Photo: Former United States President Bill Clinton was a special guest at the conference.
Caribbean can only ‘build back better’ with international support, urgent climate action
New York – In view of the urgent needs of Caribbean islands affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria, the “CARICOM-UN High-level Pledging Conference: Building a more Climate-Resilient Community” mobilised a broad partnership to support reconstruction efforts, including through more than US$1.3 billion in pledges and more than $1 billion in loans and debt relief. Support derived from nearly 400 high-level representatives from governments, multilateral and civil society organizations and the private sector gathered at UN headquarters today with the secretaries-general of the United Nations and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to help countries to “build back better” as the first climate-resilient countries in the world.
Recovery costs surpass $5 billion, according to the latest needs estimates. In some cases, the impact is 3.5 times countries’ gross domestic product (GDP), for example, in the British Virgin Islands. The principal economic sectors of tourism and agriculture have been significantly affected, according to assessments made public during the conference, organized by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) working with sister UN agencies.
“The magnitude of reconstruction will require significant levels of financing, which we are unable to generate on our own; countries are highly indebted, with limited access to financing due to their middle-income status,” said CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque. “The task of rebuilding is beyond us.”
“Countries in the Caribbean need support now to rebuild,” said UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, “and to take effective climate action. We need a new generation of infrastructure that is risk-informed, to underpin resilient economies, communities and livelihoods.”
Climate-vulnerable islands were decimated, like Barbuda, the smaller of the two-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica, with deep social, economic and environmental impacts. Other severely affected islands were Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands. Haiti and St. Kitts and Nevis also suffered damage. Saint Maarten/St. Martin, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were also impacted.
“Climate change is not a theoretical question for the people of the Caribbean,” said President of General Assembly Miroslav Lajčák. “You live this reality daily. Our sentiments and well wishes will not be enough. Our messages of solidarity alone will not do. Right now, it is time for us to act,”
In Barbuda, damages surpass US$130 million, with recovery needs of more than $220 million, according to the latest post-Irma assessment. The tourism sector, which is crucial for Antigua and Barbuda’s economy, accounting for nearly 60 percent of GDP, was severely affected, bearing 76 percent of losses.
“Climate change recognizes no borders, size of country or religion of its people,” said Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda. “All are involved and all are consumed; but the small, vulnerable, poor are the most affected. We small island developing states will never achieve the Sustainable Development Goals unless there’s funding for climate-resilient communities.”
In Dominica, Hurricane Maria decimated decades of development gains, impacting more than 200 percent of the island state’s GDP. Poverty levels risk rising above 60 percent. Nearly 60 percent of damages relate to housing and transportation infrastructure, with recovery costs estimated at around US$1.3 billion.
“We have the goal of rebuilding Dominica as the world’s first climate-resilient country,” said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica. “It’s an existential matter for us; it’s the only way forward.”
Responding to the urgent needs, more than US$1.35 billion were pledged by established partners and new ones, highlighting the importance of South South Cooperation—from the region and beyond. Estimated amounts are as follows:
- $1 billion in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank
- $702 million from The Netherlands
- $352 million from the European Union
- $140 million from the World Bank
- $78 million from Canada
- $30 million from China
- $30 million in soft loans from Italy
- $27 million from Mexico
- $12 million from Italy
- $4.3 million from the United States
- $4 million from Japan
- $2 million from India
- $1.2 million from Belgium
- $1 million from Kuwait
- $1 million from Venezuela (and forgave $1 million in debt for a more resilient Caribbean)
- $1 million from Chile
- $500,000 from Denmark
- $300,000 from Colombia
- $250,000 from Haiti
- $250,000 from New Zealand
- $200,000 from Brazil
- $150,000 from Kazakhstan
- $100,000 from Romania
- $100,000 from Portugal
- $20,000 from Serbia