Thursday 6th March, 2008


Global warming

Caribbean countries should be compensated

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By 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 world’s 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 to recover.

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 of storms.

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 assistance.

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 WTO.

The writer is a business executive and

former Caribbean diplomat

Responses to: [email protected]

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