Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Imani Duncan-Price | Igniting energy in CARICOM

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Imani Duncan-Price
The CARICOM headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana.
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CARICOM has an opportunity to recapture the imagination of Caribbean nationals in a real way. This arises from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed to last September at the United Nations and the recent decision of the United Kingdom to exit the European Union (EU). Yes, notwithstanding the negative implications, even Brexit has an upside for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

With 193 heads of state and government, including every Caribbean nation, agreed to set the world on a path towards sustainable development through the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, this kind of extensive collaboration is unique and should be leveraged for action. Some of the SDGs are more effectively dealt with from a Caribbean perspective - a right fit for CARICOM.

Given the commentary on what led to the majority vote in the UK to leave the EU, it is hoped that regional organisations take a serious look at themselves and determine the tangible value provided to its member states and citizens. With regard to CARICOM, the case for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) becomes even more compelling as the final appellate for the member states as the UK seems to turn more insular with this vote. In addition, CARICOM can finally take action on the expansion of its membership to include not just the English-speaking Caribbean countries, but also the Spanish-speaking and French-speaking islands as well.

The English-speaking Caribbean is an accident of history - and not one of our own making. In full agreement with vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Sir Hilary Beckles, now is the time to move beyond that! Indeed, there is already a basis with Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), the grouping of CARICOM states and the Dominican Republic, which serves as a base for economic dialogue with the European Union. There are also applications to CARICOM pending from other Caribbean states. Sign them up - build a stronger community. Find the common ground given the shared geographic and economic realities, and prepare for strong negotiations with the EU, and indeed the UK, when it actually exits the EU.

Imagine if CARICOM made a call for international trade lawyers, negotiators, and foreign-trade experts in the Caribbean diaspora to join an expert team for the next five years to analyse our trade agreements and strategise - the Caribbean could select the best team of experienced, young, passionate people with strong international exposure to work on its behalf. This is critical to be done now as the Cotonou Agreement, a treaty between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, comes to an end in 2020.

The agreement is the most comprehensive partnership between the EU and 79 developing countries from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. Come 2020, a new agreement must be in place. As such, it is being worked on right now. That does not stop because of BREXIT. The EU still exists.

What will the terms and conditions in light of an emerging new world order be? We have a choice in how we aggressively approach that as CARICOM. Indeed, that team could also take on CARIFORUM's Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU and advise member states on how to actively take advantage of the benefits of those treaties for growth. To date, the Caribbean's response has been weak.

Galvanise with the SDGs

With regard to the global pledge for common action on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), CARICOM can lead the way with specific goals. This universal policy agenda is designed to ensure that the current generation can satisfy their wants in a way that does not compromise the quality of life of future generations - a message that has begun to resonate with younger generations who have seen and experienced the failings of the current global system.

Teams within the CARICOM Secretariat have begun to review the goals and ascertain the organisation's possible role in implementation. That is positive. However, it is imperative that this opportunity be used to effectively mobilise Caribbean nationals - governments, private sector, civil society, wider citizens.

Three of the 17 goals lend themselves to regional action. They are Goal 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy, Goal 13 - Climate Action; and Goal 14 - Life below Water. Note that the recommended regional focus does not absolve Caribbean states and local actors from designing and implementing relevant policies at the national level. Achievement of each goal requires a focused push by all. Goal 13 is the focus here and a subsequent article will speak to Goals 7 and 14.

As the Caribbean is prone to natural disasters because of its geographic location, climate change poses the potential for damage from more extreme weather events like longer droughts, as well as from sea level rise. Since hurricanes arise from the evaporation of warm Atlantic water, warmer seas should produce greater evaporation and thus generate more violent storms.

Indeed, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute's (CaPRI) brief, 'An SDG Agenda for the Caribbean', states that "many Caribbean countries have vast areas of low-lying coastal planes that will be threatened by even modest sea level rise". It cites Guyana as an example with 90 per cent of its population living on the coastal plain that's located more than a metre and a half below sea level. It further states that "sea-level rise also impacts further inland as many Caribbean countries rely heavily on aquifers for fresh water supply. The extreme case is Jamaica, which derives some 84 per cent of its freshwater supply from groundwater. Sea-level rise will cause saline intrusion into some of the aquifers, rendering the water unusable".

 

ACTIVIST STANCE NEEDED

An activist stance by an expanded CARICOM is needed here. Imagine CARICOM leading a concerted push for developed countries to actually implement the commitment they already gave to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to mobilise US$100 billion annually by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries in terms of appropriate and effective climate-mitigation actions. Take that to the upcoming meeting in September in New York.

Finally, as it is 2016 and the age of communication, an expanded CARICOM should consider implementing a more effective communication mechanism with the citizens of its member states, showing its progress on issues, relevance and successes, amplifying its impact.

- Imani Duncan-Price is World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, a development consultant, and co-executive director, CaPRI, and former senator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and fullticipation@gmail.com.