Speeches / Presentations

Remarks by President Bill Clinton at the CARICOM-UN High Level Pledging Conference

Thank you very much Prime Minister Mitchell, Madam Deputy Secretary General, distinguished Heads of State and Government. And thanks, so Director Steiner and Regional Director Piateva, and to the UNDP. Ambassador LeRoc, CARICOM, and all the supporters of the Caribbean community are here. Prime Mitchell did not overstate the case when he said I have at least tried to be a longtime friend to the Caribbean. We’ve been having some of these conversations for more than 25 years now, which may disqualify me from being here today. But, I won’t waste a lot of time saying what’s saying what’s obvious. I first thank all the people working on plans. I thank the United Nations and all of its entities in recognizing that it would be best if we could have a regional approach. Even though the facts are different and the funding mechanisms are different. I was in Puerto Rico yesterday, I didn’t navigate mind-numbing complicated issues there. But, I think if you look at this since I’ve been involved with the United Nations in handling disasters which goes back to the tsunami in 2005, and later in Haiti. We’ve learned quite a bit which could be tested out here much more quickly.

We now have sustainable development goals that call upon us to conquer every demon on earth how. We’ve got an agreement in Paris that even most of us in America believe in and believe we all wind up doing our fair share. We know island nations all over the world or most imperiled by climate change. We saw what happened after the tsunami in a tiny country of the Maldives when they lost two-thirds of their GDP in a matter of minutes and then they had to consolidate and build higher and dig deeper. It’s not like we don’t know how to do this. So, I have a simple plea. Those of us without official standing, many of us are prepared to spend years of effort doing whatever we can to help not just to restore but in the Deputy Secretary General’s word “to build back better”. But this is the best opportunity I believe that the United Nations has ever had and probably will ever have in the near future to test everything we all say we believe.


Not only about solving the problems we face but seizing the opportunities we have. Not only about overcoming the burdens that have been left in the wake of all the ruin of these horrible hurricanes but seizing the opportunity of a place where the Sun shines 300 days a year and the wind blows and there are lots of other opportunities. So, I would just like to plead with you to take the leadership and give all the money you can, but also to do as much regional planning as you can and support for individual leaders who are taking unusual initiative. Because of the work my foundation was already doing down there before all the hurricanes. I had done I’ve had an unusual opportunity to get to know and work with Prime Minister Skerrit of Dominica. Dominica got the living daylights kicked out of us. It wasn’t quite Barbuda sir, where he was suggesting laughingly at lunch, we may have to have the equivalent of the Oklahoma land rush just to let us all go down there and help him rebuild the country, one back at a time. We have to laugh instead of cry, but I’m just saying – you look at what has been done. If this disaster had happened 10 years ago, there would not have been anybody in the Caribbean who would have said “Here, help us build back and we will show the world how we can build back the economy and drastically reduce our greenhouse emissions. Here, let us show you how to build sustainable housing. Let us show you how we can do it without giving up the uniqueness of our architecture or the richness of our culture.”


Everybody in the world – you will never have – every one of you have been just like me. We’ve gone to dinner after dinner after dinner, meeting after meeting after meeting, year after year after year, and we’ve all said the wisest conceivable things – haven’t we? We’ve competed with how much we know about climate change, we’ve competed about how much we know about sustainable development. I love the unbelievable variations in new building technologies that will enable us to – you know, we all do this. Now finally, here it is, a disaster has given us a chance to literally have the world’s only laboratory that is both diverse but confined. Confined in population, confined in geographic reach, and confined in cost, where we can test everything we all say we believe and see if we are right enough. And if we aren’t right on everything, you will have the moral solace of knowing you didn’t let Barbuda vanish off the face of the Earth. You will have the political confidence to know that you didn’t let a man in a small place like Dominica, who thought big and long-term in the future, go begging for one or a dollar or two, and I can go on and on.


You are never going to get a chance, the donor community, ever, to do so much good, so quickly, with so little money. Correcting problems of the past and building a different future. So I, I threw all my notes away, I’m pleading you, I’ve been doing this for decades; once in a blue moon, you get a choice and a chance. And, you are also, in my opinion, lucky to have a UN leadership team who really understands all this, I mean, in a granular way, and I thank you – don’t let this go. Give what you’re going to give today, and then when you leave, go back and figure out what you would like and need from these countries to give more, what you would like and need to make commitments that last three years or five years or six years or however the heck long it takes.


You are never going to get another chance, at least, in lifetime – some of you are young enough that you can’t know what you’re going to get. But you got a real chance, and because you have that chance, you have an obligation. So, I thank you for what you’re going to give anyone today, think about what you’re going to need to make commitments over a longer period of time, tell of them, but don’t give up the world’s best chance – it’s not just for the Caribbean – to test everything you believe about sustainability, climate chance, poverty alleviation, improved health, every single solitary thing. You’ve got a laboratory that can become the jewel of the world, the first stop on the sustainability triumph tour, and you can do it within five to ten years. Please, don’t pass it up, and they won’t waste it for you. Thank you very much.