THE United Nations climate conferences – of which COP28 is the latest incarnation – have perhaps too often been seen as talking shops. Lots of talking, not as much doing.
So it is promising that the latest event began with progress.
Delegates at the event in Dubai agreed to introduce a loss and damage fund. This would be for small island development states and other vulnerable territories. That includes us. The Bahamas has certainly been among nations affected by climate change – as the impact of storms such as Hurricane Dorian can show.
These climate conferences have been fertile ground for Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis. His speech at the Glasgow-held event, COP26, sparked international headlines and announced the then-new Prime Minister on the international stage.
At the time, he said: “We are out of time, colleagues. A recent study declared that The Bahamas had the cleanest air in the world. Other studies have shown that our distinctive, beautiful, aquamarine seas are a magnificent carbon sink. Our seas reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The Bahamas is not now and never has been the problem. But yet we are forced to pay the price.”
He told the conference: “We in The Bahamas will do what we can,” he said, “but the limits of what our nation’s effort can accomplish are stark: we cannot outrun your carbon emissions, we cannot outrun the hurricanes which are growing more powerful, and we cannot outrun rising sea levels, as our islands disappear beneath the seas.”
In this column, we applauded his words – as we have applauded a succession of Prime Ministers who have spoken out about the dangers of climate change and the existential threat it brings to The Bahamas.
We also said at the time that beyond words we hoped there would be action, saying that we hoped that he could help to bring about the real action that is needed to help us all.
So to see the start of this new conference begin with the agreement over the loss and damage fund is promising.
We must also be blunt, however. The fund that has been agreed is not enough. Yet.
The United Arab Emirates pledged $100m to the fund. So did Germany. Add another £60m from the UK. The US contribution is somewhat smaller - $17.5m – while Japan adds $10m. All welcome, but when one considers the widely reported cost from Hurricane Dorian of $3.4bn, though that figure is thought to be short of the real cost by some margin, you can see those sums will not go far in the case of cataclysmic climate change damage.
But it is more than there was yesterday, and lays the foundation for more still. That start is an acknowledgement of the need to contribute to the costs of damage – now it’s a question of just how much.
Action should of course not just be on the international level but the local level, and we have our own actions we should take here at home to reduce emissions. If we are asking others to take action, we should lead by example where we can.
For years, we have seen these meetings held and then followed by an absence of action. This change may not be enough to make a radical difference – but it is progress, and that should be welcomed.