REMARKS BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE,
ENVIRONMENT, NATURAL RESOURCES AND CLIMATE CHANGE
DR. HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
ON THE OCCASION OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE
UPDATES ON RECENT DUTY TRAVELS
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 8TH, 2023
Climate change is the single greatest threat to our survival and development. As small islands, we contribute less than a drop in the bucket to the problem, yet, stand on the frontlines of the climate crisis, experiencing the worst and most severe impacts soonest.
Gone are the days when there is a debate about whether climate change is real. We are now living the reality of climate change. Without drastic action, the world is on a path to exceeding global warming of 1.5°C within the next 10 years. In such a world, the unbearable heat of this summer will become the norm year round. Fragile, temperature-sensitive ecosystems like coral reefs are at high risk of disappearing. Mass sargassum landings will persist.
The risk of dengue and other vector-borne diseases will increase and new diseases will emerge. We could experience ‘runaway’ sea level rise and lose our beaches, low-lying coastal communities and coastal infrastructure. Even with a warming of 1.5°C, flash floods like the one we experienced on August Monday 2017 will become more common. On the other extreme, we can also expect more frequent and extreme droughts. Hurricanes like Irma and Maria will not be freak events but the hurricanes of our future. How many times can we afford to lose 200% of our GDP and take out hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to recover?
So, you see, climate change directly impacts every person, business and economic sector in The Virgin Islands. Climate change is the common denominator that has the power to cut down and set back any development strides we make. If we are to survive and thrive then, we must invest in adaptation – that is, actions to ensure our critical ecosystems, infrastructure, facilities, communities and economic sectors are more resilient to the various impacts of climate change.
But adaptation is very costly, more than we can afford. If we are to adapt then, we must be able to access the scale of financing that we will require over time, on the order of billions of dollars, from the developed countries that have created the climate crisis.
The COP28 is the shorthand for the 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Attending the annual conference is a priority for small islands development states. Some may assume that small islands matter least in the global negotiations on climate change, but let me tell you, we matter most! Not just because we are on the very frontlines, but because history reflects that all the major victories in the climate change fight, including the recent creation of the Loss and Damage Fund, have been championed by small islands who have an equal vote.
The UK Overseas Territories, like all independent small island developing states in the Caribbean, were represented at COP28. The difference is that while our independent neighbours have access to the billions of dollars available through the various financing mechanisms under the Convention, such as the Green Climate Fund, and will now have access to the trillions of dollars expected under the Loss and Damage Fund, the Overseas Territories, including The Virgin Islands do not have access to any of those funds. Nor does the United Kingdom provide any direct climate finance to the Territories. While the world is warming up, we are being left in the cold.
As the clock runs out on our window to adapt, this Government saw it as a priority to start the important work of advocating for access to international climate funds under the Convention and to also advocate for a dedicated UK Climate Change Fund for Overseas Territories. Without this win, The Virgin Islands will certainly fail on its development journey. Advocating requires firstly being at the table and this was the absolute imperative or necessity of attending COP28.
Towards this end, at COP28, Overseas Territory leaders, including Hon. Vincent Wheatley and I had a meeting with the UK Delegation on Wednesday December 6 and just this morning Hon. Wheatley represented The Virgin Islands in a meeting with Rt Hon Graham Stuart, UK Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero.
I’m pleased to report that as a result of the collective representation of the OTs at those key meetings at COP28, we now have agreement from the UK that the Territories will be engaged at the start of the cycle for the UK to prepare its negotiating strategy for COP29 and COPs going forward. This provides the critical window that we needed to ensure that our concerns and issues are considered in the process and have a chance to make it into the global negotiations.
Additionally, I’m very pleased to report that Minister Stuart was open and receptive to the ask for a dedicated UK Climate Change Fund for its Territories and we have agreed that the next step in materializing this be a formal request from the Territories, outlining the details of what is required, through the Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories as well as the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs which is responsible for climate change adaptation in the UK. Hon Wheatley also raised the concern for support on building resilience in the health sector which was also well received.
Our collective objective now should be how to build on the great work already done to establish a Climate Change Committee, develop a Climate Change Policy and legally establish The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund and the foundation laid at COP28 to access climate finance to ensure that we are not left behind as victims on the frontlines. The media can partner with Government on this to help highlight the special case of the Territories.