Small island states offering lessons in climate change

Patricia Scotland, Commonwealth Secretary-General

NEW YORK — Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica hopes to become a laboratory of sorts for climate resilience.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, a native of Dominica, highlighted the island as a budding example of development in the age of climate change.

“Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has said he wants to turn Dominica now into the most resilient country in the Caribbean,” Scotland said Tuesday, speaking to the Cayman Compass from the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

“Indeed, I think it is likely that they may be one of the first countries to seek to implement this new regenerative model of development, holistically looking at thermal energy, looking at solar energy, looking at … electric cars.”

Hurricane Maria resulted in damages equivalent to 230% of Dominica’s GDP, Scotland said, threatening the economic viability of the Commonwealth nation.

To survive such disasters, the Caribbean must learn and grower stronger from them, she said.

“The Commonwealth is going to continue this fight because for our member states, the threat is an existential one,” she said.

“We saw that in Barbuda when the whole island had to be evacuated. We saw it in Dominica and we saw it in the Bahamas. So we have a fight on our hands and it’s a fight for our lives.”

Small islands typically cannot achieve climate resilience on their own, she explained. They need logistical and financial support from the international community, something the secretary general hopes the Commonwealth will be able to provide.

A barrier for many small Commonwealth nations in accessing climate resilience funds has been one of logistics. Many small states simply do not have the capacity to successfully apply for international funding, Scotland explained.

The Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub has offered one tool by providing financial advisers to nine small or least developed nations. Scotland also hopes to facilitate US$500 million in Green Climate Fund support to advance climate adaptation and resilience.

“We have already delivered US$28.2 million into the hands of our member states. We only have $482 million worth of projects in the pipeline and we are very hopeful that those projects will be … successful,” she said.

“It’s what we do with the money that matters, and 71% of the applications that have been made are about adapting to climate change and the rest is mitigation. What we hope is that we will be able to create a more regenerative form of development.”

The message of islands serving as ‘climate laboratories’ was echoed on Monday in comments to the United Nations General Assembly by Saint Lucia Primer Minister Allen Michael Chastanet.

“We are your incubator,” he said.

He warned that while climate change effects are being felt first in small island states and nations closer to the equator, the impacts will soon be felt elsewhere.

Speaking at the UN on behalf of small island developing states, Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred P. Elrington implored the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases to take climate action goals to heart.

“We are clearly very much in danger of extinction if, in fact, temperature goes above 1.5 degrees. So we are at the forefront of trying to advocate for the bigger emitters to do all in their power to reduce the emissions,” Elrington said.

“The recent activity of Dorian in the Bahamas devastated [those islands] and unless you really have experienced this kind of devastation, it is really hard to appreciate how difficult and how absolutely destructive it is. …

“It is exceedingly depressing to see the entire landscape devastated, demolished. Of course, this does not come back quickly.”

Monday’s United Nations Climate Action Summit resulted in increased financial and policy commitments from a number of nations.

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, president of the island nation of the Maldives, presented the ‘Climate Smart Resilient Islands Initiative’ on Monday as a model for small island developing states.

“We intend to conserve eco-rich areas, phase out single-use plastics, and rapidly transit to renewable energy in the transportation and tourism sectors,” Solih said.

“I call upon other [small island developing states] to replicate our model to achieve a post-carbon economy and climate-smart development pathway that will, in turn, safeguard our people from climate-associated risks in the future.”

Secretary-General Scotland highlighted a US$100 million commitment from Qatar to support small and least developed states, including Caribbean islands. Overall, world leaders seek to raise more than US$100 billion by 2020 for the Green Climate Fund.

On Friday, the attention of the United Nations will turn fully to development issues affecting small island states. The Midterm Review of the SAMOA Pathway, a framework for small island development, will evaluate the progress of island states in achieving the sustainable development goals.

Kayla Young is reporting for the Compass from the United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York.