Speeches / Presentations

Region must adapt to the reality of climate change – CARICOM SG

Remarks by CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque  at the Technical Consultations for the CARICOM-UN High Level Pledging Conference

Good morning and welcome to these technical consultations on the first day of the CARICOM-UN High-Level Pledging Conference.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community directed me to organise a conference, to assist the ravaged countries in their recovery and rebuilding process. Soon thereafter, the devastating passage of Hurricane Maria prompted even greater urgency for this Conference.


At the outset, I must thank the UNDP, and the entire UN System, for their prompt response and generous assistance to enable this event to take place. Without them I don’t think I would be here this morning

The objective of this Conference is two-fold. It is to mobilise support and commitment of pledges to help rebuild the countries ravaged by the recent hurricanes and importantly, to assist the Region to build resilience, given its inherent vulnerabilities. With the support of Development Partners, there is an opportunity for the CARICOM Members, affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria, to become the first climate resilient countries in the world.

With your help we intend to build smarter and better.

We are doing so, in the full knowledge that we are into a new era. Hurricanes Irma and Maria were game changers.  Two category five hurricanes in two weeks and one, Maria, going from a category 1 to a category 5 in less than 36 hours.

Both events were unprecedented.  The occurrence of successive category 5 hurricanes signals a dangerous change in the intensity and frequency of these climate change-related events, and heralds the advent of a new normal. The Region must therefore adapt to this reality. Time is not on our side. The next hurricane season is seven months away.

The climatic events of September have occurred with a global temperature rise of about one degree Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. If the current rate of emissions of greenhouse gases continues, the world could end up three or four degrees warmer.

Two years ago, we agreed at COP 21 in Paris to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2° C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° C.

1.5 is critical to Small Island and low-lying coastal Developing States (SIDS) which are highly vulnerable to climatic hazards.

Since Paris, Caribbean scientists have carried out studies to explore the consequences of both a 1.5 and 2.0 degree Centigrade warmer world.

They have found that given the current trend, the 1.5 target will occur within the next decade, much sooner than previously anticipated. With 1.5, the scientists are predicting generally harsher climatic conditions for our Region.

We must prepare for the next catastrophic hurricane, flood or drought. We must therefore be climate resilient in time for the next event.

The immediate and urgent need is to rebuild those countries that have suffered catastrophic damage from the two hurricanes. We cannot lose sight of the thousands who are homeless, jobless and simply surviving on relief for two months and counting. Rebuilding their lives is a priority.

The damage and recovery needs-assessments, which will be presented later today, point to extremely high economic, infrastructure and livelihood impacts of the two hurricanes across the affected countries.

The Governments and People of the Caribbean Community and its Institutions have stood up to be counted in assisting the affected states.

The international community has also been rendering tremendous support for which we are eternally grateful.

The Region has been taking steps to embed resilience in its planning. The CARICOM institution with responsibility in this area, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), has designed the Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) Strategy 2014-2024, to continue its role as the Caribbean’s platform for achieving risk resilience.

The strategy embraces key sectors such as Agriculture, Tourism, Health, Education, Finance, and Physical and Environmental Planning.  Additionally, it places increased focus on harmonizing disaster risk reduction and climate change considerations.

It is obvious that given the new normal, much more needs to be done. More of this will be heard during today’s sessions.

We come together over the next two days to seek your assistance to rebuild, and to enhance our resilience to adapt to the effects of the inevitable climatic events in the longer term.

That task will involve national governments, regional organizations, international development partners, private sector, and civil society.

It requires significant investment to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to prepare for the impact of such events.  The high levels of reconstruction will require a major injection of financing which we are unable to generate. We cannot do it alone.

Most of our countries are categorized as middle- to high-income and are largely ineligible for concessional development financing and Official Development Assistance (ODA), due to the use of GDP per capita as a principal criterion.  The increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters will exacerbate already high debt levels across the Region, which is due in large measure to exogenous shocks including severe climatic events.

There is need for new thinking, leading to changes in the criteria for determining access to concessionary resources, and to end the use of the dominant criterion of GDP per capita to measure development.  As applied to SIDS, this must be changed as a matter of urgency to include the concept of vulnerability.

What is also needed is the facility to access financing readily, especially by small and capacity-constrained countries.  Innovative financing mechanisms must also be found to enable countries to cope with external shocks of such magnitude.

We find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances which therefore require extraordinary solutions.

Our sessions today are devoted to putting before you the situation in the affected countries, identifying the challenges, exploring solutions and the possible mechanisms to resolve them urgently.

The key takeaways from today’s session will inform the pledging conference tomorrow.

In closing, let me once again thank Mr Achim Steiner and his team at the UNDP, led by ASG Jessica Feita for the tremendous assistance in making this pledging conference a reality. I also want to thank my team at the CARICOM Secretariat and members of the Regional Steering Committee.

Allow me to single out the Conference Co-ordinators, Mr Deodat Maharaj of the UNDP and Ms Glenda Itiaba of the CARICOM Secretariat for their tireless efforts in this regard.

I thank you.