Secretary-General’s press conference with Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua-and-Barbuda [with Q&A]
St John’s, Antigua, 07 October 2017
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.
Question about new financing mechanisms for Small Island Developing States.
Secretary-General: As I mentioned, we need to make sure that when a country graduates, and becomes a middle-income country, that it doesn’t translate into a condition for the country not to be sustainable as a middle-income country.
And there are indeed countries that have vulnerabilities in relation to external shocks and I would strongly recommend that this graduation [to middle-income country] would not lead automatically to the loss of the forms of support that previously existed.
And that is why I was saying that clearly – as I was advocating in the past for Jordan and Lebanon in relation to the refugee inflow – clearly the countries in the Caribbean with the vulnerabilities that have been described, can justify forms of innovative financing allowing to take into account not only the impact of the storms but the high level of debt, all the other forms of vulnerabilities that their dimension naturally creates.
And I hope that the international community will be able to take that into account in the near future and I am very confident that, as it has been possible to find solutions for Lebanon and Jordan – and I know the commitment of the President of the World Bank – I hope that in the next meeting of the Boards of the World Bank and the IMF, this question will be seriously discussed.
Question about how to keep the Caribbean islands in the forefront in the context of multiple disasters affecting even the United States.
Secretary-General: My answer is very simple. Coming here, raising awareness and assuming a very strong engagement in solidarity with countries that are facing these very dramatic situations.
Question about whether the international response has been sufficient.
Secretary-General: No, I am not satisfied. If I was satisfied, I probably wouldn’t have needed to come.
But I know that there is a commitment, there is an interest, there is a growing recognition of the need to act and I am very hopeful that namely, during the donors’ conference that the World Bank is organizing, there will be a massive response from the international community.
Question about what the Secretary-General saw today in Barbuda.
Secretary-General: [I saw] how a storm of this magnitude can transform a paradise into hell. That’s what I felt.
Barbuda – I can imagine, I was never there before – is a paradise. Those pristine waters, the level of privacy that is possible for people going there for the holidays, the beauty of the landscape, the unique character of the island… all of sudden… I didn’t see any house standing, everything was destroyed.
And I know that during this month, a lot has been done to clean the public areas, a lot has been done. I know that if I had come two or three days after the storm, we wouldn’t have seen any green – everything was gray or brown. So really, to see a paradise turned into hell is something that creates to us all that live in this planet a responsibility.
We need to preserve our paradises, we need to make climate action our top priority.
Question on climate refugees.
Secretary-General: We are having a lot of displacement that is accelerated by climate change. We always had displacement, we always had storms. But for instance in the Sahel, we had a drought every ten years, then we had a drought every five years, now we have a drought every two years – and we see more and more people having to flee the Sahel and trying to cross to Europe in the horrible and tragic circumstances that we all know. Many of them die.
We see the people that had to be evacuated from Barbuda, and we see other storms forcing people to move in other parts of the world.
Climate change is becoming one of the central reasons, one of the central causes of forced displacement in the world. And I think it is one more reason to do everything possible to stop this movement and to make climate action a strong priority of the whole international community.