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Foreign Affairs Minister leads bilateral talks with the US on vaccines and climate change

By Orville Williams

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In his capacity as Pro Tempore Chairman of CARICOM, Minister of Foreign Affairs EP Chet Greene recently led a group of Foreign Ministers across the region in bilateral talks with United States Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, over urgent issues impacting the countries, including access to vaccines, the impact of climate change and financing.

Perhaps the most urgent of the lot is the access to vaccines, considering the sustained impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the drive to get the younger, eligible population inoculated.

The ministers voiced the importance of receiving the second tranche of Pfizer vaccines from the US, following last month’s delivery of the first tranche. The second tranche was scheduled to be delivered this month, and Antigua and Barbuda received just over 17,000 doses as part of that initial delivery.

While expressing their gratitude for the US’ generosity, the ministers noted that it is imperative that the schedule is maintained, given the fact that many countries – including the twin-island nation – are now experiencing a spike in infections largely fueled by the Delta variant.

Recently-implemented vaccine mandates, coupled with the potential expiration of some doses already on island in Antigua and Barbuda, could mean additional vaccines will be required in short order.

Climate change and concessional development financing were the other items on the docket at Tuesday’s virtual meeting. The ministers expressed concern over the failure of developed countries like the US, to meet the commitment to provide US $100 billion per year by 2020, to assist developing countries to adapt to climate change.

According to CARICOM, there was also a strong emphasis on action being taken at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, to “scale up the ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions to ensure that the global temperature rise is curtailed at 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.”

Failure to do so, according to the group, “would imperil the existence of CARICOM Member States,” while a request was also made for a subsequent meeting with US Climate Envoy, Secretary John Kerry.

Emphasis was also placed on the fact that, given the classification of most CARICOM States as high or middle-income countries, they could not access concessional development financing, due to the use of GDP per capita as the main criterion.

This, the ministers reaffirmed, affected the ability of their respective countries to fund adaptation measures for climate change, along with the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and natural disasters.

They underlined the importance of putting new models of financing in place and using more appropriate criterion based on vulnerability.

Greene thanked Sherman for the meeting on behalf of the ministerial delegation, noting the importance of such structured and meaningful engagement. The Deputy Secretary of State, in turn, assured that she had taken note of the concerns and would be relaying them to Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken.

The COP26 summit will be hosted by the UK and is scheduled to run from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow.

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