23 October 2008
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF CARIBbEAN SEA


Countries of the Caribbean region were headed for “hard and difficult times” unless they took steps, with the cooperation and support of the international community, to forestall the impending adverse effects of climate change, representatives of the Association of Caribbean States told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.


The Caribbean region was heavily dependent on tourism and fisheries industries -- both severely vulnerable to global warming and weather anomalies, according to the Association’s delegation, which painted a dire picture of the damage that could be wrought by changes in sea surface temperatures and sea levels, which could, among others, result in flooding and erosion in low-lying coastal areas.


The Association’s members have, this week, been meeting in New York to raise awareness among United Nations Member States of a number of resolutions the Association planned shortly to put before the General Assembly’s Second Committee (Economic and Financial), including one that had been around for a few years seeking to have the Caribbean Sea area designated as a special area within the context of sustainable development.


John Agard, one of the Nobel Prize-winning scientists on the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told reporters that the Caribbean was already recording enormous amounts of rain, and available scientific evidence revealed the increased intensity of hurricanes.  Rising temperatures were causing hurricanes to last longer, become stronger and more destructive.  Projections for the future were that the frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms was likely to increase, rather than diminish, he added.


Current Chair of the Association’s Caribbean Sea Commission, Donville Innis, said the Commission had put a lot of time and effort in the resolution on declaring the Caribbean Sea a special area for sustainable development, and considered the work extremely important to the 25 nations that formed the Association -- the islands in the Caribbean and the Central American states.


Recognizing the Caribbean Sea provided not only a great natural resource in terms of fishing, and given the importance of tourism to the economies of the Caribbean and Central America, the Association’s members felt duty-bound to protect that asset, not only for the present generation, for many generations in the future.  Mr. Innis, who is also the Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Business of Barbados, added that the Caribbean Sea was also one of the most heavily trafficked waterways, and there was need to ensure there was better management of that resource from all aspects.


He said the Association’s delegation had, this time around, also “zeroed in” on climate change and its impact on the region, by including in its delegation to the Second Committee a panel of technical experts who had been at the forefront of research on ecosystems in the Caribbean and Central American region.  The panel had come up with ample evidence of the damage that was currently being done and the potential harm to the ecosystem.


While in New York, the Association’s members had held a series of meetings with various United Nations partners, including with both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann.  The delegation was appreciative of the support of both those officials, and looked forward to having its resolution tabled and dealt with.


He said the team had been especially “warmed” by Secretary-General Ban’s commitment to deal with issues involving climate change, as well as the natural environment.  They expected that under his stewardship, the United Nations and its associated bodies would certainly ensure that the issue was at the forefront and dealt with in an expeditious and judicious manner.  The group was grateful too for the Secretary-General’s commitment to, and recognition of, the special role of small island developing states within the global arena, and expected that the issue of having the Caribbean Sea designated as a special area would be dealt with expeditiously at the United Nations.


Also speaking at the press conference, Luis Fernando Andrade Falla, Secretary-General of the Association of Caribbean States, said the delegation was in New York because of the seriousness of the case it planned to take to the Assembly.  Indeed, it was a “scientific case; not a political case”, explaining that the Association’s 25 member countries were seriously vulnerable to climate change.


For example, this year’s hurricane season was one of the worst on record, causing damage and impacting most countries in the greater Caribbean region, from the smallest islands to the largest countries.  In particular, he underlined the dramatic situations of Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic in the wake of successive tropical storms, although every single country in Central America was affected.


He said that scientists were making the case for strengthened cooperation in projecting the intensity, frequency and impact of climate change.  Such cooperation needed to go beyond political or ideological positions.  “This goes beyond our differences in the region; historical, cultural or language.  It’s an opportunity to strengthen our cooperation with the world community,” he said.


The Association’s team expected to have its “toughest discussions” today, when it planned to wrap up the delegation’s time in New York in separate bilateral meetings with United States officials and representatives of the European Union.  The Association intended to “strongly present our case”, which already had the strong support of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, and the Non-Aligned Movement, among other negotiating blocs.


For his part, Mr. Agard observed that although it had often been emphasized that the region was particularly dependent on natural resources in connection with the livelihoods of the people, not many people had an appreciation of just how dependent it was.  To that end, he highlighted the impacts of climate change on Caribbean tourism, which was, of course, highly dependent on the state of the environment.


As tourism was the region’s largest employer, anything that affected the quality of the environment, therefore, had a direct link to the wellbeing of the people, their jobs and incomes.  “Fear of hurricanes and their increasing frequency and intensity keep tourists away.  The fact that it is getting warmer in some cold places means that they’re less inclined to travel,” he said.  Other industries, especially fisheries, had also been adversely impacted, thereby affecting the employment and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.


A correspondent asked if the speakers’ failure to make any reference to or mention of the shipment of nuclear waste through the Caribbean was “a tactical move or a de-emphasis” of the issue, as it had been at one stage at the pinnacle of the whole debate about the preservation of the Caribbean Sea.  Mr. Falla denied the matter was deliberately set aside, explaining that the issue remained a concern but was being approached in a manner that would involve all the parties, including all the major Powers.  The stakeholders were part of the region, and in the case of France, for instance, that country was an associate member of the Association.


He added that the intention was not to “force a new legal framework”, as there was already regulation in place.  Further, the purpose of the delegation’s mission was not to set aside any such concerns, but rather to highlight those areas where cooperation was most urgently needed.  The climate change issue was so serious, that if major Powers were not involved at all levels –- backing the resolution in the Assembly, or providing support and cooperation on the ground -- the Association’s efforts were bound to fail.


On the same subject, Mr. Agard noted that while the issue of transhipment of nuclear waste had been a long-standing concern in the region, studies had shown that the “scientific truth of the matter” was that there was “a very remote possibility” of a container breach or spillage in the region’s waterways.  Additionally, the region relied on the guidance and regulations on the matter set out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


Further clarifying the point, Christopher Hackett, Permanent Representative of Barbados and moderator of the press conference, explained that while scientists indicated the level of the risk to be somewhat low, that did not mean the matter had been taken off the table.  Rather, from the diplomatic point of view, the fact that the risk existed at all made it necessary to discuss the matter in collaboration with some of the major Powers involved in such shipments.


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For information media • not an official record