Ladies and Gentlemen,
Secretary General Almagro,
Thank you so much for joining us over the past three days as we develop solutions to the greatest threat of our time. Those of us living on ground zero, unfortunately, know all too well just how destructive the climate crisis can be.
On September 1st, 2020, people living on the northern Bahamian island of Abaco were bracing for yet another storm to make landfall – after a decade of successive tropical storms and hurricanes.
Bahamians are accustomed to weathering intense storms. But this storm was different.
Hurricane Dorian was accompanied by a 20-foot storm surge and waves that reached even higher. Winds maxed out at over 200 miles per hour. Homes were washed away. Lives were lost. And an entire island economy was left reeling. By September 2nd, much of the neighbouring island of Grand Bahama was underwater and experiencing similarly destructive conditions.
Four years later, the collective trauma and economic fallout of Dorian continue to affect us. What’s even more worrying, with the approach of each hurricane season, is the prospect of another storm like Dorian making its way to our shores.
How do we define sustainable development in this era of monster storms? How do we manage competing priorities when so much of our focus must be placed on surviving the next natural disaster?
Those who have faced these challenges know how expensive recovery can be – as much as half of my nation’s national debt can be attributed to the impact of climate change.
No other goal takes priority over supporting our people and getting them back on their feet after these destructive and traumatising disasters.
Any discussion of sustainable development must be had in the context of our climate reality. And any solutions we advance must take the financial reality of preparation and recovery from extreme climate events into account.
Equipping us with the finances to make our coastlines, infrastructure, and economies more climate-resilient gives us room to tackle other developmental challenges.
As new innovations and opportunities emerge, there is a clear intersection where investing in climate resilience is the answer to making progress on a range of our most pressing development goals, such as renewable energy, food and water security, and protecting and empowering our most vulnerable populations.
We must take this challenge on while confronting the many competing challenges within this hemisphere.
Just south of The Bahamas, we have the ongoing instability in Haiti, and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the scourge of crime continues to claim far too many lives. We also have a growing debt crisis that threatens the fiscal health of developing nations throughout the region.
In January, I stood in the House of the Americas at OAS Headquarters in Washington DC, and issued a call to action for the Americas to address our most pressing regional challenges while making progress on needed institutional reforms at the OAS.
We must strengthen hemispheric ties, provide more support for Member States, and agree on united action to advocate for change on the world stage, especially in regard to climate change.
I now reiterate, as I did back in January, if the OAS is to maintain its relevance for the small island and low-lying coastal developing states among its membership, it must do more to support climate action across the Americas.
Yesterday, we discussed the vexing issue of reforming the global financial system to unlock climate finance, and we declared our joint commitment to make concrete progress on the necessary reforms required.
Today, we similarly declare our joint priorities for climate action and discuss how we will collaborate to implement the Plan for Climate Action in the interest of sustainable development.
The people of our region are strong and resilient, but we will need more support to overcome the formidable climate challenges that lay before us.
We welcome the proposal for the OAS to provide capacity building and greater support to Member States, especially smaller countries, to access climate finance through establishing a Hub for Climate Finance.
And we welcome these new mandates for climate action within the OAS and wider inter-American system and are pleased that we will be adopting them at this meeting here in The Bahamas – one of the vulnerable nations at ground zero taking progressive action in the fight against climate change.
As I close, I note that we are gathered at the Atlantis Resort, named after the fabled lost city of Atlantis. It is a civilisation that legend says disappeared into the sea despite it being the marvel of its time. By some accounts, the legend may have been inspired by ruins just off the shores of the Bahamian island of Bimini.
Like the civilisation of Atlantis, we have ignored the many warning signs of destruction in the name of industrialisation and modernisation.
If we are serious about changing our fate, we must now act with a sense of urgency.
We must garner the political will to embrace the necessary changes to secure our mutual survival and commit to action to ward off the worst effects of the climate crisis. Unlike past generations, we do not have the luxury of deliberating any further without taking decisive action.
Over the past three days, we have made important progress. We must now build on this momentum as we approach COP 28 as a united hemisphere advocating on behalf of the millions of people who are relying on us to protect and preserve our nations for future generations.
At its heart, that is what sustainable development is all about: making the decisions today for a better tomorrow.
I believe this is a noble goal that we can all proudly embrace.