C'bean leaders voted with their feet for the environment

Friday, November 24, 2017

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The no-show by most Caribbean leaders at last week's regional meeting with the International Monetary Fund in Kingston has been attributed to their preference to attend the 23rd Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Germany.

That meeting and the pledging conference this week in New York, which was aimed at raising more than US$3 billion to help rebuild several islands that were devastated by back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes this season, are vital to formatting the overarching policies that will guide solutions to the existential threat of global warming.

Essentially, the Caribbean voted with its feet, sending a clear message that the threat from climate change is more relevant than discussing the usual trade-offs between austerity and growth.

Our productive, social, and governance infrastructure are all vulnerable to storms that are growing in intensity, the interruption of weather patterns and coastline erosion caused by climate change. We all saw the total devastation suffered by Dominica earlier this year, estimated at 200 per cent of GDP. Hotels, roads, government offices, and beaches were devastated.

While Dominica will continue to exist, the question is whether the Government will find sufficient funds to not only rebuild but to make sure the new infrastructure is resilient to inevitable future storms.

Minister Daryl Vaz represented Jamaica at the conference in Germany. His main message was the need to move fast to adapt our infrastructure to withstand the intensifying storms.

The problem is that climate-resilient infrastructure is very expensive and exceeds the capacity of heavily indebted Caribbean countries. The solution, therefore, has to come mainly from the private sector and the countries primarily responsible for causing climate change. Minister Vaz stressed Jamaica's ardent support of the efforts to mobilise substantial new financing that developing countries can afford.

While developed countries are busy transitioning their economies and human capital to the next generation technology, the Caribbean must look to first ensure its basic infrastructure can survive the next hurricane season.

We have already lost several decades to low growth and high debt. After Independence there was an initial surge of growth, but then we descended into a prolonged period of low productivity and steady loss of competitiveness. To realise our vision of achieving developed country status we need to move rapidly to shore up our basic infrastructure so we can get on with implementing the technological advances needed to become a player in the modern world economy.

The multilateral development agencies do not have the volume of resources or the operational policies to finance the massive investment needed to retrofit our infrastructure. Initiatives like the Green Climate Fund were created by the advanced economies to provide significantly more resources to help developing countries face this challenge that is not of their creation. It started in 2014 with pledged capital of over US$10 billion.

This is clearly only a fraction of the funds needed. But it is a good start. Jamaica should be bold in accessing these funds and lobbying energetically in support of efforts, like those of the Commonwealth Secretariat, to make the special funding easier to access.




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