'All of us gathered here are well-seized of the fact that climate change and the pandemic, as separate occurrences, are devastating for CARICOM Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States (SIDS). That double threat compounded by the recent eruption of La Soufrière Volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has stretched our limited human and financial resources.
'This has been further exacerbated by the extreme weather that has caused extensive and destructive flooding in Guyana and Suriname. We also have to contend with a regular influx of sargassum seaweed to our coastlines.
'Our regional disaster response mechanism has been called into action all year around with little or no respite before what is expected to be another very active hurricane season.
'It underlines the need for us to strengthen our resolve to advance a green resilient recovery post-COVID-19, which incorporates plans for a climate-resilient, low-emission regional economy that generates sustainable jobs for our people.
From Remarks by CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque at the Opening Ceremony of the USAID Climate Change Symposium, 16 June 2021
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It is my pleasure to address the opening of this Climate Change Symposium today. As the climate and COVID-19 crises have demonstrated, we are operating in times where the existential threats to our people and economies require multilateral and multi-sectoral approaches and cooperation. This event is a relevant example in that regard.
All of us gathered here are well-seized of the fact that climate change and the pandemic, as separate occurrences, are devastating for CARICOM Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States (SIDS). That double threat compounded by the recent eruption of La Soufrière Volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has stretched our limited human and financial resources.
This has been further exacerbated by the extreme weather that has caused extensive and destructive flooding in Guyana and Suriname. We also have to contend with a regular influx of sargassum seaweed to our coastlines.
Our regional disaster response mechanism has been called into action all year around with little or no respite before what is expected to be another very active hurricane season.
It underlines the need for us to strengthen our resolve to advance a green resilient recovery post-COVID-19, which incorporates plans for a climate-resilient, low-emission regional economy that generates sustainable jobs for our people.
As you will recall, CARICOM was at the frontline of the negotiations of the Paris Agreement. An Agreement with which I am pleased to see that the United States has re-engaged. This is a most welcome occurrence, for we need all hands on deck in combatting climate change.
We have continued to lead by example, despite our low levels of greenhouse gas emissions. We have assessed and prioritised sectors for targeted intervention, not only to mitigate our emissions, but more importantly to scale up adaptation strategies. These are necessary to confront the impacts of climate change that are already affecting us.
This has been done at the regional level, based on the ambition of our Member States as they revised and submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions.
Adaptation and resilience remain a priority for us given the levels of impact during the past ten (10) years. In that time, the Caribbean has been affected by forty (40) tropical cyclones of which twelve (12) attained hurricane strength. Eight (8) were classified as major hurricanes which resulted in loss of life and property, flooding, landslides, damage to infrastructure and housing, and dislocation.
Six (6) Caribbean States are ranked in the top ten most disaster-prone countries in the world and all are in the top 50. Disasters cost the Region at least 2% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) every year. In addition, several of our economic sectors continue to remain under threat from slow-onset climate impacts.
Declining rainfall and saltwater intrusion due to sea level rise compromise the Region's water resources, requiring significant investments to ensure a safe water supply. This, together with higher temperatures, pests and more extreme events are reducing agriculture yields in the Caribbean, and causing more crop loss, impacting the Region's food security.
Sea level rise also causes many of our Member States to experience beach erosion, flooding, intense coral bleaching episodes, and increased impacts of ocean and coastal acidification. Mangroves and sea grass meadows are also being degraded. The overall impact on coastal ecosystems results in damage to the fishing and tourism industries, key drivers of Caribbean economies and food security.
As it relates to mitigation, while the Region's use of renewable energy has more than doubled in the past ten (10) years, it is far from optimal. Continued and accelerated transition to renewable energy for both economic and environmental reasons remains a priority for us.
Added to this, the development of policies to make transport systems more energy efficient, including improving access to e-mobility options, will require scaling up in the short to medium-term.
Our goal is to make the Region climate resilient. But building resilience is very costly, in particular given the range of physical infrastructure that it involves. However, an IMF study found that for every dollar spent in building resilience, savings can be as much as seven dollars in damage and reconstruction costs after a disaster.
This is why there is an urgent need for small vulnerable states like ours, whether low, middle or upper income, to have access to concessional development financing in order to achieve resilience prior to a disaster and not wait until after it strikes.
It is, therefore, crucial that vulnerability be the main criterion in determining access to concessional development financing which we urgently need in our quest for resilience.
The Region requiresfinancing to address short-, medium- and long-term responses to tackle climate change and recover from the global COVID-19 pandemic, while continuing to build our resilience. This would help SIDS through increased liquidity, reduced debt levels, greater fiscal space, access to new financial instruments and recovery packages that are compliant with the Paris Agreement.
We also recognise that the generation of timely and accurate data remains a challenge for the development of environmental strategies and policies at the national, sub-regional and regional levels.
We have excellently performing Regional Institutions, such as the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs), the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), as well as national governmental institutions, academic and research bodies, all collecting data and generating information.
However, our weakness remains in scaling up the mechanisms needed to ensure that data generated are incorporated and used to advance climate resilience and adaptation. This would facilitate the submission of projects to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Adaptation Fund (AF).
Having outlined many of the challenges facing our Region as we deal with the impacts of climate change, I wish to highlight the fact that this Region has benefitted from a number of partnerships to confront these challenges. In this regard, USAID has been a committed and dedicated partner.
We have but to look at the recent partnership 'Climate Change Adaptation Program (CCAP)' between the USAID and the 5Cs. The partnership was pivotal to enhancing the data capture architecture and network in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. The acquisition alone of the Region's first owned LiDAR instrument was unprecedented. This opened avenues for enhancing access to seascape and topographic data at a cost much lower than previously possible.
Further, the CCAP's emphasis on capacity support within the 5Cs for developing project proposals for submission to the GCF produced levels of funding that greatly exceeded expectations. Many countries are implementing Readiness Projects for building country programmes or preparing for the implementation of full-size projects that are already in the pipeline for GCF consideration.
USAID has also been a committed partner in the production of cutting-edge information on climate phenomena for the Region, via the Programme for Building Regional Climate Capacity in the Caribbean (BRCCC Programme). This is a three-year project executed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and implemented by the CIMH.
That Programme allowed the CIMH to meet the rigorous requirements to be recognised as a WMO Regional Climate Centre. CIMH is now able to generate regional climate services and products, including long range forecasts, early warning systems and improved weather modelling capacity. This will help to influence decision-making to mitigate against climate change and fortify disaster risk management.
Against this backdrop, it is indeed my pleasure to add my voice to this series of symposia. I am heartened to see a role for our CARICOM Youth Ambassadors, who are flagbearers for our regional integration movement and spokespersons on the youth vision for our Community.
Our Youth Ambassadors will be engaging meaningfully in activities in their home territory on the climate change and health nexus, as a result of a partnership between CARICOM and the Pan-American Health Organization funded by the European Union. The Secretariat is also in preliminary discussion with United Nations Children's Fund and the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Regional Collaboration Centre to enhance cooperation on youth advocacy in the climate change fight.
I do expect that the key messages and action points from these symposia will be documented, and serve as points of departure for confronting the challenge of climate change. I look forward to follow-up discussions and recommendations that would ensure coherence and synergies in this battle.
I wish you fruitful discussions.
I thank you.