According to the United Nations, when the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference opened on Monday November 13 , it was with the aim of launching nations towards the next level of ambition needed to tackle global warming and put the world on a safer and more prosperous development path.
The threats associated with climate change are all too real for Saint Lucia: rising sea levels pose a serious risk to the livelihoods of the thousands of persons living in our many villages, and increasing temperatures trigger more than just discomfort, with longer and more frequent droughts. The growing intensity of hurricanes because of increased sea temperatures directly affects the Caribbean. This is easily exemplified through the destruction of Dominica and other islands due to the recent passage of mega hurricanes.
With this in mind, Saint Lucia’s participation in COP continues to be of exceeding importance. Hosted in Bonn, Germany, Saint Lucia’s contingency for this year included Minister for Education, Hon Gale Rigobert, and Prime Minister Allen Chastanet in the capacity of Saint Lucian Prime Minister and of OECS chairman.
Speaking at the Joint High Level Segment at COP23 in Bonn, the prime minister informed other heads of state that ‘the Caribbean has confronted climate change in the form of Jose, Maria and Irma’. Notwithstanding the economic decimation, the reality is that hurricanes have the increasing ability to ‘annihilate Saint Lucia overnight’. With the next Atlantic hurricane season only nine months away, PM Chastanet’s concerns were based on a possible brain drain due to the displacement of citizens affected by the storm. Take Dominica for example: teachers, business people and community leaders may be leaving the damaged island in an effort to restart in a more stable environment.
“Caribbean people are resilient but a policy must be implemented for financing” was the Prime Minister’s plea to other leaders at COP23. Two years ago, the Paris Agreement was decided upon whereby greenhouse gas emissions would be mitigated to prevent a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures and to at least keep it no more than 1.5 degree Celsius above the present level. The Paris Agreement allows for financing for greenhouse gas emissions to begin in the year 2020. For the prime minister, however, 2020 seems too far into the distant future as ‘[Small Island Developing States] are doing their part but it does not allow us to control our destiny’.
Financial help from developed countries is perhaps the best option given that ‘SIDS will meet more intolerable natural threats’. Seeing that ‘now is not a time for politics’, Allen Chastanet continued to seek urgent help from all governments. Much like the island of Fiji, upon which key focus was placed at this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Caribbean receives no favourable treatment in respect of climate change. To surmise, in the prime minister’s words: Climate change has no prejudice; it does not discriminate.
Although the magnitude and urgency of the prime minister’s message is undeniably essential, some may argue that the Saint Lucian government is not doing enough on its own to protect us from climate change. With the continuing controversies surrounding the sale of land for DSH, some citizens are fearful that the mangroves on these lands which serve as a natural coastal defence against storms, will be damaged or poisoned.
Representation for Saint Lucia at COP23 is of extraordinary importance, considering our geographical placement and the growing intensity of storms, hurricanes and even tropical depressions. Attaining financial help is the only means of successfully fortifying the infrastructural integrity of Saint Lucia, and reducing the likelihood of having to ‘build back better’.