Antigua and Barbuda

07 October 2017

Opening remarks at press conference with Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda

António Guterres

Secretary-General António Guterres walks through Codrington town in Barbuda to see firsthand the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irma. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The link between climate change and the devastation we are witnessing is clear, and there is a collective responsibility of the international community to stop this suicidal development.

Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister for your warm welcome.
Indeed, this visit is a visit of solidarity with the people of Barbuda and Antigua, the people of Dominica, the people of the Caribbean in general. I’ve just witnessed a level of devastation that I have never witnessed in my life.
I have been in areas torn by conflict. In my own country, I have seen earthquakes, I’ve seen storms… I have never seen such a high-level of devastation like the one that I witnessed in Barbuda.
This must make us think seriously.
First, many people try to we always had hurricanes, we always had storms and there is nothing linking those storms with climate change. The truth is that even if we always had hurricanes and storms, we have now hurricanes and storms with a much higher frequency and a much higher intensity.
An there is a clear link between the level of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere – CO2 but not only CO2 – the temperature of the water and the intensity of the rainstorms and of the different hurricanes in this region and in other parts of the world.
This link is obvious. When we have warmer temperatures in the water, there is more evaporation, there is more vapor in the atmosphere and this obviously creates heavier rains – which means that when a hurricane goes through the ocean, instead of dissipating, it is fueled by the presence of vapor in the atmosphere, and sometimes increases its dramatic impact in the areas that are being affected after it reaches land.
Hurricane Irma had winds of 300 km per hour for 37 hours: this is the longest such period ever recorded.
In the last 30 years, we have tripled the number of natural disasters and quintupled the economic losses due to these natural disasters.
So the link between climate change and the devastation we are witnessing is clear, and there is a collective responsibility of the international community to stop this suicidal development.
And for that, it is essential that the Paris Agreement on climate change is fully endorsed and respected but also to recognize that the commitments made in Paris are not enough. So we need an enhanced engagement of the international community in order to be able to dominate climate change and to avoid the dramatic multiplication of disasters we are seeing- even more dramatically in the future.
On the other hand, I want to make a very strong appeal for the international solidarity with the Caribbean islands impacted by the storms, to translate itself not only in humanitarian aid – it is coming but not enough – but also in new mechanisms allowing for effective reconstruction to build up resilience in relation to future storms.
As it was said by the Prime Minister, most of the countries impacted are middle-income countries and because of that, they are deprived of the form of assistance or concessional loans that low-income countries can have access to.
The fact is that even these countries have graduated as middle-income countries, they have a number of vulnerabilities that need to be taken into account if we want them to be sustainable as middle-income countries.
And so when these countries are facing external shocks of the magnitude that we are witnessing, it is absolutely crucial that they benefit from innovative forms of funding, and from assistance, concessional loans, new bonds…
One of the ideas that our Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has expressed is the possibility to transform the repayment of debt in investments made by the countries in resilience to storms.
So there is a number of instruments that can be put in place. The World Bank will be launching soon a donors’ conference. I would recall that the World Bank had the initiative several years ago to consider that countries like Jordan and Lebanon, because of the inflow of refugees, even if they were middle-income countries, should have access to concessional financing, because of the external shock that these refugees represented.
I think we are now facing a similar situation and my appeal to the international community to have an engagement in developing mechanisms of financing allowing the Caribbean States to be able not only to face the enormous challenges they are facing, but to fully commit themselves to the Sustainable Development Goals and to the well-being of their population.
I want to express my very deep gratitude to the people of Antigua-and-Barbuda, and to the Government, for a warm welcome, and once again, to reaffirm my total commitment to do everything possible to make sure that the international community fully assumes its responsibilities in support to the islands impacted by such dramatic events.