Fri | Aug 18, 2017

US vote could impact Caribbean’s climate future

Published:Thursday | October 27, 2016 | 10:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Republican Walter ‘Mike’ Hill makes a point during The Gleaner’s Editors’ Forum on Tuesday. Next to him is Democrat Moises ‘Moe’ Vela, and Judith Weddeburn of the 51% Coalition.
A woman removes debris from homes that fell in the street after the passing of Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Wednesday, October 5, 2016. The hurricane rolled across the sparsely populated tip of Cuba overnight, destroying dozens of homes in Cuba's easternmost city, Baracoa, leaving hundreds of others damaged.
Love Manie Simeus, 12, holds a picture of herself wearing her school uniform as she looks through a family photo album inside her public school, where she has taken shelter after Hurricane Matthew hit the village of Mersan, located in Camp-Perrin, a district of Les Cayes, Haiti, on Monday.
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Jamaica and the Caribbean's bid for a secure climate future is likely to be impacted by the outcome of the November 8 United States (US) presidential election.

However, whether the impact will be negative or positive remains to be seen, though the sentiments of representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties - present in Jamaica this week - provides an indication of the possibilities.

Republican Walter 'Mike' Hill, member of the Florida House of Representatives, has denied the existence of climate change.

"I do believe in climate change; it's called summer, winter, spring and fall. It is not anthropogenic; it is not man-made," he told The Gleaner's Editors' Forum on Tuesday afternoon.

"Our climate is being affected primarily by two major forces - our sun and our oceans. Me driving my car to and from work is not changing our climate," he added.

Hill went further to reveal his aversion to the Paris Agreement - which the US ratified on September 3 - and to the provision of financing to support climate change adaptation and mitigation, whether in the Caribbean or elsewhere.

REPUBLICAN 'NO'

"I would say no to signing that agreement (the Paris Agreement) because it would be much too expensive to not only the American taxpayers, but the other countries that are imposed upon for what has been proven scientifically to be very minimal improvement in a reduction of carbon dioxide into the air, which, by the way, is not a poison. Our plants need it (carbon dioxide) in order to survive," he said.

The Paris Agreement was brokered last year at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in France.

The agreement - which is to come into force on November 4 - has as its goal: "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change".

Democrat Moises 'Moe' Vela, who served in President Barack Obama's administration as the director of administration and senior advisor in the Office of Vice-president Joe Biden, was of a different view from Hill.

"Senator [Hillary] Clinton has long been on the record, as I have been, as a matter of fact; we respect and we recognise the intelligence of our scientists from around the world. You don't have to read 500 scientific reports to understand climate change is truly impacting our world," he said.

"Secretary Clinton will continue to work with other leaders around the world as she has as secretary of state and as senator ... to recognise the impact that climate change is having on our world," Vela predicted.

CHILDREN OF THE WORLD

"I personally don't have children, but I care enough about the children of the world, and I know she does as well... to give them an Earth that is sustainable ... . We have got to address climate change so that the children of the world have a brighter future," he said.

While admitting to having no authority to speak for Clinton "on the finance matter", Vela said: "I would hope that the financials would flow from the United States to address climate change in the Caribbean basin and around the world."

Meanwhile, Hurricane Matthew hammered the Caribbean recently, leaving hundreds dead, billions of dollars in infrastructural damage, and despair in countries such as Haiti, Cuba and The Bahamas - a grim reminder of the threat climate change presents to especially small-island states.

That threat includes not only warmer temperatures, but also rising sea levels, coastal erosion and extreme weather events, including more frequent and/or intense hurricanes and droughts.

On the outcome of the US presidential election and the implications for local efforts to bolster climate change readiness, chief technical director in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Colonel Oral Khan said the island would wait to see.

"I think the US elections have generated a lot of interest beyond just questions of climate change, and we cannot escape taking note of the some of the things that are being said, but we will await the outcome, and through diplomatic channels, we will continue to press for what the Paris Agreement calls for," he told The Gleaner.

AWARENESS INITIATIVE

Hill and Vela are in Jamaica this week as part of an initiative of the United States Embassy in Kingston and the 51% Coalition, with Panos Caribbean as implementing partner.

The initiative is designed to "raise public awareness and advance understanding of the US presidential election process, with an examination of lessons and implications for Jamaica and the Caribbean, in the interest of responsible and democratic governance," according to information out of Panos.

In addition to Hill and Vela being present on the island for a round of media interviews and public engagements, there have also been a series of Dinner and a Debate viewing events. Those events saw Jamaicans exposed to the cut and thrust of the US presidential debates between Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Party candidate Donald Trump.

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