‘The polluter must pay’ – PM Browne seeking legal redress against big CO2-pumping nations

Prime Minister Gaston Browne has regularly used the damage done to Barbuda by Hurricane Irma in 2017 as an example of how vulnerable small island states are to climate change (File photo)
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By Orville Williams

[email protected]

Prime Minister Gaston Browne has declared that a recently-formed commission, representing the climate change interests of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), is actively planning to seek legal redress from industrialised countries for their role in the impact of climate change on the SIDS.

The Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law was established on Sunday with an official agreement between Antigua and Barbuda and Tuvalu, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.

“It is the heavy polluters, they are the ones who are creating the problem and as far as we see it, the polluter must pay.

“There has to be a mechanism [to allow for] compensation for loss and damage, which incidentally is one of the areas that was not discussed in any significant way at this [event],” PM Browne said while speaking to the BBC at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.    

The partnership between Antigua and Barbuda and Tuvalu echoes the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of small islands in the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the South China Sea.

Two of those most important sentiments are that SIDS collectively contribute less than one percent of global carbon emissions, yet are arguably most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and that wealthier countries which are responsible for most of the world’s pollution are not contributing anywhere near the level of support – financial or otherwise – required to prevent and/or mitigate the climate change effects on SIDS.

For these reasons, Browne said, the time has passed for SIDS to be merely asking for the needed assistance.

“We’re now seeking legal advice on the issue of loss and damage, and to go the legal route to develop a compensatory mechanism for loss and damage.

“It’s unfair to these countries that repeatedly have to borrow to repair damaged infrastructure.”

The PM explained that, under the commission, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will be tapped and they will contact the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea – the independent judicial body established by the convention – to “get some directions as to how we deal with the issue of the liabilities arising from these heavy polluters”.

He added that the judgement they receive from the tribunal will be used as a mechanism to force the “heavy polluters” to settle wherever there is damage [as a result of climate change].

The Prime Minister also spoke on the general discussions taking place at COP26, with many world leaders issuing ‘doomsday’ warnings and renewed commitments to address climate change.

He told the BBC that, for far too long, there have been countless empty promises and failed objectives. “We want to see increased ambitions, not just talk,” he stated.

And one of those “increased ambitions” he has been calling for for some time is an adjustment to the lending criteria that is based on GDP per capita. This, he maintained, does not adequately account for the significant losses faced by small states as a result of climate change.

“A country like Antigua and Barbuda has been placed at a significant disadvantage. We’re considered to be a wealthy small island state and, generally speaking, the international community does not take into consideration the vulnerability of the country.

“We’ve been pushing for the developed countries [and] the international financial institutions to eliminate that per capita income criteria and to [instead] look at the vulnerability of the country, because when your country is destroyed by a hurricane, you have human suffering and [they’re] using this per capita income criteria, then it is insensitive.”

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) kicked off in Glasgow last Sunday and is scheduled to run until November 12.

PM Browne led the Antigua and Barbuda delegation to the event and is joined in Scotland by Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, Sir Molwyn Joseph and Director of the Department of Environment, Ambassador Diann Black-Layne.

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