UN body wants debt relief for hurricane-ravaged Caribbean countries

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UNITED NATIONS (CMC) — The United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Monday presented its debt for climate adaptation swaps proposal for Caribbean countries ravaged by recent hurricanes.
ECLAC outlined the proposals during the first of the two-day high-level conference at the United Nations’ headquarters here.
The Caribbean Community-UN high level pledging conference, ‘Building a more Climate Resilient Community’, is convened by Caricom, with support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
ECLAC said the conference looks to mobilise international support for its members devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last September.
“… Especially, financial and technical assistance support is being sought,” said ECLAC at the technical meeting that was opened by Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque and UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
“It is expected that the conference will highlight vulnerabilities of the Caricom SIDS (Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States) and provide an opportunity for the affected countries to share a vision for achieving the ambition of becoming climate-resilient nations,” ECLAC said.
ECLAC’s director of the sub-regional headquarters for the Caribbean, Diane Quarless, in her address, paid tribute to the “indomitable resilience of spirit demonstrated by the government and peoples of the countries devastated by the recent superstorms”.
ECLAC said it conducted its “damage and loss assessments” methodology in Anguilla, the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Saint Maarten and the Turks and Caicos Islands, following the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“We are resolved to collect the data that present the most accurate picture of the degree of the subregion’s vulnerability to extreme climatic events,” Quarless said, adding that the most vulnerable are already facing the impact of climate change.
“It is estimated that 70 per cent of the beaches in the sub-region are losing shoreline at a rate of between one quarter and nine meters each year. This is more serious when you consider that about 70 per cent of Caribbean populations, dwellings and infrastructure are situated on low-elevation coastal zones,” she added.
Quarless also indicated that ECLAC has undertaken substantive research and focused economic assessments of the challenge that climate change poses to the economies of the Caribbean across a range of sectors, including agriculture, freshwater, health and tourism.
She said ECLAC has provided a framework, complete with data, parameters and other measures, that can be used to inform economic policy dialogue in responding to this challenge over the medium term.
“It is for these reasons that ECLAC has been championing a debt for climate adaptation swap initiative; our contribution to addressing at once the crippling debt of the Caribbean economies and their need to generate the resources needed to finance resilience-building measures”, Quarless said.
The director of ECLAC’s Economic Development Division Daniel Titelman presented details of this proposal, based on the creation of a Caribbean Resilience Fund, which is expected to provide financing for investment in climate resilience, green growth, and structural transformation in the economies of the region.
ECLAC said this proposal, which was originally launched in late 2015, has already been put into consideration in several international forums.
Titelman said the total Caribbean debt burden rose to US$52 billion in 2015, representing more than 70 per cent of the sub-region’s gross domestic product (GDP).
He said this debt has been “rooted in external shocks, compounded by the inherent structural weaknesses and vulnerabilities, particularly extreme weather events.
“The accumulation of debt has been caused by increased expenditures to address the impact of these extreme events and climate change attendant difficulties, since most Caribbean countries are located in the hurricane belt and are also prone to earthquakes and other hazards,” Titelman said.
Additionally, he warned that the upper nmiddle — and high-income classification of the majority of Caribbean countries “poses a number of challenges, among which the most important are limited access to concessional external finance and a decline on official development assistance to the Caribbean”.
Titelman also said gross domestic product per capita criteria fail to take into account threats from natural disasters, such as hurricanes and economic shocks.
In this context, he said ECLAC’s debt relief proposal for the Caribbean aims to help these economies mitigate and adapt to the consequences of climate change, while trying to reduce the debt burden, increase growth and achieve the sustainable development goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

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