The historic, widespread devastation of several CARICOM member states by hurricanes Irma and Maria has heightened the urgency for the region to advocate for meaningful assistance to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events.
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary-General, Irwin LaRocque, stressed the point recently, as he accredited Austria’s new ambassador to CARICOM, Marianne Feldmann, stating that there was no doubt “climate change is here.”
In prepared remarks, the Secretary-General recalled that the Category 5 hurricane Irma devastated Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Anguilla, as well as St. Maarten and St. Barts. He noted that it caused significant damage in The Bahamas and affected St. Kitts and Nevis. Ten deaths were confirmed and there was a preliminary estimate of US$2 billion in losses.
Just over two weeks later, Maria, another Category 5 hurricane, struck Dominica and left in its wake 27 confirmed deaths and more than 30 people missing. More than 95 percent of Dominica’s buildings were damaged or destroyed and the island’s agriculture sector and its lush rainforest were decimated. The cost of the damage in Dominica alone is expected to run into billions of dollars.
Against this backdrop, LaRocque noted that the unprecedented scale of destruction wrought by recent weather events placed a demand for more concerted and aggressive global action to address global warming. Small island developing states (SIDS), the Secretary-General noted, are the least contributors to global warming, the major factor in climate change, but they bear the brunt of the impact.
In this context, LaRocque said that Austria’s strengthened cooperation with CARICOM, through a memorandum of understanding the two parties signed recently, could not come at a more opportune time. Its strategic focus is on disaster prevention and disaster risk reduction as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Emphasizing that the policy of providing development funding based in GDP per capita must change, he noted that post hurricane reconstruction was likely to artificially inflate GDP.
CARICOM has long advocated that access to concessional development financing should not be based on what the Secretary-General described as the “grossly inadequate and inaccurate criterion” of GDP per capita. This criterion has resulted in the graduation of most CARICOM countries from accessing concessional financing.
“We believe that this, as applied to SIDS, must be changed as a matter of urgency to include the concept of vulnerability,” he stated as he urged CARICOM third states partners, including Austria, to lend strong support to the Community’s efforts to effect this change.
LaRocque told the new Austrian envoy that this was a particularly trying time for CARICOM given the economic situation in many member states, which recent weather events have compounded. He added that the burdensome debt that confront member states, were in large measure incurred through demands for reconstruction after climate events. He noted, therefore, that there was urgent need for international development partners to re-examine the criteria for access to resources such as the Green Climate Fund.
The Austrian ambassador is on her second tour of duty in that capacity in the region. Against this backdrop, the Secretary-General noted that CARICOM anticipated she would be “a source of influence in promoting awareness” of the Community’s capabilities and the limitations in its aspirations for economic development.
Such limitations include what he described as “economic discrimination” instituted through labels of some member states as non-cooperative tax jurisdictions, despite not being so labeled by the relevant global authorities. He called on Austria to encourage other member states in the EU to desist from such punitive actions and to be guided by the informed position of the Financial Action Task Force and the OECD Global Forum.