World View: Time The Polluters Are Made To Face Up To The Destruction They Are Causing


Caribbean small states should be readying themselves for a major joint push to make the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) a landmark occasion for compensation for the damage caused to them by the world’s worst polluting nations.

COP 23 will take place in Bonn, Germany, in early November and it will be Presided over by the Government of Fiji – a Pacific small state with intimate knowledge and experience of the damaging effects of climate change.

The case for compensation for damage to small states as a result of climate change has never been stronger than it is now. 2017 has witnessed record-breaking climate disasters across the globe – in the United States (US), Mexico, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. Back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes cut a swathe through the Caribbean in September from which the affected islands will not fully recover for many years to come.

Importantly, these hurricanes have also caused thousands of people, whose homes, schools, hospitals and businesses have been decimated, to seek refuge in other islands. These people are, in effect, “climate refugees”, ripped away from their history, their culture and their identity. Their plight has been created by ferocious storms not caused by their own actions but by profligate carbon emissions (CO2) by rich nations.

A World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report published on October 30, says concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at a record-breaking speed in 2016 to the highest level in 800,000 years. According to the report: “The abrupt changes in the atmosphere witnessed in the past 70 years are without precedent.”

The WMO chief, Petteri Taalas, said: “Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement.” In plain-speaking, that means the world is on course for warming beyond the two degrees Celsius target and probably higher than the three degrees Celsius that governments loosely mooted last year. At those temperatures, many islands will drown and coastal areas of mainland countries, including in the US, will be lost.

The possibility of the climate refugees returning to their homes in the short to medium term is remote. But it is not only the refugees that face hardship, the receiving islands are also incumbered with additional costs of unexpectedly providing services for them. The island of Antigua, for instance, is now a haven for the 1,600 inhabitants of Barbuda and another 3,000 from Dominica at costs it can ill afford.

For the independent Caribbean countries, the rebuilding process is daunting; they simply don’t have the money. Worse for them is that because they are measured by the palpably false criteria of high per capita income, they don’t have access to aid, grants and concessional loans. Their only prospect for rapid rebuilding is to borrow money on arduous commercial terms that would increase their debt to unsustainable levels. In any event, it would be impossible for them to borrow the huge sums that rebuilding requires. The damage on Barbuda, for instance, is approximately 14.2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Antigua and Barbuda; on Dominica it is more than 100 percent.

Without international assistance, the levels of economic development and social improvement they had achieved, prior to hurricanes Irma and Maria, will take many years to re-establish.

This disastrous situation, coupled with the fact climate change is now forcing people from their land and their homes, make concerted action by small states imperative at COP 23 in Bonn.

The message clearly has to be small island states and countries with low coastal areas are being irreparably damaged, and their people are being made refugees by the rich, polluting nations of the world who must face-up to their obligations to pay compensation for the damage they have so far caused and agree to now tackle climate change meaningfully.

Even if, year after year, Caribbean and Pacific islands expend huge sums of money on re-building infrastructure, homes, businesses, hospitals, schools, airports and ports to higher standards of resilience, they remain vulnerable to continuous climate destruction, and increasing numbers of climate refugees, until such time as the world’s polluters curb CO2 emissions and halt climate change.

That message must be delivered in Bonn in a united, strong and loud voice by small states. And strong alliances have to be forged with organisations such as OXFAM and Greenpeace. It is time the polluters are made to face-up to the destruction and dislocation they are causing, and resolve in a legally binding way to stop.

In the meantime, these very polluting countries that control the world’s financial system, including the international financial institutions, should put in place immediate measures to compensate damaged countries. They should also provide access to the funding small states urgently need to make themselves better prepared for the destructive climate demons that have already been unleashed upon them.

The immediate measures should include: forgiveness of debt owed by small states to other governments and international financial institutions or rescheduling of such debt over longer repayment periods at nominal interest; assumption by developed nations of commercial debts to institutions in their countries, including Paris Club debt; payment of premiums for disaster insurance by governments; access to grants and highly concessional loans from the international financial institutions that must set new criteria for eligibility, casting away per capita income as a basis of judgement and replacing it with more meaningful measurements of need.

Small countries, damaged by the excessive pollution of large and rich nations, should not be compelled to cope by themselves with the unemployment, poverty, inequality, disease, dislocation of people and the refugee communities created as consequences of climate change.

Small states should go to Bonn determined to raise their voices in complaint, to point fingers at where blame lies and to insist on compensation that is their due.

The planet Earth is shared by all mankind, not by a few; its bounty is the common property of all nations, not only the rich; the burden of its care must fall to all, not primarily to the small and vulnerable.

• Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com

The writer is the Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organisation of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own.


Porcupine 2 years, 10 months ago

Dear Sir Ronald Sanders, That you continue to couch your arguments in the language of the ruling class, and the fact that you have gained the "Sir" in your name and presumably collect a salary for your guidance suggests to me that we try another approach. It is not the "rich" countries that have had such an impact on climate change. It is the rich people of every country who have had the luxury of living so far beyond the limits of earth's carrying capacity. That's your blind spot. Where do we go from here to achieve your stated goals? The compensation must come from somewhere in these "rich" countries. If you haven't heard, the rich people are getting richer and the majority of working people in these rich countries are getting poorer. Where will the leaders of these rich countries get the money to compensate the small vulnerable island countries? From taxing the working people in the US and Britain, where life expectancies are already falling for the first time in modern history. You know why right? When you suggest that the rich countries pay up, you do realize that the leaders of the world's most powerful nation doesn't even admit global climate change has anything to do with human activity. This will be a hard sell, don't you think? You would be hard pressed to provide me with any new science. I've been following it closely. Perhaps we can agree on the following: The scientists studying these issues suggest that we are in uncharted territory. They have never seen, nor imagined, that such environmental changes could occur so rapidly and so massively. I think we could agree that our world needs a rapid and decisive revolution in the way we live and do business. Here's my suggestion; Replace every human being that has ever had a political position in any government in the world. Why? Because despite saying that we have democracies, study after study shows that nearly no government in the world behaves according to the wishes of its' people. So, if we want collective, intelligent and far reaching mature solutions to the very real problems that are right in front of us, the obvious answer is to eliminate all those who have stood in the way of this occurring. The belief that our current ruling elites have the world's, or the people's, best interests at heart are delusional. The great disparity in wealth and income are entirely man-made and designed to make the rich richer and the rest of us poorer. Do you not honestly see this Mr. Sanders? With all your education! To me the answer to the problem of eliminating as much human suffering on the planet as possible is to dismantle the entire status quo, as messy as it may appear.


Porcupine 2 years, 10 months ago

The world's largest polluter is the US military. Eliminate it. The world's ruling elite is allowed to oppress the world's people. If there was a time for globally revolution, to overthrow the entire ruling elite everywhere, it is now. If there was ever a time to destroy the financial centers of the world in Britain and the US, it is now. For, they are the ones who fund both sides to every war, install and support brutal dictators, and choose profit over decency every single time. They are the ones who steal the world's resources for their own, with no real compensation to those whose land the resources are on or under. And lastly, though by no means complete, we should eliminate from positions those who continue to sing for their suppers by giving credence to the corrupt, selfish and life destroying elite ruling class of the world. That class would include you, Mr. Sanders. You are among the most dangerous of all, Mr. Sanders, for you continue to use your credentials and position to call for half measures. Measures that would allow the ruling elite to maintain their billion dollar bank accounts of riches stolen from the working people of the world. You would continue to allow the private yachts, private jets, mansions, absentee ranches, to be owned by the corrupt few while saddling with more debt and taxes the working people in every country. Yes, Mr. Sanders, things must change. But, you have saddled your horse to a system that is inherently corrupt, unjust, un-Christian, and short-lived for a living planet. We didn't get to this point in time by acting on the wishes of the people of the rich countries. Responsibility should be laid firmly at the feet of those who did the most damage. These people are the ruling rich elite who have had their way with us for decades and centuries Yes, Mr. Sanders, we need a complete about face, for most honest scientists are telling us that humanity itself may face extinction in the very near future. This is no time for half measures. It is time for a complete and thorough change in the way we have been doing business. The vast majority of the world's people can see this. Can you Mr. Sanders, from your ivory tower?


Sign in to comment