The fact that Barbadians and their neighbours in the Eastern Caribbean are preparing for the possible impact of Tropical Storm Gonzalo one week before the end of July, is a clear indication that the impact of climate change is real and its consequences are life-threatening.
While we in this part of the world accept and prepare for adverse weather conditions between June and November each year, it is generally the case that most storms and hurricanes impact the region over late August, with September and October regarded as the most active periods of the hurricane season.
Despite the admirable and intensive work of climate activists such as former American presidential candidate Al Gore and the hosting of the United Nations’ Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference here in Barbados in 1994 which also drew attention to the debilitating impact of climate change, there are many who still view the subject as esoteric.
Some people cannot make the real-life connection between how we treat the environment and eventually how the environment responds to mistreatment which comes in the form of pollution, fossil fuel emissions, degradation from the use of plastics and the rapid depletion of rain forests.
Last September, which seems like a hundred years ago, world leaders gathered at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York pledging their support for a political declaration that was designed to help protect SIDS like Barbados from the impact of climate change. The leaders also committed to supporting the sustainable development of these small, vulnerable islands.
Despite the lacklustre role of the United States, the political leaders said they would seek to scale up investments in small island developing states for “economic growth and diversification, including in ocean-based economies and creative and cultural industries, to reduce their vulnerability and build resilience”.
It is noteworthy that leaders urged action to address the adverse impacts of climate change, notably the rise in sea-levels and extreme weather events. And, as we in the region make our annual preparation for storms and hurricanes, we know too well the severe threats posed to life, businesses, and infrastructure.
We have the misfortune knowing how hurricanes are capable of erasing all the gains made by a country in just one fell swoop. We know that a proud, educated, middle-income country could be reduced to poverty-stricken and despairing, with the impact of a single weather system. And the people of The Bahamas, Cuba or even Jamaica can attest to the fact that being struck by a storm or hurricane does not present immunity from the impact of another during the same year.
As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in his opening remarks to the High-level Midterm Review of the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action Pathway, “The climate crisis is piling injustice upon injustice.”
In a year when the globe is confronting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), widespread nonsensical conspiracy theories and the mouthings of climate change deniers who hold some of the most power positions in the world, it appears that many of the gains made at the multilateral level are being eroded.
As Guterres pointed out, due to their middle-income status many islands are “trapped in an accelerating and unsustainable cycle of disaster and debt”. He called for the international community to redesign and reassess how it engages SIDS who inevitably have to fight the twin battles of climate change impact and development challenges.
Our Prime Minister Mia Mottley noted at last September’s UN meeting, the UN Secretary-General was “swimming against the tide” and the international community had come to this point in time with unparalleled selfishness. She urged that what was at stake for the oceans and the environment was far worse than many had contemplated.