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Remarks by Dr. Carla Barnett, CARICOM Secretary-General, at the Plenary Meeting of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States

As CARICOM, and all SIDS, continue to bear the brunt of global climate change – climate change that we do not cause – we are alarmed by the apparent drawback by some in the international community from the ambition necessary to limit increases in global temperature to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Mr. President,                

The 15 Member States and five Associate Members of the Caribbean Community are a collective of Small Island and Low Lying Coastal Developing States (SIDS). Although we occupy a very small corner of the world and our population is only about 20 million, we are known for our warm and hospitable spirit – as we are experiencing here in the lovely islands of Antigua and Barbuda – underpinned by a commitment to hard work and punching above our weight in the global arena, whether as athletes, artists, entertainers, scientists, intellectuals and political leaders.  We believe in fundamental principles of multilateralism, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We know that we have a lot to be grateful for, and a way of life to protect for our young people and for future generations.

These principles guide our efforts to support our sister Member State, Haiti, in the struggle for peace, stability, security, and long-term social and economic development that is sustainable. CARICOM will continue to support Haiti, and Haitian people, as they navigate the path to peace and development.

Mr. President, SIDS are at the frontlines of the triple planetary crises of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss – which compound each other, and consume limited financial and human resources.     

Climate change has a very tangible human, economic and financial impact in CARICOM.  This august body will recall the record-breaking 2017 hurricane season when Hurricanes Irma and Maria within a period of two weeks charted paths of destruction across the Region. Damage estimated at more than 200% of GDP occurred in one of our Member States – Dominica. In Barbuda, the housing stock was almost totally destroyed. Critical infrastructure, including water and electricity, homes, health facilities and schools, were decimated in the wake of these storms.

Even as we meet at this Conference, the Region is entering an Atlantic hurricane season that is expected to be extremely active with a forecast of 11 hurricanes, five of them slated to be major storms of Category 3 intensity or higher. The Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum (CARICOF), coordinated out of the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), predicted near record heat for the Caribbean Region from April to September 2024. Several of our Member States have already been experiencing periods of prolonged drought, and this has been compounded by forest and bush fires across our Region.

Simultaneously we are witnessing sea level rise, salination of aquifers, coastal erosion and land degradation. Our countries are pressed to develop strategies and programmes to address the resultant social instability, reduction in quality of life and migration of our most important resource – our people.

As CARICOM, and all SIDS, continue to bear the brunt of global climate change – climate change that we do not cause – we are alarmed by the apparent drawback by some in the international community from the ambition necessary to limit increases in global temperature to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. While we maintain our advocacy under the UNFCCC, the Region is acting to address our growing concern with the lack of ambition.  Antigua and Barbuda, in partnership with Tuvalu and the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change, led a request for an advisory opinion on climate change-related legal questions to The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).  The Court asserted that State Parties are legally bound to curb emissions to safeguard the marine environment.  The Region has also supported the Government of Vanuatu in the request for Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the obligations of States with respect to Climate Change.

Mr. President, as we seek to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change, we face the persistent challenge to access affordable finance, whether from the private capital market or from multilateral financial institutions.

In response, the Region is supporting the Bridgetown Initiative which proposes actions to close the growing funding gap through urgent actions to provide emergency liquidity to developing countries, as well as the reform of the international financial architecture to more fairly and effectively address the urgent need for financing for resilience-building and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As we gather at this Conference to chart a new path for our development via the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS, we have come full circle from when we articulated the first Programme of Action for SIDS in 1994 in Barbados.  The CARICOM Region remains invested and committed to the just ambitions of this Grouping, which have been acknowledged by the UN System as a special case for Sustainable Development.  We are also reminded of the vision of the Barbados Programme of Action, which suggests that successful implementation of the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS will require coordinated and resourced actions at the national, regional and international levels.

Mr. President,

We salute the work to date of the UN System in support of SIDS, but underscore that international support remains crucial as SIDS must have the necessary resource space to advance policies and programmes that will benefit their youth, women and girls, and the vulnerable.

SIDS do not have the luxury of time. We must ensure that in the next ten years we solve the problem of access to resources to address our vulnerabilities. During the next ten years we cannot ease up on our insistence that those countries responsible for the emissions that cause climate change take effective action to reduce their own emissions.  Finally, during the next ten years we must build our resilience and safeguard our natural patrimony and way of life for our peoples for future generations.

I thank you.

29 May 2024

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