By Orville Williams
“The cost of climate extremes must be considered by all and at all levels, whether financing new hotels or [other] major infrastructural developments. The science is clear that climate change is already here and it will continue to get worse; our decisions must reflect this very fact.”
That was the advice from Foreign Affairs Minister, EP Chet Greene, as he presented Antigua and Barbuda’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) of its progress toward the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development on Tuesday.
With Barbuda still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and other climate events continuing to threaten, the country has embarked on a multifaceted campaign to achieve the SDGs and build greater resilience.
The campaign includes the creation of a National Adaptation Plan to assess climate risks in infrastructural development, food security and tourism, among other “priority sectors”.
Greene talked up this section of the campaign in particular, noting though, that will take some time and considerable funding to put the plans into action.
“Changing physical plans is a long and delicate process…for example, a change in the setback distance from waterways due to flooding will affect, at minimum, 10 percent of all private landowners and this requires extensive consultation,” Greene said.
“Adaptation planning is important. This, however, will take time to deliver results and climate change as we all know, is a tremendous cost.”
Accessing climate financing is another element of the approach being taken by the administration toward the SDGs and Greene commended the Environment Department for their work in securing “over 50 million USD [via] the Green Climate Fund”.
He spoke on the need for improvement in this area, referring to the recovery efforts for Barbuda after Irma’s passing.
“The payout from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) was less than 7 million USD, but our recovery needs exceeded 200 million USD.
“The difference still burdens us today, even though Hurricane Irma has long stopped making the headlines.”
The minister also called on financial institutions doing business in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Antigua and Barbuda, to “mainstream and prioritise climate risks and resilience”.
He noted that these actions are happening “for mitigation faster than for resilience”, pointing to the new Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, “which only takes into account and looks at emissions”.
Even the country’s emissions actions, he noted, are in the context of building resilience in the energy sector, meaning a similar balance can be adopted on a wider scale.
“We are installing grid-interactive wind turbines adjacent to our desalination plants, to ensure we have uninterrupted power supply, knowing that droughts in our country are already very severe,” Greene said.
Ambassador Walton Webson, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Antigua and Barbuda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), also addressed the virtual session.
He reiterated many of Greene’s points and spoke on the added threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, while assuring that he would continue to advocate for sustainable development within the SIDS.