9 February 2009

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the opening of the Fifth General Meeting of the United Nations and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and its associated institutions, in New York today, 9 February:

I am pleased to join you for this forum.  Since the United Nations and CARICOM signed our cooperation agreement some 12 years ago, we have collaborated closely on a number of critical issues.  I welcome this opportunity to deepen our ties further still.

We meet at a time of crisis.  The world faces serious threats to food and energy security.  The impacts of global warming are being felt with ever growing ferocity.  The international financial system is in turmoil.  These problems pose great challenges for Caribbean countries.  Now more than ever, we need to step up our cooperation.

Many CARICOM countries have long, strong democratic roots that should help guide you through perilous times.  Visiting the Caribbean two summers ago, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the islands, and the warmth of the people I met.  The region is a justifiably renowned tourist getaway.

But these natural assets stand in stark contrast to some of the region’s ills.  You know all too well that geopolitical realities leave the region vulnerable to destructive forces.  Foremost among these are the traffickers in illicit drugs and small arms who use your countries as a haven.  Caught between narcotics producers in the South and consumers in the North, the Caribbean is such a frequent transit point that profits from the illicit drug trade are often bigger than the legal economies of CARICOM countries.

With that trade comes violent crime.  The Caribbean is reported to have the highest per capita murder rates in the world.  Narco-trafficking also seriously threatens the rule of law and democratic governance.

We must address this scourge while paying special attention to those who are vulnerable to getting caught in the web of drug crimes.  The renewed cooperation between CARICOM and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will be an important part of this effort.  The United Nations is also committed to supporting CARICOM in strengthening human rights institutions and carrying out the provisions of the Charter for Civil Society.

Long before climate change became a household term, Caribbean countries were sounding the alarm about global warming.  They knew then, and you know now, that climate change threatens not only their economic viability but even, in some cases, their very existence.

Experts are predicting an onslaught of more frequent and more ferocious hurricanes.  The tourism industry, which accounts for up to half the gross domestic product (GDP) of many small island developing States, could be hit hard.  Even with the support of the Adaptation Fund, the CARICOM Climate Change Centre predicts that, by 2025, the economic cost will average 14 per cent of GDP.

Meanwhile, the global financial meltdown is harming economic competitiveness.  We must protect the impressive progress that Caribbean countries have made in recent years so that these economies can survive the negative trends engulfing the globe.  Towards that end, I welcome your decision to establish a CARICOM Task Force on lessening the effects of the global recession.

These crises hold great risks for human well-being.  I encourage all of us to focus as well on the opportunities they have opened up.  We can address both climate change and the global financial crisis in tandem.

Preserving natural resources and using them fairly will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the earth’s ecosystems.  The development and use of renewable energy and environment-friendly technologies can spark economic growth, create jobs, improve people’s welfare and bring us closer to our sustainable development targets.  Ushering in a new green economy must become more of a priority for all.

The link between achieving economic prosperity and preserving ecosystems and natural resources is obvious to all Caribbean countries.  For decades, you have been pushing for action on sustainable development.  I urge you to press ahead with this campaign, not only for your States and your region, but also for the world as a whole.

Sir Shridath Ramphal, a great son of the Caribbean with long ties to the United Nations, once pointed out that, “each of us belongs to two countries: our own and the planet”.  In that spirit, I wish you a most productive meeting.  I commend the collaborative work that CARICOM and its associated institutions are doing with the United Nations family, and I look forward to strengthening this partnership.

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For information media • not an official record