Fri | Oct 30, 2020

Fresh impetus in fight against Caribbean climate emergency

Published:Monday | December 30, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Jeffrey Roberts, 49, eats while searching through the rubble of his relatives’ home, which was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in Pelican Point, Grand Bahama, Bahamas.
Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda.
In this September 10, 2017 photo, men play dominoes in the middle of a flooded street as others pull broken furniture from calf-high water in the aftermath Hurricane Irma, in Havana, Cuba.


The United Nations has hailed what it describes as “fresh impetus” in the fight against the climate emergency that has had disproportionate, negative effect on the Caribbean, as well as other countries.

The COP25 climate conference in Madrid, in December, was regarded as the next milestone on the long journey to a sustainable global economy, and many commentators and activists “saw the conference as a disappointment, as no overall consensus was reached on the key issue of increased climate change”.

But UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres refused to see COP25 (The United Nations Climate Change Conference) as a defeat, vowing that “we must not give up, and I will not give up”. He said that there were several signs of progress, and growing momentum for change.

The European Union, for example, committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, and that 73 nations announced that they will submit an enhanced climate action plan, or Nationally Determined Contribution.

“A groundswell of ambition for a cleaner economy was also evident at a regional and local level,” the Decade in Review said, stating that 14 regions, 398 cities, 786 businesses and 16 investors are working towards achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

At COP25, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) described Latin America and the Caribbean as “a laboratory for climate action”.

“From hurricanes pounding islands to drought destroying crops across Central America, and erratic rain patterns affecting the livelihoods of indigenous communities living on Andean slopes, climate-related challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean are as diverse as are the region’s landscapes,” the UN said.

“Climate change is exacerbating many of these, with higher temperatures, delayed rainy seasons, rainfall irregularity, and increasingly frequent and extreme weather events,” it added.

But it is not just about problems, according to Kathryn Milliken, WFP’s climate change adviser.


“The Latin American and Caribbean region offers exciting opportunities to test and scale up a wide range of solutions to address climate-related issues. With many countries having middle-income status and greater public-private capacities than in most of the places where we work, this region can be a laboratory for a new way for WFP and partners to work,” she said.

WFP said one such way is promoting the integration of climate-risk financing into governments’ social-protection systems.

“Climate-risk finance tools are critical in ensuring that when a climatic event is either forecast or triggered by reliable weather information, vulnerable people can receive rapid support to withstand or recover from the shock,” it said.

In the Caribbean, Milliken said recent events, including Category Five Hurricane Dorian, which hovered over parts of Grand Bahama for two days, “have shown how climate change is increasing the threats to the lives and livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people.

“Here, making national social-protection mechanisms more shock-responsive and adaptive can help get emergency assistance to large populations more quickly, reducing the impact of disasters and protecting against loss to development gains,” she said.

WFP said its strategy to achieve this includes advocating with the governments of Caribbean small island states to adopt a mix of risk financing that respond to the frequency and magnitude of climate-related disasters and other risks.

It also involves testing how certain risk-finance tools can be connected to national social-protection schemes, “so that rapid response funds can be provided to vulnerable people in the event of a disaster,” WFP said.


Working with communities and authorities at the national and local level, WFP said it has been strengthening adaptive capacities to this changing climate.

“The climate emergency is here, and vulnerable people in Latin America and the Caribbean are feeling the brunt of the impacts of climate variability and change. WFP is looking to address the urgency in this region, finding solutions that will get support to these populations at the scale needed,” Milliken said.

Stating that it should be no surprise to anyone that climate change and its catastrophic consequences are foremost on his mind, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, in late September, told the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Debate that his country was still suffering the damaging consequences of Hurricane Irma two years on.

“We know and live the terrible reality of climate change,” Browne said. “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.

“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. “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.”

Browne said that the consequences of climate change have become “our annual Hiroshima – the effects, are as horrific as any battleground and as devastating and long-lasting as an atomic bomb.”