Sir Ronald Sanders
The Caribbean is a victim of climate change caused by larger
countries and yet no attempt is made to compensate the area
for the damage being done to it by the profligate emissions
of harmful gases by larger countries.
The end of the hurricane season has always been a time of
relief for the islands of the region, but it has become
even more so over the last decade as storms have worsened
both in their intensity and frequency.
All Caribbean countries, including mainland territories
such as Belize and Guyana, are already witnessing coastal
flooding and erosion, saline intrusion into fresh water,
changes in rainfall patterns causing droughts or floods
and enormous damage to infrastructure.
Yet, it is well known that small island states around the
world, account for only one per cent of the global emissions
that are linked by many scientists and scholarly research
to climate change. Even when other small developing countries
are added to the island territories, the greenhouse emissions
do not increase by much.
The US remains in first place with 30 per cent of all the
human-produced greenhouse emissions to date and about 20
per cent of the current yearly totals even though it makes
up only five per cent of the worlds population.
China is very close behind the US. On a measurement of head
of population its emissions are much lower than the US but
its rapidly growing economic activity suggest that by 2025
it will surpass the US.
In a real sense, the countries of the Caribbean are paying
for the abuse of other countries.
Tourism is a significant contributor to the economic development
of many Caribbean countries bringing in some US$20 billion
in revenues and employing about a million people.
Small Caribbean countries, such as Antigua and Barbuda and
Grenada, which are highly dependent on tourism, know well
that major hurricanes can destroy years of development overnight
and it takes years and considerable financial investment
The private sector in the region is particularly challenged
by the effects of climate change.
Hurricanes inevitably affect hotels. Located on the coastal
areas, as many of them are, they are often the first casualties
Getting them functioning again is not only a matter of finding
the money to rebuild the physical infrastructure, it is
also the financial burden of convincing the market place
through advertising and public relations, that the country
and the property are open and ready for business.
With insurance companies raising premiums with each hurricane,
and commercial banks charging high rates of interest on
loans, plus the high cost of importing material, the cost
of doing business in the Caribbean becomes increasingly
more prohibitive in the face of climate change.
This observation is true too for non-tourism business. Heavy
rains and flooding affect agricultural production in the
small islands and in the mainland territories.
In Guyana, for instance, heavy and unseasonable rainfall
threatens the sugar and rice industries and makes dry-weather
roads from the interior dangerous if not impassable. In
turn, this affects the costs of transportation in critical
areas such as forestry.
What all this adds up to is that the region becomes less
attractive as an area for doing business.
The question arises: what can be done about it? The experts
call for programmes to be agreed at a global level that
would compel individual states, particularly the major users
of fossil fuels, to cut down on the emissions of harmful
gases. Attempts to achieve this have been lukewarm at best.
Despite the efforts of persons such as the former US vice
president Al Gore, with his book and film, An Inconvenient
Truth, the majority of people in the industrialised world
have not been moved to make changes to their lifestyles,
and many large corporations have shown marked reluctance
to implement measures that move away from the use of fossil
fuels since doing so would erode their profits.
One salvation for small island states and mainland territories
with low-lying coastlands is that climate change is beginning
to affect industrialised countries as well. They too have
low-lying areas that are threatened by the sea and by rivers.
In this connection, there have been efforts by some countries
to curb their harmful practices. The State of California
in the US has introduced legislation to curb emissions,
and China is increasingly using solar power to provide hot
water for domestic use.
So far in the Caribbean, the focus has been on measures
to mitigate the impact of climate change. These measures
have been viewed in the context of what individual countries
could do to limit the damage caused by disasters and how
best they might try to recover from them. But, no Caribbean
country has sought to introduce into trading arrangements
the matter of compensation for the damage being done to
the region by the emissions from the industrialised countries.
Yet, if the Caribbean is so low an emitter of harmful carbons
but is a major victim of the high emissions of many of its
trading partners, surely a formula could be worked out by
which the Caribbean trades its low use for meaningful development
No doubt, the trading partners such as the European Union,
who at 14 per cent, are the third largest emitter of harmful
gases, would argue that such a discussion should take place
in an international forum such as the World Trade Organisation
(WTO) or the Kyoto Protocol.
And, undoubtedly, if the Caribbean were to try to introduce
the notion of compensation for its low emissions and damage
caused by high emitters, there would be considerable resistance.
But every journey starts with a first step.
And, the Caribbean could take the first step by introducing
the concept in the African, Caribbean and Pacific group
and exploring whether, together, they might advance the
idea in the international institutions such as the UN and
The writer is a business executive and
former Caribbean diplomat
Responses to: [email protected]