The Caribbean needs help from the international community now more than ever, as it seeks to build resilience to changing weather patterns and the impact on its economies, Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Patricia Scotland has said.
Delivering the 42nd annual Sir Winston Scott Memorial lecture at the Frank Collymore Hall last night on the topic: Responsiveness, Resilience and Regeneration: Building on Commonwealth advantage for good governance, prosperity and progress, Baroness Scotland noted that the region had suffered “some unprecedented climatic assaults” this year.
She warned that the existential threat of climate change could no longer be ignored, given the level of devastation wrought on the region by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“Last year the London School of Economics estimated that climate change could eliminate US$2.5 trillion of the globe’s financial assets. And that was an assessment made before this summer. And I really wonder whether that would be an upward projection in the future,” she said.
In reference to the commitment made by global leaders at the 2015 Climate Change summit to take steps to reduce global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius, she added that “a United Nations report later found that the economic growth, as measured by GDP would be ten per cent or US$12 trillion higher if the 1.5 degrees centigrade threshold is achieved”.
Baroness Scotland also zeroed in on the question of funding, pointing out that although the international community had pledged billions to address climate change, countries were still finding it extremely difficult to draw from financing mechanisms such as the Green Fund, for projects to help people adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects.
In this regard, she said the newly established Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub should prove to be of immense importance and value to the Caribbean “where floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters have wrought dreadful devastation and dislocation”.
“It is imperative that there is a broad international support and urgent climate action to build back better. And this will require a comprehensive suite of measures for restoration and rebuilding with a holistic and multi-sectoral approach to justice and resilience at its heart,” she added.
Baroness Scotland, who recently visited Barbuda and her native Dominica, both of which were severely battered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September, told the audience that the scenes of the damage would remain with her forever.
“When I went to Barbuda I saw a country which had been totally devastated. Nothing remained; very few people were there, but I was taken by one of the members of parliament. And people were pointing out to me buildings, and they were saying things like, ‘that used to be our school’; and ‘that used to be our police station’; and ‘this used to be where we held meetings’. And everything was spoken about in the past, and yet two months before this had been a vibrant, colourful, joyous community and everything was gone and it was really eerie.”
In Dominica the view was equally heart breaking.
“Now many of you in this room will know what it looks like as you fly into Dominica: lush, green vegetation; thick, wonderful foliage, flora, fauna. When I flew in I saw bare trees, brown mud-coloured empty spaces; every roof it seemed, of every building had been removed, and there was not even the bark left on trees.
“And one of the images that will remain with me always is going to Pointe Michel and seeing a woman sitting in the middle of the rubble that used to be her home. The only two things that were recognizable from her house was a fridge freezer and a mattress. Yet three days before the hurricane hit, she had celebrated the ninth birthday of her son in that home. And the only thing that she had left of her life’s work, were the lives of her family.”
In this vein, the Commonwealth Secretary General extended her gratitude to Barbados for its generosity towards Dominica and Barbuda after the storms.
“I don’t think one understands the enormity of the hurt until you see it. And that’s 200 per cent of Dominica’s GDP [gross domestic product] destroyed. And so there are many things for us to ponder because the situation of that woman is symbiotic of the challenges facing many countries of the Commonwealth today,” Baroness Scotland said.
According to her, building resilience to withstand and recover from the negative impact of storms is now even more urgent, given the extent of damage of this year’s hurricanes.
She said when Commonwealth leaders meet in London next April, they will once again be considering practical action to tackle climate change, to protect the environment, and increase the resilience of member states through sustainable development.