By Shermain Bique-Charles
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has told the United Nations climate conference COP27 that oil giants must pay for damages from climate change and rising sea levels.
Browne told the summit underway in Egypt that it was high time fossil fuel companies were made to pay a global carbon tax on their profits into a loss and damage fund for vulnerable countries.
Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) on Tuesday, Browne said that in the first half of this year, six fossil fuel companies alone had made nearly €70 billion (US$70 billion) in profits.
This, he said, was more than enough money to cover the costs of major climate damages in developing nations.
Fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change, accounting for more than 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, according to the UN.
Browne called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and collective action to reduce emissions, saying that 30 years ago, parties had agreed to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system.
“Today, emissions have already passed dangerous levels, and yet there is still no operational financing mechanism for loss and damage.
“Today, for small island states such as mine, the soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth resonates with a hammering significance. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” Browne said.
He continued, “and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Tomorrow was pledged every year for the 27 years of these COP meetings. An entire generation has been born and grown to adulthood. And yet, tomorrow has not come”.
According to the Antiguan and Barbudan prime minister, governments and corporations come to the conference each year delivering grand statements with lofty commitments.
But these commitments, according to him, are only partially honoured.
“While [small island developing states’] economies are being decimated, the oil and gas industry continues to earn almost US$3 billion daily in profits. In the last 50 years, their profits averaged one trillion dollars per year – and are expected to double in 2022,” he explained.
“Profligate producers of fossil fuels have benefited from extortionate profits at the expense of human civilisation.
“While they are profiting, the planet is burning. If this continues unabated, our entire human civilisation will be imperiled.
“The time has come for us to move from advocacy to action, that is full implementation of the climate agenda to save our planet from near total destruction.”
The prime minister also called for urgent collective action to reduce emissions and to end fossil fuel subsidies, the proceeds of which should be redirected and used to fund adaptation, mitigation, and loss and damage, especially in small island developing states (SIDS).
“Financing to address loss and damage and a recommitment to keeping 1.5 alive, in the face of the current energy crisis, are the key critical success factors of COP27.
“Loss and damage should not be seen through the divisive and controversial lens, but as a form of climate justice for climate change’s hapless victims and a decarbonisation accelerator,” he said.
Calls for a loss and damage fund have been a recurrent theme at this year’s conference.
“The adoption of the agenda item is just one step and we look forward to the establishment and operationalisation of the fund by 2024,” Browne said.
“After 30 years, SIDS should be demanding much more. Establishing a new multilateral loss and damage fund is a small token when our members are losing up to 200 percent of GDP in one day,” he added.
A report released in June by 55 vulnerable countries estimated their combined climate-linked losses over the last two decades to top US$525 billion – or about 20 percent of their collective GDP.
Leaders from almost 200 countries have gathered at COP27 – the UN’s 27th ‘Conference of the Parties’ climate change conference – which began on November 6 and runs until November 18.