December 4, 2009

Facing up to the climate challenge


IT WAS MOST refreshing to hear Prime Minister Gonsalves, at his Press Conference on Monday of this week, take up the cause of Climate Change and the grave danger it poses to life on this planet. The Prime Minister was speaking on his return from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which concluded in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the day before.{{more}}

At that summit, the threat of Climate Change was central to the discussions and a consensus arrived at in terms of common actions to combat the danger as well as a unified approach to the upcoming global summit on the issue to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The dangers of Climate Change have been emphasized repeatedly over the past decade in particular. However, persons with vested interests in placing profits before the welfare of humanity and the preservation of our environment have used their influence either to prevent global agreement on joint actions to be taken or to frustrate implementation of those agreements made. The Caribbean, a region of small island states with fragile eco-systems, is particularly vulnerable. Yet for some strange reason, we seem not to have taken the threat with the seriousness it deserves. In spite of growing evidence of changing weather patterns, increased coastal erosion and other related effects, neither governments nor people of the Caribbean seem to have placed climate change sufficiently high on the agenda.

The Port of Spain Summit has provided the opportunity to change all that. The Consensus as expressed in the Declaration made it plain that not only is climate change “a predominantly global challenge”, but that it poses an undeniable threat to the “… security, prosperity, economic and social development of our people”. The Declaration also makes the link with social well-being, stating that this challenge is “… deepening poverty and affecting the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals”. The Consensus clearly pointed out the grave threat to the most vulnerable – small island-states, low-lying coastal regions and the least developed countries, whose needs “must be addressed” urgently.

Out of this analysis, a broad platform for united action has emerged. Not only in terms of intra-Commonwealth efforts, but also in terms of using the considerable potential of the Commonwealth for influencing global policy such as at Copenhagen. The multi-ethnic Commonwealth is well-placed to do this, for it represents one-third of the world’s population, spread over all the continents and touching all the oceans. In addition, five of the world’s most influential nations as gathered in the so-called G20 group are members of the Commonwealth. The grouping has the global diversity and potential clout necessary to help to forge global solutions on such issues as climate change.

The call for urgent action from Port of Spain must, therefore, be welcomed by all Caribbean peoples. It must not just be a demand for financing for governments, but must be manifested in a clear commitment to public outreach. How could we teach our children geography without a clear understanding of the threat posed by climate change? How could we have Ministries of the Environment without real programmes of public education as to the implications of climate change? Do people who live in Gorse understand the dangers for them directly, and how can we bring them to arrive at such an understanding? What does climate change mean for our farmers, for tourism in the Grenadines, for our beautiful yet very vulnerable environment?

Recognition of the threat as global can only mean commitment on a scale that is total. We can only ignore the threat to our own peril.