international payment system, de-banking our nations, with the potential to plunge all of them into poverty,” he said.
“Corresponding banking is a public global good, a fundamental human right and must be available to all countries and regions.
“Unless this process is stopped and reversed, it is not only Caribbean countries that will suffer but so, too, will the developed countries in which the global banks are located, for, the Caribbean’s exclusion from the world’s trading system and the resultant economic collapse will create poverty, unemployment, crime, including drug trafficking, underground money laundering and refugees – all of which will challenge the security of wealthy neighbouring states in this hemisphere,” the Antigua and Barbuda leader added.