Vulnerability of Small Islands States given Centre Stage – But Who’s Listening?
In today’s edition of SEARCHLIGHT, we are pleased to introduce our newest weekly columnist, Joel Richards, a young Vincentian currently living and working in Geneva, Switzerland. Richards, whose academic training is in International Trade Policy and International Relations has chosen as the topic of his first article the issue of the vulnerability of small island developing states (SIDS) to natural disasters in the face of the climate crisis.
His contribution to this edition follows a lecture given last month by Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva, during which she reminded the global community that SIDS are frontline states in the war on climate change, notwithstanding the fact that they are among the least responsible for this phenomenon.
Then last Friday night, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in an excellent address to the General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly, devoted the first 10 minutes of his half hour speech to the issue of climate change and the failure of the main polluters in the international community to accept responsibility, and take the action required to halt and reverse this phenomenon and provide the urgent assistance needed to build resilience and for post disaster support.
That the Prime Minister put the region’s climate change vulnerability ahead of every other issue, including many dear to his heart, signifies the urgency with which he, like other Caribbean leaders, views this matter.
Dr Gonsalves in his address also touched on other critical issues of international importance, including the economic blockage of Venezuela and Cuba and foreign interference in Venezuela; the floundering Palestinian peace process; the demand for reparatory justice for the crimes of native genocide and African slavery and the establishment of the Africa-Brazil-Caribbean-Diaspora Commission; the establishment of our medicinal cannabis sector; the ‘bullying’ by the bureaucrats of the European Union of Caribbean financial centres; the flight of international banks from our shores, de-risking and loss of correspondent banking relations; Taiwan’s quest to be included in the specialised agencies and bodies of the United Nations; and SVG’s election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
But climate change vulnerability and the need for the world’s worst polluters to change their ways and take responsibility and action took pride of place, ahead of all other concerns.
The truth is, for the people of the Caribbean and other small island states, climate change poses an existential threat. Each year, the extreme weather events seem to be getting worse. When hurricane Tomas hit in October 2010, followed by the floods of April 2011, no one envisaged that an even more devastating weather event, that of December 2013 awaited us. We were told these events were one in 100-year events, but look at the horror wrought on our neighbours to the north in September 2017 by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Then came Dorian.
It is therefore no wonder that the mere mention of an approaching storm or hurricane is sufficient to bring on panic attacks among our people. Yet, for some of the world’s largest polluters, the gains of the last two decades have been rolled back in the name of greed.
Our hope is that the eloquence and persistence of our leaders will be the clarion call for action the world must hear. We are not crying out simply to save ourselves, but to save the future of the planet.