Secretary-General’s remarks to the Opening Session of the 11th Meeting between CARICOM, its Institutions and the UN System
Ambassador Irwin Larocque
the Caribbean Community
The ELEVENTH GENERAL MEETING OF
THE CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY, ITS ASSOCIATED INSTITUTIONS AND THE UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM
21 JULY 2021
- Your Excellency António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations;
- Ambassador Colin Granderson, Assistant Secretary-General for Foreign and Community Relations of the CARICOM Secretariat;
- Heads and Other Representatives of the United Nations and its Specialised Agencies;
- Heads and Representatives of CARICOM Institutions and Associated Institutions.
It is always a great pleasure to meet with our partners in the United Nations (UN) System. Unfortunately, that pleasure is slightly muted as the new normal of our times prevents us from meeting in person.
This Eleventh General Meeting of the Caribbean Community, its Associated Institutions and the UN System is being convened, even as the Community and the world are still grappling with the negative, multifaceted effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Member State, Haiti, has been going through an extremely difficult period exacerbated by the horrific assassination of its President Jovenel Moise. The Community once again expresses its deep sympathies to the family of the President and the Government and people of Haiti. CARICOM reiterates its offer of good offices to help resolve the institutional and political crises that beset the country at this time. We are ready and willing to work with the UN System in that regard.
Some of our Member States are still battling the recent effects of nature’s wrath. We meet here today, weeks after Hurricane Elsa battered six Member States with loss of life, and extensive damage to infrastructure and property.
Other Member States, Guyana and Suriname, are at the same time managing the disastrous consequences of severe flooding. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the countries affected by Hurricane Elsa, is also dealing with the aftermath of the eruption of La Soufrière volcano.
We are indeed the most disaster-prone Region of the world, regrettably, a striking example of the vulnerabilities of the Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States (SIDS) of CARICOM. These events take a high social, humanitarian and economic toll on our Member States.
It is a reality with which Secretary-General Guterres is quite familiar. He visited Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica in September 2017, following the passing of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. He also travelled to The Bahamas following the passing of Hurricane Dorian.
One of the major outcomes of those visits is his powerful voice raising global awareness of the vulnerabilities of SIDS to climate change and the need to build resilience to combat the phenomenon.
CARICOM continues to highlight the negative impact of vulnerability on its development efforts, and to advocate tirelessly on the importance of building resilience.
A critically important dimension of vulnerability is the capacity to measure the concept, through the establishment of criteria. The vocal support of the Secretary-General for this approach as he addressed last October’s Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government, added considerable weight to our advocacy.
The follow-up action, through the work being undertaken by the UN System in the development of a universal vulnerability index, is highly appreciated. Such an index must become the primary criterion for determining eligibility for access to development assistance and concessional financing by our countries.
Critically, it must also be recognised that such financing should be available before disaster strikes. The experts have analysed that every dollar spent in building resilience prior to a disaster, saves seven on reconstruction and rebuilding costs.
It is incumbent on us, therefore, to focus on ways in which the projects and programmes developed for implementation in CARICOM Member States will contribute significantly to their recovery efforts and to building resilience.
Issues related to vulnerability and building resilience must be at the core of discussions at COP26 later this year in the United Kingdom. It is critical that the international community takes into account our justified fears and concerns about the existential threat posed to our vulnerable countries by climate change. The outcome of COP26 must address these concerns in a tangible manner.
As we mourn the continuing loss of life, and count the immense cost of lost livelihoods and decimated economies resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters, we are steadfast in our determination to design a recovery that will not only resuscitate our economies, but also enhance the resilience of our Community.
Secretary-General Guterres, along with the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, and the Prime Minister of Canada, the Honourable Justin Trudeau have begun that conversation. The High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond, held at the UN in May last year, aimed to advance concrete solutions to the emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the Caribbean, described by the World Bank as the most adversely affected region in the world economically by the pandemic, the need for solutions is most urgent.
We also recognise that re-opening and resetting our economies will require building herd immunity to fight against COVID-19. This remains an elusive goal, in view of the inequitable access to vaccines being experienced by the developing world.
As Secretary-General Guterres said earlier this year, “vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.” His tireless advocacy for a global vaccine plan to ensure that the developing world gains access to sufficient doses to acquire herd immunity resonates strongly with CARICOM.
As the most tourism and travel dependent Region in the world, herd immunity is crucial not only for the well-being of our overall population, but to ensure our visitors that our countries are safe.
In addressing our current concerns and priorities, there is an acknowledgement on the part of Member States that collaboration with, and assistance from International Development Partners and the United Nations remain important.
Delegates, Colleagues, I must say how much I appreciated the valuable cooperation received from Secretary-General Guterres, and the UN System, over the years of my tenure. He is a true friend of our Region. He has provided significant support for our positions, including on climate change, financing for development, debt relief, concessional development financing, acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines and building resilience.
I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate him and wish him continued success as he embarks on his richly deserved second term of office, and no doubt continues to be the voice at the high table for developing countries, and in particular, SIDS.
Friends, since our first meeting in New York in 1997, and through the course of global and regional geopolitical shifts, and institutional reforms on both sides, I am pleased to say that dialogue and cooperation between us has progressed steadily.
As we conduct this Eleventh General Meeting, we must continue to build on the successes generated by those that went before, fully aware that the strides made over the last decade are under severe threat.
This Meeting must also serve as a further enhancement of the longstanding partnership between CARICOM and the United Nations.
I thank you.