Extraordinary hurricanes with winds strong enough to cripple productivity and the livelihood of people in the Caribbean occurred in succession this summer. All over the region, people relied on meagre provisions from neighbouring islands and humanitarian organisations for the sake of their own survival.
Apart from the direct impart of the storms, concerns abound for the future of island sustainability. Farmers are experiencing unprecedented weather patterns and increased instances where winds and rains uproot crops, leaving produce markets and the wider public with food shortages for weeks. Fishermen have to travel further out to sea for their catch because waters are becoming warmer. Storm surges are becoming comparative with tsunamis and tides are creeping further into coastal settlements. Far more quickly than anticipated, climate change predictions are occurring.
United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) was formed in 1992 as an international commitment and framework for members to combat climate change. The Kyoto Protocol, which is a legally binding agreement among the developed country parties to adopt specific greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, and the Paris Agreement, officially implemented on November 4, 2016, are UNFCCC’s two major frameworks. The twenty-third session of the Conference of Parties (COP 23) was held in Bonn, Germany in November of this year, which the government of Saint Lucia attended with gross expectations of help.
Minister for Sustainable Development, Gale Rigobert, during her recap of the events of COP 23 explained the aim of her ministry’s attendance. This year’s conference was under the presidency of the Government of Fiji which, as an island, gave anticipation to other small island states of COP 23 being an “island COP”. Rigobert admitted, “We felt that we had, in the Fijians, persons who understood the realities, the challenges, the volatilities and the vulnerabilities of island states.”
This year’s Atlantic Hurricane Season subjected many Caribbean islands to conditions of helplessness. The remarkable seventeen storms and six major hurricanes recorded were all expected results of ongoing climate change. Therefore Minister Rigobert duly mentioned that at the conference there was “a heightened sensitivity regarding the particular vulnerabilities of small island states such as ours”. She added, “The stories of Dominica, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, the BVI and other islands that were affected by the ferocious storms and hurricanes of the last summer dominated much discussion.”
The experiences of these countries cumulates the threat of it happening to any other island during the hurricane seasons to come, and so Rigobert emphasized that one of the goals was to get help for small island developing states (SIDS) to build resilience against phenomenal and destructive natural disasters: “As I indicated in many of my interventions, compassion lasts only for a couple of days, and beyond the expressions of compassion and empathy, what we expect to see are very concrete
actions, commitments that materialize and benefit those countries and particularly islands that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”
The challenges that SIDS face against climate change includes lack of funding for mitigation projects as needed in the agricultural industry and the process of adaptation, especially in terms of acquiring new technology and having trained professionals to oversee the necessary changes in sectors such as energy.
One of Saint Lucia’s prominent outcomes of COP 23 was the negotiations established not only with governments but varying entities which will soon jointly provide grant funding for such projects. Rigobert remarked, “Alongside the negotiation exercises [between governments] we also have private sector organisations, civil society organisations that have on display the substantive matters or focus of their respective businesses and available opportunities.”
Another grail for Saint Lucia’s Sustainable Development ministry was to underscore necessary considerations for funding and loans to developing countries susceptible to climate change. “Too very often island states trying to access these finances feel as if they have to go through some very onerous processes or modalities simply to access monies which we think are critical for our survival very literally,” Rigobert explained, “And so we asked that these modalities of access be assessed and revised so as to make whatever financing is available for climate change really, truly accessible.”
There was also a plea for lending entities to re-evaluate the methodology which calculates a country’s debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio when monies are used to “build resilience” against climate change.
Even with numerous UNFCCC conferences and adopted framework agreements, Saint Lucia remains small and vulnerable. The pressing question should be: Are we ready for next year’s hurricane season? The easy answer is no. Although a few green lights were illuminated at COP 23, conditions aforementioned are still being negotiated and not everything would be implemented in necessary time. Our neighbouring islands are still recovering, and doubtless they would be ready to help us if we were affected. Minister Rigobert also mentioned the lack of confidence in our shelters.
For now her ministry will still manage the accomplishments made at this year’s conference and she promises to relay in the near future information on Saint Lucia’s prioritized Sustainable Development Goals and how Saint Lucians will personally benefit from the COP 23’s events.