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Byron Blake | Resignation to fate: SIDS 4 conference

Published:Monday | June 10, 2024 | 12:07 AM
In this file photo a car is seen navigating a rainwater flooded road in May Pen, Clarendon.
In this file photo a car is seen navigating a rainwater flooded road in May Pen, Clarendon.
Byron Blake
Byron Blake
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The my article published in The Gleaner of Monday, June 3 titled, “Whither small islands: the ship has sailed”, posited that climate change is the existential issue for small island developing states (SIDS). The impending danger can be recognised as:

• Average ambient global temperature increases approach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels; and

• There is no decision to phase out fossil fuels rapidly.

Demands for action or unequivocal decisions for action by the developed countries on these issues and the response would be the litmus test of success or failure of a Conference 30 years after the path-breaking Barbados Conference that secured agreement on the actions required of the industrialised countries (developed countries), not developing countries, and not SIDS to avert the climatic conditions now being experienced globally and which threaten the continued existence of many SIDS.

The Antigua and Barbuda Conference and its outcome document The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS) – a Renewed Declaration for Resilient Prosperity failed to address either of those critical issues.

Preambular paragraphs one, two and four recalled Barbados 1994; admitted that after three decades SIDS remains a special case for sustainable development and are feeling the unrelenting and compounding impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, disasters and are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

The logical next step for the conference would have been to address the source(s) of these challenges. But the scene changed. Responsibility was transferred to the SIDS for their sustainable development and resilient prosperity. Nice words. Politically correct words. But alas, they are impossible to achieve by SIDS in the present global environmental and climatic conditions.

NOT PURIFIED BY FIRE

Humans, and many other species of animals and plants, do not survive in hot water. They are not purified by fire. And they do not prosper in darkness. But the SIDS in this outcome document seem to have resigned themselves to that as their fate.

The benevolent developed countries will now “assist SIDS to diversify their economies and strengthen State and productive capacities ... .” Such acts of assistance will be discretionary; they are no longer obligatory, arising from prior commitment as decided in the Rio, Barbados, and Mauritius global agreements as part of the compensation for their disproportionate contribution to the build-up of greenhouse gases and hence the climate change and climate variability being experienced by SIDS.

When the question “What do SIDS want?” was posed, climate change moderation or, as it is put in the document “Environmental Protection and Planetary Sustainability” was in the Fourth Category of needs. Put differently, it is not a priority. Accordingly, the international community agrees to voluntarily “facilitate easier access to affordable and concessional finance, increase the effectiveness of development finance, scale-up biodiversity climate finance, in line with existing obligations and commitments and urgently accelerate climate action”.

This is a remarkable escape from responsibility. The significance would not have been lost on the developed countries that have negotiated with Caribbean SIDS over the past 35 years. A meeting in the Caribbean, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the BPOA, which did not prioritise climate change and climate justice, comprehensive and immediate action to pull back from the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase being experienced, and a strongly worded message to COP 29 in Azerbaijan in November, would have been inconceivable. But that is the present outcome.

OPPORTUNITY LOST

To appreciate the opportunity lost in Antigua and Barbuda, we need look no further than the fact that the United Nations Secretary-General who addressed the SIDS conference, one week later, on Environment Day June 5, titled his address “A moment of truth” and argued, inter alia:

“there’s a fifty-fifty chance that the average temperature for the entire next five-year period will be 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial times.

We are playing Russian roulette with our planet.

We need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell.

The difference between 1.5 and two degrees could be the difference between extinction and survival for some small island states and coastal communities. ...

So, as the world meets in Bonn for climate talks, and gears up for the G7 and G20 summits, the United Nations General Assembly, and COP29, we need maximum ambition, maximum acceleration, maximum cooperation – in a word maximum action”.

A true cry of alarm. But no alarm came from the SIDS, the canaries in the climate change mine.

On the positive side, the ABAS provides that to “help SIDS meet their ambitions for resilient prosperity, countries agreed to facilitate easier access to affordable and concessional finance, increase the effectiveness of development finance, scale-up biodiversity climate finance, in line with existing obligations and commitments and urgently accelerate climate action”. It also calls for the “Summit of the Future” to be held at the UN Headquarters on September 22 and 23, 2024 to align its Outputs with SIDS priorities and for the reform of the international financial infrastructure to, inter alia, improve global debt architecture to promote debt sustainability.

This sounds good. But, the SIDS priorities expressed in the ABAS, a document that will be available at that conference, do not identify climate change. Further, we must note that even interest-free debt is not sustainable if the project must be replaced before the debt is amortised. This is increasingly the experience with long-term infrastructural projects in SIDS impacted by unusual natural events induced by climate change. In addition, we must remember that calls for reform of the international financial infrastructure and for providing more appropriate development assistance have been loud for decades with no positive results. The Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development of 2002, for example, provided, among other things, for “Addressing systemic issues: enhancing the coherence and consistency of the international monetary, financial and trading systems in support of development” but, 22 years later, there has been little positive change.

This is less than a promise.

SIDS will have to negotiate harder in the upcoming conferences. They will need to regroup and re-strategise drawing on all the resources available and sympathetic to their cause. They must stimulate robust preparatory activities in their countries and regions, and in the Conference venues that attract local and international media attention. Entire populations are at risk and their combined screams must be heard.

Byron Blake is former Jamaica deputy permanent representative to the United Nations and former assistant secretary general of the Caribbean Community. Send feedback to ambassadorblake@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com