Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the fortieth regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in Saint Lucia today:
It is privilege to be with you in Saint Lucia. I thank the Caribbean Community and the Prime Minister and Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government, Allen Chastanet, and Secretary General Irwin LaRocque for the invitation to join you.
It is no surprise that just the way from the airport to this room with a short stop between the two Pitons was an enchanting experience. As Derek Walcott, one of Saint Lucia’s two Nobel Laureates, once said: “You cannot wake up in the Caribbean without a sense of astonishment.” But the beauty of St. Lucia and the uniqueness of the voice and way of life of each of the Caribbean islands is threatened by the particular challenges that small island developing States face.
Today, I would like to focus on some of these challenges, especially climate change and other obstacles to sustainable development, including the imperatives of citizen security and building resilience and the importance of access to development finance.
A little more than a month ago I visited the South Pacific and saw how Pacific island nations are addressing the climate crisis and approaching all their development investments through a climate lens.
And it is just two years since I visited the Caribbean in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Years of hard-won development gains were destroyed in Barbuda and Dominica in only a couple of days.
This was not the first time that the Caribbean has faced such devastation and loss and the immense challenge of rebuilding while safeguarding development achievements. Hurricanes Ivan and Thomas — and the many others that came before Irma and Maria — are still etched in the memories of Caribbean people.
As climate-related natural disasters grow in frequency and severity, the risks to families and to development overall will only intensify.
The Caribbean experience makes abundantly clear that we must urgently reduce global emissions and work collectively to ensure that global temperature rise does not go beyond 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. That is why I am asking all leaders, from Governments and the private sector, to present plans — at my Climate Action Summit or at the latest by December 2020 — to cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and get to carbon neutrality by 2050.
We must massively increase our ambition to advance low-emission and resilient development, including addressing loss and damage from climate impacts. And we need all hands on deck to make this transformation possible. CARICOM and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre have taken the lead from the frontlines. You are our important allies in the fight against climate disruption. We hear your voices loud and clear in the negotiation halls. You have been stalwart advocates for a 1.5-degree threshold for over a decade, pushing leaders to devise new models of economic development and affordable, reliable energy access.
Island nations in the Caribbean are fast becoming influential test beds for innovative climate action, such as investing in decentralized renewable energy. This will not only yield more economically sustainable sources of electricity, but it will provide clean energy solutions. Microgrids and decentralized solar energy systems will also ensure that power losses after storms will be shorter and less catastrophic to homes, hospitals and businesses.
Investing in sustainable development also means investing more in concrete conservation and resilience measures. Around 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans annually. In the Caribbean, you see the impacts of this pollution.
We need to fight climate change, we need to fight also against the degradation of oceans that unfortunately we have not been able to stop. We all have to act on a daily basis to counter these grave threats to marine ecosystems and the tourism sector — that are so central to your economies. From plastic pollution to coastline erosion, more frequent extreme weather events, sea level rise and biodiversity loss, Caribbean States face immense pressure due to the actions that are committed, essentially, by others.
I highly commend the leadership of CARICOM Heads in presenting a bold vision to make the Caribbean the world’s first Climate Resilient Zone.
The creation of a Caribbean Resilience to Recovery Facility is an important development that should be fully supported. When fully functional, this facility will provide a regional indigenous mechanism for sourcing talent, experience and financial solutions to support CARICOM members to build resilient communities and nations. I also must highlight that women are at the heart of the resilience equation. This is true in the Caribbean as it is elsewhere.
As we shore up the resilience of Caribbean societies we must address the issue of citizen insecurity. Murder rates in parts of the Caribbean are still very significant. Violence against women and girls is a significant dimension of citizen insecurity, which increases in the wake of natural disasters and is an obstacle to resilient societies generally.
I am therefore also pleased that the Spotlight Initiative will be partnering with CARICOM and six countries in the region to make substantial, focused investments — some €50 million — in prevention and redress for violence against women and girls. It is important that gender considerations underpin all our efforts to promote citizen security and sustainable development.
In addition to managing the recurrent and increasing costs of climate-related events, small island developing States face a range of economic constraints. The small size of their domestic markets and their limited capacity to participate in global markets, particularly damaging when it translates itself into the isolation of their financial systems from the global financial system, hinder them in generating economies of scale. Their heavy dependence on imports, particularly of energy and food, make them highly vulnerable to price fluctuations and other external shocks. And their very high levels of national debt constrain their ability to effectively address high and persistent levels of poverty and inequality.
These challenges are further complicated by the difficulties small island developing States face in mobilizing development finance on affordable and appropriate terms. These are challenges you know only too well, and we join your call, and will take the steps we can, to improve access to development financing as a priority.
I agree with you that eligibility for official development assistance (ODA) and other forms of concessional financing should include vulnerability criteria, in addition to gross national income per capita.
I have to say that I have assisted too many technocratic discussions about vulnerability and what it means, but having visited several small island developing States in the Pacific and the Caribbean, I never found one that was not a clear case of vulnerability. That should be recognized by all.
I also agree with you that the speed and predictability of climate financing, especially for least developed countries and small island developing States, should be improved. And the prevalent use of debt instruments in climate finance needs review.
For middle-income countries that are particularly vulnerable, the multilateral development banks and development finance institutions have key roles to play in providing more long-term, low-cost debt financing. But the time has also come for the international community to consider seriously how best to address the rising problems of over-indebtedness of middle-income countries. This slows their progress toward sustainable development and makes them even more vulnerable to external shocks.
I strongly support the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) proposal to convert debt to investment in resilience through the debt for climate adaptation swap and resilience building initiative. And I know that several other initiatives are being prepared namely under the leadership of the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia and I’d like to express the total support of the United Nations and my personal support to any initiative aiming at creating the conditions to allow for adequate financing for building resilience and for recovering from the devastation of climate accidents.
There is one thing for me that is absolutely clear. There is no way the countries of the Caribbean can recover from a devastating hurricane or systematically build resilience in relation to climate problems doing that based on the unsustainable growth of their debt. This is a common responsibility that the international community needs to recognize.
I am determined to change that by bringing more resources and strengthening United Nations support to small island developing States, but to achieve this and other global challenges, we must reaffirm commitment to multilateralism and the United Nations Charter. We must face the headwinds together. There is no alternative to cooperation and collaboration.
I have embarked on a far-reaching set of reforms to ensure that the United Nations development system is fit and ready to help countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the next decade. Let us seize this historic opportunity to ensure that every Caribbean country, and all small island development States, receive optimal support to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Also, in September, the United Nations will convene five Summits, all of direct significance to the Caribbean: The High-Level Political Forum review of the 2030 Agenda; the Finance Summit to take stock of where we are in implementing the Addis Ababa Action Plan on financing for sustainable development; the mid-term review of the SAMOA Pathway for Small Island Developing States; the high-level meeting on universal health coverage; and my Climate Action Summit.
These five events offer a strategic opportunity for your collective voices to be heard by the global community. I encourage you to use these opportunities to amplify your story, present ambitious and concrete country plans to address the priority action areas that are the focus of these five summits and press for more meaningful support for sustainable development in the Caribbean.
In closing, let me thank you for the strong cooperation between CARICOM and the United Nations. I would particularly like to recognize your leadership on key United Nations priorities, not least climate change and financing for development, as I’ve mentioned.
I welcome the adoption of the CARICOM Counter-Terrorism Strategy, developed with the support of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, and reiterate the United Nations system’s readiness to continue to cooperate with CARICOM on security challenges, even in relation to the issue of foreign terrorist fighters.
I commend your commitment to foster regional cooperation on the fight against illegal drug trafficking activities. And I salute your efforts to provide an adequate response to the refugee and migration crisis that is affecting the wider region, and dramatically aggravated as a result of the situation in Venezuela.
Later this month, the United Nations system and CARICOM institutions will hold their tenth General Meeting in Georgetown. The meeting will provide an opportunity to review the cooperation between our organizations, explore areas where the reform effort I am leading can deliver greater dividends, and where we can expand our fruitful cooperation. Let us cooperate ever more closely in fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of the people of the Caribbean. Thank you.