By Orville Williams
As calls for more action to be taken in the climate change fight intensify, civil society is being urged to play its part by holding the leaders representing them on the international stage accountable.
Where Antigua and Barbuda is concerned, Prime Minister Gaston Browne currently occupies the most visible role in that fight, having recently formed a commission – alongside Prime Minister Kausea Natano of Tuvalu – with the objective of getting legal redress from nations deemed to be major polluters and contributors to climate change.
Despite that move, however, PM Browne has been called out by environmentalists for hypocrisy. They claim that his approval and/or support of development projects that threaten to destroy the environment makes him unsuitable to fight the climate change fight on the nation’s behalf.
Lending his expertise to that debate, Dr James Fletcher – former government minister and chief climate change negotiator for St Lucia – insisted that the PM is indeed qualified to lead the charge, whether some like it or not.
“I don’t think Prime Minister Gaston Browne is [the wrong messenger for the climate change message]. I think every single leader of every single Small Island Developing State (SIDS) and climate-vulnerable country is the right messenger.
“The politicians [and other] leaders are extremely important in the international arena in making the noise on behalf of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), regardless of what their domestic politics is.
“They have a legitimate reason, a locus standi, where it qualifies them to speak on behalf of their country, given what is happening to their country.
“What happens domestically and what they do domestically is another issue, and I think that’s where we have to mobilise civil society, to ensure that they match what they say internationally with what they’re doing domestically.”
Instead of resisting the PM’s authority where the international representation is concerned, Dr Fletcher encouraged environmental activists, community groups, faith-based organisations, labour unions and non-government organisations (NGOs) to focus on pressuring his and other leaders’ actions on the ground.
Doing so, he noted, is an important factor in the whole process and is likely to prove more practical in achieving a favorable outcome.
“When they get home, you have to use their utterances in the international arena to remind them of things that they say…civil society and the media plays an extremely important role in this.
“In highlighting the inconsistencies, the discrepancies, the incongruences between what they’re saying and what they’re doing, you almost shame them into doing what needs to be done.
“So, it’s a fight that has to be fought on two different levels and I say that as a former member of parliament and a former government minister.”
Dr Fletcher was speaking at a recent climate reparations event, hosted by the Commonwealth Foundation, alongside Payam Akhavan – legal counsel for the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law, and Sabra Nordeen – the Maldivian Special Envoy for Climate Change.