By Earl Bousquet
As world leaders gather at the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP-26) in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) that have had to live with rising sea levels and constantly-changing weather patterns are praying for success in achieving one common aim.
Most consider this global summit in Europe their “last chance” to get the world’s richest countries to pay enough attention to the increasingly damaging effects of Climate Change on their populations, economies and actual chances of national survival, in a world today where they pay more debt at the cost of the inability to finance the sheer costs of fighting Climate Change, far less building climate-resilient economies.
Ahead of the summit, “One Minute to Midnight” was a popular phrase among all, even though with different prescriptions for better change.
Host, British prime minister Boris Johnson said the summit was “a turning point for humanity”.
Legendary British broadcaster and environmental campaigner Sir David Attenborough warned: “If we don’t act now, it’ll be too late … and today’s leaders will be condemned by future generations.”
Queen Elizabeth was absent on her doctor’s advice, but Prince Charles reminded leaders they had to do what was needed now to set ‘Carbon Neutral” targets to cap emissions at 1.5 degrees while pursuing the ultimate “Net Zero” 2050.
President Joe Biden, is also present, while China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin aren’t, due to COVID and other pressing issues at home – and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi.
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres and climate campaigner Greta Thunberg lent their different voices ahead of the meeting, the former optimistic the latter pessimistic, but both hopeful.
Pope Francis, speaking in Rome where the G-20 meeting was being held, also called for “radical decisions” at COP-26.
Just as the G-20 closed and COP-26 opened, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued its latest report indicating the last seven years – during which forest fires blazed into a veritable global norm, was the hottest on record.
The two back-to-back summits in Rome and Glasgow are the first face-to-face gatherings since COVID-19 in 2020 and while all the leaders attending are expressing commitments, delegates and populations are also aware that the commitments they are required to make will affect future generations and none will likely be alive to hear the Doomsday Bell or see the mission accomplished flag rise.
Similarly, SIDS leaders also hold strong, from experience, that the unequal acknowledgement of responsibilities by the main contributors to the global problem and unfair distribution of costs of combating the effects of Climate Change, all militate against addressing the causes quick enough.
The world’s major polluters are setting reluctant and distant targets to reduce and eliminate emissions and other contributions to the problem, but are seen by SIDS leaders as showing insufficient political will to assist the most vulnerable nations in the destructive path of Climate Change.
Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, for example, under pressure to commit the world’s largest and only continental island to do more to join the global fight against Climate Change, reluctantly set emissions reduction and elimination targets last week, just days ahead of the Summit.
The countries contributing most to the changing climate have traditionally danced the political twist of targeting China, Russia and selected countries for constant attention, while doing everything to minimize the application of new mechanisms that will affect earnings from mining and other forms of pollution generation.
Top US Climate Change negotiator John Kerry has made it clear Washington wants to “monetize Climate Change” to ensure it’s profitable enough to attract big business.
But the poor nations have had to resort to the most ingenious means of displaying their vulnerability, including one Pacific island’s government hosting a Cabinet meeting underwater on the ocean floor to demonstrate the islands’ vulnerability to rising sea levels.
Individual steps by SIDS like Dominica to make their small nations Climate Resilient are applauded by rich nations, but accompanying appeals for global assistance to keep their nations afloat and economies alive are largely-ignored or placed on the back-burner by the larger, richer and guilty nations.
The SIDS are pressing the rich nations, saying all they could to convince those still in doubt to do more to help the world’s smaller nations overcome their unfair and overburdened shares of responsibility to simply survive the harsh realities of 21st Century Climate Change.
The CARICOM representatives who addressed the two-day opening session (Monday and Tuesday) all found the right words to highlight the accumulating and underlying effects of Climate Change on islands irrespective of their state of economic healthiness, all of which are left battered and bruised for years after each so-called ‘natural disaster’ caused or influenced by humankind.
As always, the countries whose actions caused the most and responsibilities matter more are shifting the goalposts while playing the blame game, most of the related leaders simply refusing to lock their countries into promising Net Zero achievements by dates desired and/or promoted by activists.
Common but different
The leaders in Glasgow represent countries and people who all face today’s common but different Climate Change challenges — from droughts, floods and forest fires in the North to fiercer hurricanes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis and rising tides in the SIDS and the South.
It’s not surprising that the 100 leaders, representing 85 percent of the world’s forests, have agreed to end deforestation by 2030 – in nine short years – even though most will also agree it’s most likely not to happen: It simply sounds good!
Achieving Global Net Zero, though, is a more fishy matter, with time estimates now loosely set at “around the middle of the century” or “by 2060”, or even “by 2070”, which positions, emanating from the G-20 Summit, have disappointed campaigners.
Also highly disappointed are nations paying the higher costs by way of losses, leaving SIDS to face what Barbados prime minister Mia Mottley described as a “death sentence for islands.”
Caribbean nations will continue to face more violent and deadly tropical storms and hurricanes, droughts and floods, rising sea levels and lowering levels of assistance by way of Climate Financing or other arrangements backed by the North that will not only help SIDS but also encourage others to likewise to virtually keep the island afloat.
CARICOM leaders beckoned the call to Glasgow, in person, to demonstrate their commitments to the Climate Change battle, but this is no outing in the Scottish Highlands.
Instead, it’s a situation where, once again, Caribbean and other poor and developing nations are at the table, but getting their items on the agenda has been as hard as entering the ‘Blue Zone’ conference centre itself, where over 100 leaders and 20,000 delegates are present and their emphasis continues to be on impressing the rich to do more to help the poor.
Hope and optimism
There’s still hope and optimism that the leaders of the North will not again be accused of engaging in the ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ (that the young Thunberg referred to ahead of the opening) while the majority of the world’s population in the most countries on the planet, in the South, continue to ask, plead and beg for support that amounts to mere pittances from the global economy, but are still made to look like unassailable mountains the rich are unwilling to even try to climb.
Like at every EU, G-7 and G-20 summit, the focus continues to be on the issues that matter to the richest countries while the poorer nations are simply allowed to state their sorry cases that hardly get attention in the final communiques.
But it’s also a fact that wherever minds are gathered around a common cause there’s always hope that even when everything else seems lost, hope and optimism also reside, no matter how small.
In the meantime, Caribbean and SIDS nations have to continue to adjust to the new realities once again, which are more of the same by way of promises that end up either broken or delivered in too many small pieces over too much time.
From Belize’s plight in Central American and Guyana’s share of the Amazon to the region sharing the increasingly warming Caribbean Sea and constantly-rising tides and from the increasing evidence of continuing impacts getting worse to the decreasing levels of willingness by the North to share COVID vaccines (far less increase Climate Financing), the evidence is crystal-clear that the Caribbean region will continue to have to fight alone and together, while also continuing to cry at such global summits for help that either never arrive, or takes too long to come.
Once again, it’s only a matter of time before the region is reminded that Europe still views its former West Indian colonies as the “mere specs of dust” or comparable drops of water in a wide and deep ocean, barely visible on the world map and with simply no place in the bigger picture of Planet Earth.
Adapt and adopt
The mechanisms exist within CARICOM for the continuing and increased cooperation necessary to protect the region, but it’s also absolutely essential that they be even more tailored to fit the Caribbean’s current realities by looking more inward than outward for solutions, many of which continue to reside in mainly young heads and minds across the region, yet to and just waiting to be sufficiently-trusted and explored.
Historically, students have had to participate in annual science and technology competitions across schools and in science fairs and innovation start-up campaigns at home and abroad, each island and nation with countless examples of home-grown innovations to solve long-standing environmental problems.
If these experiments and demonstrated positive possibilities were good enough to win prizes and accolades, certificates at school – and even chances of later employment – why can’t they be adopted and adapted by governments, taken out of school display shelves and cupboards and out to work nationally?
In these new COVID times when the new normal is that nothing is normal anymore and when Climate Change is accelerating with no signs of brakes or breaks, why can’t our governments start looking more in than out in the search for solutions to our problems?
Why only depend on those who caused the problem accepting blame and taking responsibility for environmental crimes against humanity when the European responses to 14 CARICOM governments combined and unified 2013 request for Dialogue on Reparations for Slavery and Native Genocide has not even been positively responded to by the European Union (EU) almost nine later?