I begin by conveying my gratitude to the government of Guatemala for hosting this Ninth Summit of Heads of State and Heads of Governments of the Association of Caribbean States — and by extending our profound thanks to the people of this beautiful country for their warm hospitality.
Inflation, Food Security, Climate Change
Over the past several years, a global inflation crisis has compounded the complex problems we already face in our region.
This worldwide rise in prices – which follows a deadly pandemic, and takes place against the backdrop of a changing climate – makes even more challenging our pursuit of economic dignity and security for the people of our region.
Never has the folly of a billion-dollar food-import bill been so clear. Our region’s over-reliance on imports means our people are too vulnerable to price hikes driven by events outside our borders, and means that we continue to funnel revenue outside our region, rather than keeping it at home. In The Bahamas, as in other countries in the region, we are seeking to diversify our economy through targeted investment in a new generation of farming and fishing entrepreneurs. Throughout the region, governments and the private sector must work together to invest in our people and in our capacity to feed ourselves — and further, to invest in stronger intra-regional transportation links to enhance opportunities for trade among our nations.
Of course, today, modernizing agriculture requires making climate-smart investments, so that new progress is tangible and is not imperilled by extreme weather events.
There can no longer be any doubt: Climate change poses an unprecedented threat to our countries.
Our nations are not and have never been the primary polluters, and yet we are among those suffering the greatest harm caused by carbon emissions.
Many of our countries have become trapped in a destructive cycle, as the devastation of climate events drives up our debt burdens, leaving us with insufficient resources to build the resilience we need to face future challenges. Our cost of borrowing also prices the risk of future hurricanes, and so we are already paying a higher price today for the increased and more intensive weather patterns of tomorrow.
In order to build resilience in this new era – to strengthen our roads, fortify our sea walls and bridges, our homes, schools, hospitals, and communities – we need fair and flexible climate finance.
Colleagues, I believe it is a moral and pragmatic imperative that our nations unite in support of the Bridgetown Initiative. The international financial institutions established to help countries rebuild after World War II have not yet shown the capacity to cope with the myriad, overlapping global crises we face in these times. The Bridgetown Initiative envisions multilateral development banks pivoting to offer substantially more robust support for energy transitions, scaling up the use of guarantees, and increasing concessional financing for climate resilience projects. Increasing the capacity of international financial institutions to effectively respond to the challenges of the climate change era is the only way to build a bridge from today to a more secure, peaceful, and sustainable future for all citizens. And let me be clear: ensuring that countries like ours have the resources to become more resilient is not just about climate justice – it’s about common sense. For every dollar spent on climate-resilient infrastructure, six dollars are saved.
Big changes are never achieved easily – but if the nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis come together, we can bring about that change.
In closing, over the course of this summit, let us consult, and cooperate, as the founding Convention of the ACS demands; but let us not forget, however, that third tenet: that of concerted action.
The 2022-2028 Plan of Action outlines a series of strategic undertakings on trade development and disaster risk reduction, amongst other collaborative ventures. We must ensure that it does not remain merely a plan. The time to act is now, and we must act together. As we exchange proposals and debate policies, we ought to be mindful of our commitment to improve the quality of life for the people we serve; the people who ought always to remain at the centre of our deliberations.