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OPINION: How to reclaim destiny of small islands on frontline of climate crisis

by Allen Chastanet | Saint Lucia
Tuesday, 24 September 2019 14:00 GMT

Men play soccer on a beach in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Dorian at Rodney Bay in St. Lucia, August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Andrea de Silva

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

We may be small but we are also a magnifying glass of the climate crisis underway. What takes place on our islands is a foretaste of what is certain to follow on land.

Allen Chastanet, Prime Minister, Saint Lucia.

The international community has failed Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

In the immediate aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season, when Hurricanes Irma and Maria left a trail of death and destruction across the Caribbean, the international community pledged to assist climate vulnerable small states to rebuild and prepare for future events.

Two years later and without the promised support, Hurricane Dorian inflicted a punishing blow on the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.  Dorian clocked the highest recorded wind speed in the North Atlantic at 295 kilometers per hour and sat over The Bahamas for nearly 30 hours.

In the aftermath of Dorian, I saw a brave nation recovering from tragedy. Over 2,500 people have been reported missing, over 70,000 people left homeless, and property damage has been estimated in the billions.

There is a sense of vulnerability that we are at the mercy of the forces of nature, now on steroids, due to a changing climate. These unpredictable yet ever increasing events have taken away our ability to control our own destinies.

SIDS together produce less than 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, yet we are the most affected.

Exacerbated by climate change, hurricanes have now morphed into lethal events. Torrential rain and heavy winds are now accompanied by extraordinary storm surges that wipe away everything in their path.

This has come at a great cost.

First and foremost, the irreplaceable loss of life and secondly, in the damage to vital infrastructure upon which our economies rely.

In the wake of such natural disasters, macro-economic planning and fiscal rules and priorities take a backseat.

As a result, these natural hazards place small island developing states in a vulnerable position not only by virtue of our geography, but also our ability to create the necessary fiscal space required for development planning.

We may be small. But we are also a magnifying glass of the climate crisis underway. What takes place on our islands is a foretaste of what is certain to follow on land. We are the canary in the coal mine.

The threat we face is common. It puts our health, food and water supplies, security and economic growth in jeopardy. It compromises our shared prosperity, not only now, but for future generations.

With the failure of the international community to act in support of our efforts to harden our infrastructure and build resilience, small states like mine must coalesce and take charge of our future and our destiny.

SIDS must come together to establish a mechanism to finance resilience building and to protect this and future generations from the existential threat posed by these unnatural phenomena.

A recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) assessment indicates that a minimum investment of $1.8 trillion is needed to adapt.

The global community has a long way to go to reach this figure. The cost of inaction, particularly for SIDS, rises every year, so we must now take concrete steps to secure our future. 

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, over $2 billion was pledged in the form of aid, loans and debt relief. Sadly, in the years since, it is most evident that there is a difference in resources pledged and monies disbursed.

Similarly, the $100 billion promised under the Paris Climate Agreement to assist developing countries in their mitigation and adaptation measures has not been delivered. Most of us have very little confidence that these funds will be generated.

In my recent address at the UN Trade Forum at UNCTAD, I called for our partners to honour promises made to support strengthening infrastructure to adapt to the ‘new normal’, as well as post-disaster responses.

Furthermore, I implored the international community to revisit the arbitrary criteria imposed by international financial institutions for SIDS to access concessionary finances. We need our international partners to use other measurements that consider the inherent vulnerability of SIDS.

Notwithstanding the relatively high per capita incomes enjoyed by several SIDS, we are still confronted by exposure to external economic shocks, isolation, and as recent weather events have shown, susceptibility to natural disasters.

Additionally, with the support of international partners, I have proposed the creation of a SIDS-led Resilience Foundation to provide much needed funding to SIDS in support of adaptation including the hardening of vital infrastructure.

This and other measures, are among the steps that must be pursued for us to reclaim control of our destiny.

I call on the support of the international community to face a problem we did not create, before it is too late.