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(CMC) – In a week of marathon speeches at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), no theme was unequivocally more worrisome for Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries than the lack of support – whether financial and otherwise – for Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
Caribbean leaders, therefore, continued to lament this paucity, saying that global policies, programmes and strategies remain “unfairly unaccommodating” to the “very real and true challenges” facing SIDS.
St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said that, while the halls of the UN General Assembly echo with the words of SIDS and MICs’ (Middle Income Countries) leaders, year after year, making plain and clear the challenges they face, “little or nothing changes.”
He said his country remains economically vulnerable to de-risking and the loss of correspondent banking relations, and that regional countries remain out of reach of any access to concessionary finance, adding that their reputations are “unfairly tarnished by tax labels.”
“We continue to struggle under the weight of international frameworks that do not provide an enabling environment for my country to chart an effective sustainable development path, or even to be able to take control of our own destiny,” Chastanet said.
His St. Vincent and the Grenadines counterpart, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves said, like other Caribbean SIDS, his country faces challenges to sustainable development, limited resources, and susceptibility to natural disasters and climate change.
He, thus, urged “solidarity and equality” from UN member-states to deal with these challenges by invoking a “recommitment to the bedrock foundations of our (UN) Charter.”
Gonsalves said that the global financial architecture has been reassembled with “little more than cosmetic changes,” and that economic difficulties have caused many nations to look inward.
He charged that “craven demagogues” have exploited economic hardship, and that “illiberal intolerance has risen in all corners of the world.
“Solidarity has been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency,” Gonsalves declared, underscoring the need for integration, cooperation and consensus-building.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne called for inclusion of all member-states of the United Nations in the discussions of global financial reforms, saying that there can be no real comprehension of the grave vulnerability of SIDS to external shocks, high levels of poverty and high debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios without inclusion of all UN member-states.
“A few privileged nations are making decisions that impact the livelihood of billions. The exclusive clubs of the G7 (Group of 7 of the world’s industrialized powers) and G20 (Group of 20) cannot repair the fragmented international financial system, without taking full account of the circumstances and views of the majority of the world’s nations.
“Nor can the Commission of the European Union, which now seeks to impose its own anti-competition, high tax policies on developing countries around the world,” he added.
Browne said arbitrary rules, set by unrepresentative bodies, for their own narrow purposes, have no legitimacy in the world.
“Enforcement of those arbitrary rules by threat and sanctions of the mighty is not legitimate. It results only in grumbling and reluctant acquiescence that lacks enduring support.”
Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness called for partnerships in tackling climate change impacts and economic fragility in SIDS.
He said galvanizing an effective global fundraising campaign to address climate change and achieve sustainable economic growth is key for SIDS, expressing deep concerns over his country’s vulnerability to what he described as “a raft of social, economic, environmental, financial and trade-related hazards.”
“Together with persistent challenges linked to climate change and more frequent intense weather events, these all impact the pace of our development,” Holness told world leaders.
Underscoring that many SIDS are extremely indebted and vulnerable, he highly commended the work of UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to tackle the gap for middle-income countries.
The Jamaican leader further reiterated his call for collaborative partnerships with international financial institutions, UN member-states and the private sector to mobilize funding for Jamaica’s sustainable development.
For Trinidad and Tobago, the myriad multidimensional threats that litter the international development landscape threaten efforts toward universal sustainable development, the eradication of extreme poverty, peace and security and the enjoyment of fundamental human rights by all.
“The existential threat posed by unmitigated climate change and global temperature increase, the undeniable challenge of extreme poverty, violent extremism, gender-based violence, and the spread of new and infectious diseases is one that is best faced together, as member-states of the United Nations,” r Dennis Moses, the Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, told the UNGA.
As the bastion of international peace and security, human rights, sustainable development and the rule of law, Moses said the United Nations, as an institution, is “compelled to adopt a shift in its approach to ensure adequate, effective and efficient responses to the challenges of our time.”
In her maiden address to the UNGA, the Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley said the sovereignty of SIDS and other vulnerable countries must be respected and advanced, adding that “the meek have no less a right to exist in dignity than do the mighty.”
She said platforms, such Rio and Rio+20, the Barbados Plan of Action, the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation, the SAMOA Pathway, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as founded on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the reform of the Security Council and of the UN itself, “must provide the architecture for transformation for the people who most need to be lifted out of poverty and moved out of the way of serious threats to their survival and sustainability.
“Today’s leaders are again fighting battles for non-interference, respect, recognition and rights that many of us thought had long been won by a previous generation. Economic colonization is replacing physical colonization.
“A creeping trend against multilateralism threatens to undermine, and, perhaps, even reverse, the effort and achievement of more than 70 years of collectivism. This should concern us all,” she said.
Suriname reiterated its rejection of being classified as a middle-income country, saying that it is a matter that should be addressed urgently.
The Foreign Affairs Minister of the Dutch-speaking CARICOM country, Yldiz Pollack-Beighle, said efforts to steer CARICOM member-states on the right path towards development are “worsened by obstacles that are unjustifiable and not of our making.”
“Our classification which, like many other developing countries, including in the Caribbean, is solely based on GDP (gross domestic product) per capita, does not reflect our vulnerabilities,” she added. “We strongly reject this unrealistic categorization, which disregards the full set of challenges that we face.”
Pollack-Beighle said access to concessional financing for Suriname’s development is “critical to allow for the implementation of social programs to benefit all our citizens.”
She said correspondent banking and de-risking, “further aggravated by unilateral actions, among which blacklisting and the arbitrary seizure of funds without due regard to the severe consequences to the community, including businesses and families, remain obstacles that we do not have any influence on.
“An atmosphere of trust and political will is crucial, and should lead to dialogue and cooperation in order to address all matters of concern,” the foreign affairs minister said.
Noting that 2019 will mark 25 years of the United Nations’ support to the SIDS Agenda, Belize’s Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred P. Elrington said his country joins in the call for a renewed commitment to the special case of SIDS and for “systematically targeted support” to respond to the particular needs of SIDS, such as those identified by the Caribbean SIDS in the San Pedro Declaration adopted in Belize in August.
Elrington said the destructive hurricanes and storms, “which ravage the Caribbean year-on-year, are a constant reminder of the true scale of vulnerability facing SIDS in the Caribbean.”
“It is hoped that, through the implementation of his reform plan, the Secretary General will explore ways in which the UN development system can better accelerate the implementation of the SIDS Agenda,” he said.
St. Kitts and Nevis said while it welcomes funding mechanisms established to assist countries, particularly highly vulnerable SIDS, “the process must be transparent, easily accessible and, most importantly, the commitments from donor countries must bear fruit.”
“The international community cannot on the one hand claim to help SIDS while, in the same vein, classify us as middle and high-income countries, based on archaic financial models that ultimately deny access to critical developmental assistance and hinder investment financing,” Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris said.
“We reiterate our calls for the international community to address with urgency the sterile measure of per capita income now employed. Equally important, the issues of disaster risk insurance and recognition of the unique vulnerabilities of small states must be addressed.”
For Dominica, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Maria’s ravages last year, Foreign Minister Francine Baron said the Caribbean Risk Insurance Fund, which paid out funds vital for the immediate relief efforts, does not have the capacity to insure against loss and damage.
She, therefore, proposed that the United Nations oversee a “Climate Loss and Damage Insurance Fund, where premiums are paid by those who have contributed most and continue to contribute to climate change, and that pay-outs go quickly to those who suffer the direct consequences of climate disasters, once independently declared to be such.”
Baron said ending the inequality that separates those who gain and those who lose will “remove the fuel lines of climate change.
“This is what an international community serious about halting climate change, must do,” she urged. “We urge you to do this, and we hope your feet are swift, because we can no longer afford to wait. Our people needed sanctuary and safety yesterday, not tomorrow.”
Stating that the Global Climate Challenge offers the Caribbean an opportunity to not only highlight its vulnerability but to also focus on the distinct advantages of being small states, Grenada wanted the Caribbean and other SIDS to serve as “test cases” for nationwide implementation of climate-related technologies and advances.
Foreign Affairs Minister Peter David said being climate smart goes beyond policies.
“It goes beyond resilient housing, resilient infrastructure and resilient agriculture,” he said. “It means that the region can also serve as a global beacon for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
“We aim to not only be resilient, but, with our region’s tremendous potential in hydro-electricity and geothermal energy, we could also be climate smart,” he added.