Caricom chair pushes for legal action on climate funding

(Trinidad Guardian ) Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Caricom chairman Gaston Browne has urged Caribbean leaders including Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to let go of the fear of repercussions and pursue a legal path to climate change funding. Browne made the call during the final show of COP26 – Now or Never on CNC3 on Friday night.

His government has formed a commission on climate change based on international law seeking to introduce a legal pathway to complement the voluntary efforts of large polluting countries to become legally responsible for their emissions. Tuvalu, an independent island in the South Pacific, was one of the early signees but the Antigua prime minister called for support closer to home.

“We do not believe we can depend exclusively on their random acts of charity whenever our countries suffer the adverse effects of climate. They must be made to pay,” he said of high polluting nations.

In his address at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow on November 1, Browne told the world: “The difference between small island developing states and industrialised nations is the capacity to respond. It takes a single storm a few hours to destroy the economy and infrastructure of an entire small island state which lacks the necessary financial and other resources to rebound and rebuild.”

Browne said regional leaders must take a stand and not act out of fear that the international community will victimise them.

He explained: “I have to tell you that I’m a little disappointed that none of my colleagues within the Caricom region would have volunteered so far to join but I remain hopeful that they will because if we do not have this type of harmonised approach in defending our interests and to utilise all the tools available to us, including the legal tools, in order to agitate for change, then obviously we will be overlooked and the large polluters will ignore interest.

“They will continue to prejudice our development and leave us on the margins of global development. We cannot afford to be leaders who are inactive, and who may be afraid of our own shadow, and who may be afraid of possible repercussions.”

Browne said it is not only an issue of morality but of law in which they should be made legally to pay as the Caribbean can’t “rely exclusively on these voluntary efforts”.

He added: “If we are going to rely exclusively on these voluntary efforts, we are pretty sure we will not achieve the objective of 1.5, and if we don’t achieve that goal then our own civilisation will be in peril.”

While the economies of T&T, Guyana and Suriname are heavily dependent on oil and gas, the carbon footprint of small island developing states accounts for one per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. T&T is one of the highest emitters of CO2 per capita and was second globally in 2019 according to the World Bank’s Global Carbon Project.

Browne chairman has urged heads of these governments to take advantage of the fossil fuel era while it lasts.

Asked what he would tell leaders of these countries, Browne responded: “Maximise your profits now that there’s a window that they can continue to burn their fossil fuel energy and use those proceeds to diversify their economies as soon as possible… We know that they’ll be around for at least another three decades and that’s sufficient time for them to develop sufficient surpluses that they can diversify into other sectors including tourism.”

With rising sea levels threatening beaches and coastlines across the region, Browne admitted the Caribbean needs to start rethinking how it does tourism.

“When you look at the lack of adequate commitments, we may well have to focus on adaptation to try and adapt to these effects, but again, adaptation methods will take a significant amount of financing,” he said.

The multimillion-dollar industry will come under enormous strain as global temperatures soar with coastlines eroding and warming waters becoming less of a home for many of the region’s species.

Browne added: “There is now a need for us to diversify our tourism product and to make the existing product more resilient. Most of our properties are on the beach but we may have to look at taking some of these properties in the future inland so that we don’t find ourselves in a situation where all our beach properties are eventually made inviable and we cannot sustain a tourism product.”

He further stated that the Caribbean will have to rethink how it builds houses and other buildings to protect against rising sea levels and violent storms. Electric cables will now have to go underground.

Browne wants to see a total Caribbean approach as opposed to individual islands moving forward while others are left behind. He was happy the messaging from Caricom leaders at COP26 carried a similar tone.

“I would say for COP26 we achieved a harmonised messaging. In fact, all of the heads spoke about these common themes about achieving 1.5 for large emitters to cut their emissions, to remove fossil fuel subsidies then at the same time to accelerate the transition into green energy applications as well as providing adequate funding to facilitate the transition into green energy,” he said.

He admitted it wasn’t by chance that before the conference in Glasgow, Caricom held a meeting of heads to form a common message as opposed to previous conferences when they went their separate ways.

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