The unparalleled destruction in CARICOM Member States by hurricanes Irma and Maria has heightened the urgency to advocate for meaningful assistance to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events.
Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, was poignant in emphasising to a new Ambassador of Austria, Her Excellency Marianne Feldmann, whom he accredited on Wednesday, 4 October, there was no doubt “climate change is here.”
In his remarks at the ceremony at the CARICOM Secretariat Headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana, Secretary-General LaRocque recalled that Hurricane Irma devastated, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Anguilla, as well as St. Maarten and St. Barts. He noted that it caused significant damage in The Bahamas and affected St. Kitts and Nevis. Ten deaths were confirmed and a losses were pegged at US$2B according to preliminary estimates.
Just over two weeks later, Maria struck Dominica and left in its wake 27 confirmed deaths and more than 30 people missing. The scale of the devastation in Dominica was conveyed by massive destruction to property. More than 95 per cent of the island’s buildings were damaged or destroyed. The island’s agriculture sector and its lush rainforest were decimated. The cost of the damage in Dominica alone could run into billions of dollars.
Please see more photos of the Accreditation Ceremony
Against this backdrop, Secretary-General LaRocque noted that the unprecedented scale of destruction wrought by recent weather events, placed a demand for more concerted and aggressive global action to address global warming.
Small Island Developing States (SIDs), the Secretary-General noted, are the least contributors to global warming, the major factor in climate change, but they bear the brunt of the impact.
In this context, Mr. LaRocque said that Austria’s strengthened cooperation with CARICOM, through a Memorandum of Understanding the two parties signed on Wednesday, could not come at a more opportune time. The MOU has a strategic focus on disaster prevention and disaster risk reduction, as well renewable energy and energy efficiency,
Emphasising that the paradigm of providing development funding based on GDP per capita must change, he noted that post-hurricane reconstruction was likely to artificially inflate GDP.
CARICOM has long advocated that access to concessional development financing should not be based on what the Secretary-General described as the “grossly inadequate and inaccurate criterion” of GDP per capita. This criterion has resulted in the graduation of most CARICOM countries from accessing concessional financing.
“We believe that this, as applied to SIDS, must be changed as a matter of urgency to include the concept of vulnerability,” he stated as he urged CARICOM third states partners, including Austria, to lend strong support to the Community’s efforts to effect this change.
Secretary-General LaRocque told the new Austrian envoy that this was a particularly trying time for CARICOM given the economic situations in many Member States, which recent weather events compounded. He added that the burdensome debt that confronted Member States, was in large measure incurred through demands for reconstruction after climate events. He noted therefore that the need was urgent for international development partners to re-examine criteria for access to resources such as the Green Climate Fund.
The Austrian Ambassador is on her second tour of duty in that capacity in the Region. The Secretary-General noted that CARICOM anticipated she would be “a source of influence in promoting awareness” of the Community’s capabilities and the limitations in its aspirations for economic development.
Such limitations include what he described as “economic discrimination” instituted through labels of some Member States as non-cooperative tax jurisdictions, despite not being so labelled by the relevant global authorities. He called on Austria to encourage other Member States in the EU to desist from such punitive actions and to be guided by the informed position of the Financial Action Task Force and the OECD Global Forum.