This year’s UN summit on climate change – formally known as the 27th meeting of the Conference of Parties on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 27) – was the proverbial curate’s egg: good in parts.
For many observers, one good outcome was the further cemented image of our Prime Minister as a leading voice in the international advocacy for a change in the global political climate in the fight against an existential threat to our planet created by human activity. This is capital in the political and diplomatic bank, for herself, her nation and her region.
And yet, the struggle on behalf of small island developing states – nations on the frontline of climate change that sees the withering impact of severe weather, be they hurricanes, floods or droughts – is but a significant handover of a great relay race that began in earnest here in Barbados in 1994: the UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
It is fitting that all roads should lead back to Barbados for an eponymous initiative that would see the richest polluting nations contribute but a fraction of their funds to finance change adaptation and mitigation efforts. But a very good part of this curate’s egg of a conference is the victory for the creation of “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters. Another, smaller, good part is the topping up of the global adaptation fund by a further US$230 million in new pledges.
The ground-breaking decision to set new funding arrangements, as well as a dedicated fund, to assist developing countries in responding to loss and damage is a very, very big deal. The governments agreed to establish a ‘transitional committee’ to make recommendations on how to put both the new funding arrangements and the fund into operation for next year’s conference, COP28.
It is a recognition after 28 long years of advocacy of the innate vulnerability of small island and coastal states to the effects of environmental degradation. Back in 1994, the SIDS proposed the creation of a vulnerability index – a countermeasure to the almighty Gross Domestic Product per capita metrics that have done nothing for human development but everything to paint a deceptive picture of progress that could be wiped away in an instant anytime between June and November of any given year.
It is a tribute to the long hard work of diplomats and statesmen from across the developing world, including the late Owen Seymour Arthur’s own toil in the vineyard at the level of the Commonwealth on small states, to say nothing of the contributions of economists, development thinkers, academicians, activists and scientists from our part of the world.
In many respects, the international community is only now replicating that which we have already created in the Caribbean, the world’s first and only fund dedicated to compensating for loss incurred by severe weather events – the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) – since 2007. So we have not gone to the international community with a begging bowl; the message is that the rich nations need to catch up, put up or shut up, for we have long recognised that it takes a single hurricane to knock any of our nations back into a previous century, and we have done something about it with meagre resources.
But it would be dangerous and foolhardy to believe that this fiscal victory means the war has been won. United Nations member states failed to reach an agreement on curbing the output of greenhouse gas emissions in order that the world may keep the world’s temperatures from rising on average by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. It has not escaped our attention that China – our recent great benefactor locally – led the effort to deny any meaningful change to address a deadly phenomenon of rising emissions.
And while the eloquence and advocacy of our Prime Minister have captured headlines abroad, too many of our citizens at home remain blithely ignorant of their own role in the fight against climate change. Many cannot connect their own pocketbook’s fortunes and physical safety to the intense political drama and diplomatic dance that the tiniest, most under-resourced countries on the planet engaged in. Even our own consumption patterns, particularly our long addiction to fossil fuels, unsustainable packaging, inefficiencies in energy consumption and the slow progress in renewable energy uptake must also be placed in the environmental balance sheet to our disfavour.
We cannot walk abroad with strident voices and yet be as silent as the tomb on our work to fight climate change. Not only must we say what we mean and mean what we see in the drive towards renewable energy in solar, wind and possibly wave energy and all other available forms, but we must take our own steps to create a national framework for climate change adaptation by strengthening our homes, public institutions, hospitals and schools to withstand ever stronger and more intense cyclones.
The heavy toll that some of the weakest cyclones have wrought upon our housing stock must be a cause for grave concern that passes beyond a rhetorical shrug. Just as we have called for bold action abroad, we must implement meaningful policies at home. We sincerely hope that whatever fiscal or monetary windfall that the international community may provide may indeed be spent implementing a strategy that will inevitably redound to the benefit of the common man or woman, not be a fiscal fudge to shore up our balance of payments.
It is fine that we have been talking and thinking globally.Now we must act more decisively locally.