Caribbean Island leaders in UN Assembly warn of ‘real, ruinous’ impacts of climate change

Foreign Minister Nickolas Steele of Grenada addresses the General Assembly. UN Photo/Kim Haughton

29 September 2014 – Spotlighting the “gathering and intensifying threat of global climate change” leaders from Caribbean Islands today warned the United Nations General Assembly that indifference, narrow interests and electoral cowardice threaten to squander “our only real chance to save the planet.”

Addressing the Assembly this afternoon, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Grenada, Nickolas Steele, said climate shocks are amongst the “most terrifying” for his country and other small islands around the world and given such risks, island states need concessionary financing.

The indebtedness of small islands developing States (SIDS) must be regarded among the many challenges of our time, he said, adding that the “annual cry” of small islands to make concessionary funding available should serve as an early warning system for the international community.

“Let us settle the LDC [least developed country] graduation issue in favour of SIDS rather than use it as a parallel climate-negotiating tool against SIDS,” Mr. Steele said.

Due to high import costs of fossil fuels, electricity in Grenada costs 4 to 5 time higher than in developed countries. He said Grenada cannot educate its people, if its school children have no access to electricity. Islands like Grenada come to the climate table, “not like hapless victims with cap-in-hand”. Renewables must be implemented in the Islands with zero subsidies.

Also today, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Camillo Gonsalves said that despite a tiny carbon footprint and miniscule emissions, his island has been victimised by weather anomalies partially caused by the “environmental abuse” of major emitters.

Foreign Minister Camillo Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines addresses General Assembly. UN Photo/Kim Haughton

“The prospects of genuine progress against climate change become increasingly remote with each passing day of diplomatic dithering, buck-passing and finger-pointing,” said Mr. Gonsalves.

Yet, despite the gathering and intensifying global threat of climate change, with its real and ruinous present-day impacts, historical and major emitters continue to act as the planet has time on its side, he continued, adding that “if narrow interests and local electoral cowardice force us to retreat behind our national borders and bury our heads in the sands, we may squander a decade of effort, and our only real chance to save the planet upon which we live. The stakes are that high. We cannot afford to fail.”

Last week’s Climate Summit held at UN Headquarters was an “admirable attempt” but the tangible results were less than encouraging. “The numbers just don’t add up” to anything close to what is required to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Further, the new resources raised and pledged for the financing of adaptation to climate changes effects were a drop in the bucket – “akin to having a bake sale to settle national debt.”

Post-2015 goals and indicators must focus equally on targets within developing countries. A major shortcoming of the MDGs was the “nebulous nature” of the so-called Global Partnership for Development. New goals must be concrete and measurable.

Taking to the podium this evening, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Patrice Nisbett, said SIDS were susceptible to economic and environmental shocks, which resulted in high indebtedness.

Foreign Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Patrice Nisbett addresses the General Assembly. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

While Saint Kitts and Nevis has successfully reduced its debt to GDP [gross domestic product] ratio by 50 percentage points, it remains mindful that severe climate events can erase gains achieved. He called on the international community, including international financial institutions to broaden the scope of assessment of SIDS, in order to avoid the creation of measures that undermine national Governments.

He reiterated his call for a strong global response to combating the high rate of non-communicable diseases in developing countries in particular saying that “a nation’s wealth lies in the health of its people.”

Climate change remains more than an environmental concern for SIDS, it is regarded as a “threat to our existence,” he said. The international community must take creative initiative such as debt swap for climate adaptation and mitigation. Climate change financing and technology transfer will be pivotal to that end.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Opening General Assembly debate, Ban urges leadership to move from ‘turbulence’ to peace

Related Stories

Address by Foreign Minister Nickolas Steele of Grenada

More videos »

In-depth Interviews