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Insight: Stepping In The Right Direction But Challenge Is Immense

By KHRISNA RUSSELL

Tribune Chief Reporter

krussell@tribunemedia.net

FORMER United Nations President Maria Espinosa has said The Bahamas is on the right track when it comes to the collective global war on climate change.

The country can now proudly boast of being among dozens of nations around the world that have banned single use plastics and deemed it illegal to release balloons into the air.

However, Ms Espinosa told The Tribune that while these are important steps, they might not be enough to safeguard this archipelagic nation from the dangers of climate change.

There has been no greater example of the effects of climate change than the disaster and utter destruction suffered by Bahamians when Hurricane Dorian pummelled Abaco and Grand Bahama. Thousands are now left to piece together lives that were once comfortable and sure.

Scholarly articles contend “the strongest hurricanes in the present climate may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes over the next century as the Earth’s climate is warmed by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”.

The Bahamas is not a contributor to this, meaning the culprits are larger countries that have amassed gigantic populations and vast industries.

China, the Unites States, United Kingdom, Brazil and Russia are among the world’s largest contributors to climate change.

Combined along with many other nations, their greenhouse gas emissions have led to climate change.

“I think what The Bahamas has done are very, very important steps,” Ms Espinosa said.

The Ecuadorian politician and academic was the president of 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly 2018/2019. She was the fourth woman in history and the first from Latin America and the Caribbean to preside over this body since it was founded in 1945.

“As president of the United Nations General Assembly one of my strongest campaigns was against single use plastics. We launched the campaign from Antigua and Barbuda. We launched that campaign starting with the Caribbean with the idea of protecting the same policies worldwide and we have succeeded.

“So I really applaud and congratulate the decision of The Bahamas to ban single use plastics and the balloons idea. Of course it’s also a very wise decision because it all contributes to fight climate change.

“But you’re asking me is that enough? The Bahamas is carbon negative. I mean that it is the victim of climate change and the emitters are elsewhere.”

“So basically it comes down to climate justice, international co-responsibility,” she continued.

“Shared responsibility, collective action, especially looking at the countries that are most vulnerable. This is really not about charity and what we saw during Hurricane Dorian last September is exactly what can happen to a vulnerable country.

“We are speaking about $3bn dollars in losses affecting mostly Grand Bahamas and the northern Abaco area. It really had huge devastating effects.

“The response capacity of the government has been strong, but it is not enough.”

She said international communities should act and act quickly to make sure that resilience building efforts are continuous in countries like The Bahamas.

“This is ensuring The Bahamas is well funded and supported and for that you need wisdom within the financial system, the multilateral bank system, access to concessional funding.

“…Technology transfers to expand the coverage and new energy matrix on renewable energy. There are so many things that need to be done and too accompany the efforts of The Bahamas.

“We have seen extraordinary commitments, great response capacity from the government and we need more of the international co-responsibility that as mentioned goes beyond charity and cooperation. It is a matter of burden sharing and climate justice.”

Ms Espinosa believes a key part in getting the wheels of global responsibility spinning lies with the Organisation of America States.

She said during her 25 years negotiating on climate change, there had been no climate change position stated on members’ behalf from the OAS.

“The OAS should have climate change in its agenda. It should use its convening power be brokering roles.

“Its capacity to interact and discuss with the multilateral banks with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to bring the agenda especially of the Caribbean countries to the consideration and team up the OAS with CARICOM for example as a very powerful negotiating platform on these issues. I think that we need to hear the voice of the OAS in climate discussions and negotiations but that’s also true for all of the other main discussions worldwide.

“We haven’t heard the voice of the OAS in the global development agenda and advocating for the sustainable development goals for (or) for example the fight against poverty and inequality. We haven’t heard the voice of the OAS in the international community on these critical matters.

“If you take the issue of security and the drug problem that’s an issue where the OAS countries have done great. (This is) where there is a very avant-garde mechanism and a peer review system on efforts that countries are doing to fight drug trafficking for example. But when you are at the global level, like the UN where I have been president, we don’t hear the OAS voice or the OAS contribution even though we have successful examples and concrete outcomes to show and share worldwide.

“The same goes for the agenda on migration and refugees. Our hemisphere faces huge challenges with migration and refugees and the right platform is the OAS because we all are either countries of origin, transit, destination or the three at the same time and there has been little progress on putting together our policy that has worked.

“So I think that the OAS should really be apart of the global conversation on the issues that are of concern in the hemisphere.”

As this will take time, there is more Bahamians can do, Ms Espinosa said.

And it will definitely require more than a single use plastics ban and a balloon release fine

“I think that to fight climate change there is no one single action that will do. It’s an entire development model that has to come into place, new energy matrix relying heavily on renewable energy. Solar is one option, but wind energy and other options are there so there is a need for investment.

“I think the private sector should also take its part. I think the Bahamas and several Caribbean countries need to form sustainable and responsible tourism and there also needs to come into place connections to reduce emissions (and) perhaps more importantly resilience and adaptation to climate disasters. This is extremely important.

“So here it’s not only an issue of plastic bags, which is important but it is the entire development model that has to come into place.

“But yet again I am saying that the Bahamas is a victim of the effects of climate change and by no means it is a big contributor. So what have to happen are checks and balances in losses and damages because of climate change and international co- responsibility has to happen.

“The $100bn per year that was promised under the Green Climate Fund has to come to fruition and a fast track lane of access to these funds have to be put in place especially for the countries that are most vulnerable like The Bahamas.”

Ms Espinosa further recommended that Bahamians officials continue to be a strong voice in international communities to advocate for climate reforms, considering its vulnerability.

“I have seen the Bahamas strongly advocate and put forward its case, but in the world scene it is also extremely important that multilateral organisations support and team up with specific countries to have a louder voice and attraction for the negotiations. I think that that’s what the OAS should do in transitioning, accompanying and advising the countries when they put forward their agendas.

“Once again what I have seen in The Bahamas is a great response capacity - a strong leadership internationally.

“I have benefitted myself from the wisdom of The Bahamas. I have used the ambassador of the Bahamas to the United States to lead the negotiations for the political declaration on the sustainable development goals for example, so you know The Bahamas is a key player in the international arena.”

This she said has to continue for marked change in the fight against climate change.

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