COP26 fell short of CARICOM’s expectations

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The United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP26), held last month in Glasgow, failed to deliver on what the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) expected from the meeting, Secretary-General Dr. Carla Barnett said.

Engaging the regional media on December 14 in her first Press Briefing, she said the Region was deeply involved in the run up to and in the negotiations at COP26. However, much work needs to be done to advocate for its concerns at two main levels.

“The first is to advocate for actions to reduce CO2 emissions to a level that will keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” Dr. Barnett said.

Concerns were heightened that Small Island Developing States and low-lying coastal Developing States (SIDS) are particularly vulnerable to climate change when the recent IPCC Report sounded an alarm that this decade is the final opportunity to keep 1.5°C within reach.

Going into Glasgow, the Community sounded another alarm in the CARICOM Declaration titled: 1.5°C: Ambition to Defend the Most Vulnerable that “even at 1.5°C SIDS will continue to experience the worsening of slow onset events and extreme events including more intense storms.”

The document listed the impacts the Region is already facing as a result of climate change. They include heavy or continuous rainfall events, ocean acidification, increased marine heatwaves, rising sea levels together with storm surges resulting in coastal inundation, saltwater intrusion into aquifers and shoreline retreat, as well as the continued overall decline in rainfall, increased aridity, and more severe agricultural and ecological droughts.

“CARICOM countries need to be understood as bearing the heavier burden of climate change,” Dr Barnett told the regional media, adding that the implication means “we must also be seeing a commensurate access to financing that flows as a result of climate change.”

The reality is, she said, the pledges for funding support from the international community have not been forthcoming to meet the “increasing costs” associated with loss and damage, mitigation, and adaption.

“We are caught in a situation where, we don’t cause climate change, we bear the burden of climate change and we don’t have access to funds that ought to be provided to help us to respond to the impact on our countries,” Dr. Barnett stated.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados expounded on the critical matter of funding for loss and damage during a Presidency Event at COP26 titled Exploring Loss and Damage. Her opening statement set the tone for what was an impassioned plea of support for SIDs on the frontlines of climate change.

“There is no better measure that the world is failing to understand the climate crisis, than its failure to fund a mechanism for loss and damage. It is a denial that 20 to 40 percent of the world’s population are already in the code red zone. It is a denial that the physical and biological sources are approaching a series of tipping points,” she stated.

Illustrating how the climate crisis affects different latitudes in different ways, she said South Downs in Kent used to be too cold to produce wine, but within the past 10 years, with warming temperature, English wine production has grown from 210,000 litres to 1,000,000 litres.

Using the devastating floods Germany in July 2021 as another example of differentiated impact from loss and damage, she said the floods resulted in less than 5% of GDP, but with insurance payouts and cash transfers, the overall GDP impact “will still likely prove positive.” Comparing that disaster with the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season when Dominica was hit by two back to back Category 5 hurricanes, Prime Minister Mottley said the CARICOM country lost 226% of its GDP in four hours.

Situating the Caribbean Region at the forefront of climate change she explained:

“There is a frontline to the climate crisis between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. This is the hottest region of the earth and where the temperature will become intolerable first. It is the middle of the planet where the water from the melting glaciers will end up because of the earth’s spin. The combination of these warmer temperature and higher sea levels are causing loss and damage from droughts and floods often arriving in the same place in the same year.”

This she said is “the single largest contributor of debt in many countries on the frontlines, not spendthrift governments.”

Reinforcing the Secretary-General’s point that the international community has failed to meet its pledge to support SIDS with loss and damage, Prime Minister Mottley said that the Warsaw Mechanism was established by developed countries to win SIDs’ support for the 2015 Paris Agreement. Six years on, “it is a promised reneged.”

Responding to the international community’s suggestion that insurance markets can help to buffer the impact of loss and damage from extreme weather events, Prime Minister Mottley stated that “the climate crisis is ultimately uninsurable for many and is uninsurable now on the frontlines.”

Using Dominica again as an example, she said it experienced 45% GDP loss from Tropical Storm Ophelia in September 2011; 95% GDP loss from Tropical Storm Erika in August 2015, and just two years later in 2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria left a devastating 226% GDP loss in the small CARICOM country.

“What premium would they have to pay to protect them from that and how does it impact on businesses and households that need to be able to go to the banks and borrow money, but without insurance coverage, cannot draw down on funding,” Prime Minister Mottley, said as she touched on the impact of the climate crisis at various levels.

Laying bare the dire situation countries on the frontline face with seeking protection against climate disasters, she stated:

“It is important to recognise that tropical island states most at risk have contributed less than 1% of the stock of greenhouse gases that have contributed to global warming, but countries in the northern climes, which have contributed 70%, are asking the frontline states to pay insurance premium for a risk caused by others.”

Emphasising that this is “fundamentally wrong,” she said there needs to be a mechanism in which those responsible, contribute to the loss and damage others are suffering.

Suggesting how this can be done, she said 1% of revenues from the sale of fossil fuels in countries that contribute more to greenhouse gases, could go into a loss and damage fund that could generate over $17B per year.

“If we limit access to this loss and damage fund to those that have suffered a climate-related disaster, independently assessed at no greater than 5% of their GDP, with a cap on the draw down per country, we believe that this could be sustainable and certainly a start.”

Noting that loss and damage need a “canopy of responses” she said that the Region’s innovative Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) plays a vital role in providing small but immediate liquidity.

A universal acceptance of natural disaster clauses in all the Region’s debt contracts whether multilateral, bilateral or commercial is another recommendation she made, noting that Barbados is the world’s largest issuer of Sovereign Bonds with natural disaster clauses.

“When a disaster hits, interest and principal payments can be suspended for two years and then tapped on in a net present value (NPV) neutral way so that creditors do not lose out at the end of the term of the loan or bond… If all countries had these when the pandemic hit, it would have released one trillion in liquidity to developing countries,” Prime Minister Mottley stated.

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