Tue | Dec 5, 2023

Earth Today | ‘Help us’

Call for US support to tackle climate change and debt gets local endorsement

Published:Thursday | September 21, 2023 | 12:08 AM

LOCAL PLAYERS from the environment sector have thrown their support behind the recent call of Caribbean-based civil society organisations (CSOs) for the support of the United States (US) in responding to the twin challenge of climate change and debt.

In a letter dated September 5 and addressed to US President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, the more than 50 CSOs – led by the Caribbean Policy Development Centre – called, among other things, for support of a new issuance of at least US$650 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) at the International Monetary Fund (IMF); backing for the elimination of the IMF’s harmful surcharge policy; and a commitment to significant loss and damage funding.

The Caribbean, they insisted in the letter, is in a crisis.


“The people of the Caribbean are grappling with the twin crises of debt and climate change. In many of our nations, the burden of debt, which has long stymied our development, has grown too onerous to bear, imperilling our economies and undermining the ability of our governments to meet our peoples’ basic needs. At the same time, a changing climate, for which our nations hold very little responsibility, endangers our very existence,” reads a section of the letter.

For sustainable development professional Eleanor Jones, the call for support is as timely as it is needed and urgent.

“Availability of finance is germane to reducing disaster vulnerability and risk with which Caribbean states are plagued. The issue of building resilience is a major item on the global agenda and for the Caribbean the cascading effects of the natural and human-induced hazards beg for building and/or strengthening coping strategies for each sector within Caribbean societies,” she explained.

“Environmental health is compromised and so is productivity and output. The devastating effect of the COVID pandemic was preceded by other dislocating effects of vector-borne diseases such as chikungunya, dengue and Zika; volcanic eruptions, earthquakes that accompany hurricanes, tropical storms, flooding, wind damage, storm surge, landslides, drought, and many of these occurred more recently alongside the challenges wrought by COVID-19,” added Jones, who is head of the consultancy firm Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL) and a member of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

There is, too, she noted, the impact on “water availability, food security, sustainable infrastructure, housing, and dislocated national budgets which must contend with restoration and reconstruction, often for several years after a single event”.

“The SIDS of the Caribbean need assistance to lift them from the battered state to allow for instituting preventive measures to reduce loss and damage, and implement adaptation steps to cope with the inevitable. Resilience building cannot be achieved without access to finance which can come through debt relief, interest reduction to international funders/development partners, and the opportunity to harness funds from special rights,” the ESL boss maintained.

“It is difficult to emerge from poverty of the national treasury as well as individual budgets when subject to repeated onslaught from the ongoing hazards that are climate induced, health related, and geologic. The national budgets need room to manoeuvre,” she added.

Indi Mclymont Lafayette, a long-time climate justice advocate, agreed.


“It is good to see Caribbean CSOs pushing for greater climate action. We are uniting for our survival. The options being put on the table are high priority. Loss and damage will help to ensure that Caribbean islands get back on their feet after the numerous climate disasters that we tend to face such as stronger hurricanes. Debt relief would also provide some cushion for islands to build their resilience and not be pushed further into poverty and debt every time we have to recover from a hurricane or extreme flooding,” she said.

“Hopefully the US responds favourably because the more stable and resilient the Caribbean islands are, the less likely it is that we will be running there for help or there being a refugee situation. It also will demonstrate that they are doing their part to ensure climate justice and that those who feel climate change the most have help and are not continuously crippled by the impacts,” she added.

Among the CSOs to pen the letter are the Jamaica Environment Trust, the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers, Jamaicans for Justice, as well as a variety of others from across the region, including Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Suriname, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and The Bahamas.