Fellow Heads of State and Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’ll begin by thanking the people and the government of Grenada for hosting us so graciously; it is wonderful to be here together.
I know we’re all looking forward to building on the progress we made last year in The Bahamas.
It is a source of great encouragement that our region, home to such a beautiful and vast diversity of peoples and languages and societies, can unite on key issues as we confront a new era of climate crisis.
The urgency of our work could not be clearer.
Even in the best-case scenarios – even if the world can make significant progress in reducing fossil fuel emissions (progress that in reality is far from assured) – for the foreseeable future, our region will continue to experience warming oceans, rising waters, and more intense hurricanes.
Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, more than a trillion tons of carbon dioxide have been released into our earth’s atmosphere.
Try as they might to skirt around the issue, the industrialized North will need to make the most sizable adjustments. It is, after all, their development which has brought us to this point.
We must call on our partners in the North to deliver on the commitment they made at COP15 in Copenhagen, to mobilise US$100 billion per year by 2021. This is the very same goal, which was reiterated at COP21 in Paris, and extended to 2025.
To date, they have yet to reach this target.
My friends, it makes no sense shooting arrows at new targets, when the bullseye of two decades before has yet to be hit.
As COP28 approaches, it is crucial that we, the developing countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis, hold the developed world to account. Whether they honour their commitments could mean the difference between a mere disturbance and another Dorian – that devastating Category 5 super storm, the likes of which my country had never seen and is still recovering from.
To further the interests of the Caribbean, which are much the same as small island developing states (SIDS) in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, we must speak as one region, united by clear ideas and a common purpose. We may operate in different geopolitical contexts, but we all lie in the same hurricane alley, we all rely, to a certain extent, on the tourist economy, and we all share common strands of a beautiful island culture under threat.
Let us use this occasion to marry our voices, to make ourselves heard.
I pushed for this regular meeting on the UN calendar because I strongly believe that the Caribbean can accomplish anything it sets its mind to.
I grew up on a small island in The Bahamas that is big on community. It was the kind of tight knit place where even your neighbours felt like family, and that is exactly how I feel about all of you.
My brothers and sisters, ours is a common heritage, and a shared future. Let us use this forum to identify our priorities, focus our efforts, and fight for a sustainable future. A future in which the months from June to November do not spell certain doom for the countries of the Caribbean.
Key to a future in which our region flourishes will be our sustained commitment to seeing a loss and damage fund come to full fruition. The adoption of this fund at COP27 was a remarkable achievement of Caribbean solidarity, one which we cannot afford to let fall by the wayside.
The time has come to double down on our efforts. To tell these developed nations to “write the cheque”, as they have kicked the can down the road for far too long. We cannot leave COP28 without the first pledge for funding identified. This is no minor undertaking. But if they are the big tree, we are the small axe!
And just as we hold the developed world to account, so too must we take active strides to enhance our own climate resilience.
Last week, I travelled to New York to take part in the Clinton Global Initiative, a community of doers committed to addressing the most pressing issues of our time. At that forum, I was pleased to announce a new initiative, The Bahamas Sustainable Investment Programme or “BSIP” – a three-year economic and investment programme that is aligned with our Paris Agreement pledges and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
If The Bahamas, or indeed the Caribbean, is to succeed, we cannot be passive actors. We must find our own solutions. With this programme, we are spearheading our own climate financing solution, and we invite the region, and the world, to partner with us.
Much like the Bridgetown Initiative, this is about more than just expanding access to funding, it’s about developing a practical pathway to climate justice and global equity.
It goes without saying that the present international financial process is unsustainable. I would go as far as to call it egregious. As SIDS, we are grappling with colossal impacts of a climate crisis we did not precipitate. We are shouldering disproportionate debt burdens. In some cases, such as in The Bahamas, climate change-related debt amounts to over half of total GDP. This is not only an enormous figure, it is an unjust figure.
International financial institutions need to be overhauled to deliver on a fit-for-purpose approach to lending due to loss and damage from climate impacts. These institutions, in tandem with International Multilateral Development Banks, must re-evaluate their purpose, approach, and objectives when dealing with SIDS. An appropriately weighted, multidimensional vulnerability index must be adopted, if access to concessional development finance is to be made available to the states which need it most.
Despite the daunting task ahead of us, I do believe we can get it done. I do believe our region is on the cusp of an exodus – a journey out of vulnerability, and into resilience.
Fundamental to this quest will be our ability to engage and empower our youth. For the Caribbean to go from strength to strength, we must edify, uplift, and enlist the assistance of our youth. The fight against climate change is only just beginning, and soon enough we will need to rely on a new generation of environmental leaders.
If the youth of our region are to blaze trails, we must first light a fire inside them. So let us welcome the next generation into the fold. Let us harness their fresh perspectives and critical agility, as we embark on a path toward greater Caribbean resilience.
Brothers and sisters, I look forward to witnessing the outcomes of this important meeting, and I applaud the incoming Chair, Grenadian Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, for taking up the mantle. The resolutions we establish today will surely be critical in safeguarding our shared tomorrow.
Thank you, and may God bless you all.