Hurricane Beryl Leaves a Trail Destruction But Also Reignites Debate on Climate Change

Hurricane Beryl Leaves a Trail Destruction But Also Reignites Debate on Climate Change

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados –  As Hurricane Beryl makes its way towards the United States on Sunday, it has not only left a trail of death and destruction in the Caribbean, but has forcefully reignited the debate as to the role developed countries have and continue to play in warming the earth, resulting in severe storms like Beryl that took less than a week to become a category 5 hurricane.

hurvingrenHurricane damage in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (CDEMA Photo)The Secretary General of the 15-member regional integration grouping, CARICOM, Dr. Carla Barnett, said it has been a “frightening start” to what is forecast to be a very active hurricane season.

“The devastation to our region has brought sadness to everyone,” she said, acknowledging that “the immediate focus has to be on restoring normalcy to our people and communities, and building resilience as we face the rest of this hurricane season, and beyond”.

In February this year, global temperatures surpassed 1.5 degrees Celsius and prior to the state of the 2024 Atlantic Hurricane season, the World Meteorological Organization (WTO) warned that this record could be smashed again this year, which will lead to the loss of more lives and livelihoods and place national systems and services under intense pressure.

“This pressure is disproportionately borne by Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Despite making up only three per cent of the world’s land area, SIDS are vital for the whole of humanity and the planet we share,” said the Dominican-born, Commonwealth Secretary General, Patricia Scotland

“They safeguard 11.5 per cent of the ocean’s exclusive economic zones, which include seven out of 10 coral hotspots and 20 per cent of all terrestrial bird, plant, and reptile species,” she added.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, whose Grenadine island of Union took a sever battering from the storm,  said his message was simple.

“For the major emitters of greenhouse gases, those who contribute most to global warning, you are getting a lot of talking, but you are not seeing a lot of action – as in making money available to small-island developing states and other vulnerable countries,” he said, describing the  United Nations Climate Change Conferences (COP) as mere talk shops.

Antigua and Barbuda, which was one of nine countries, including Vanuatu and Tuvalu, that successfully brought an action before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea last September, was pleased with the “historic opinion” rendered by the court as the country prepared to host the fourth international conference on SIDS towards the end of May.

The court said emissions from fossil fuels and other planet-warming gases absorbed by the oceans count as marine pollution and that countries have an obligation to mitigate their effects on oceans.

The countries had asked the Hamburg-based court to issue an opinion on whether carbon dioxide emissions absorbed by the oceans could be considered pollution, and if so, what obligations countries had to address the problem.hurunionHurricane damage on Union islands (CDEMA Photo)

The court ruled in an expert opinion that “anthropogenic GHG emissions into the atmosphere constitute pollution of the marine environment” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“It is certainly a historic opinion, one that will inform future action by SIDS and other countries that are concerned about climate change and the impact of climate change,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

The senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Joie Chowdhury, “for the first time, an international court has recognized that the fates of two global commons — the oceans and the atmosphere —are intertwined and imperiled by the climate crisis,”.

Ocean ecosystems create half the oxygen humans breathe and limit global warming by absorbing much of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities. However, increasing emissions can warm and acidify sea waters, harming marine life and ecosystems.

But even as the SIDS were basking in the court’s ruling, Beryl, which was described on some occasions as a “dangerous and monstrous” storm brought the Caribbean region back to reality.

The UN Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Simon Springett,  said the message coming out of the SIDS conference in Antigua was a demand for climate justice.

“When we say climate justice, it links to …financing for both adaptation and mitigation,” he said, adding that the Grenada government “has been trying for a very long time …to build some resilience and now this gets wipe out.

“These countries all have a very high GDP (gross domestic product) to debt ratio and reconstruction…quite frankly does not get done on grant based financing and these governments are not able to take loans at concessional rates”.

The UN Resident  Coordinator for Jamaica, The Bahamas, Bermuda, The Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands, Dennis Zulu; said that the vulnerability of the small island states had been reinforced at the SIDS conference , adding “the fact that most of them are deemed to be high income countries …dealing with reconstruction is obviously a challenge.

hurcariaHurricane damage on tthe Grenadine island of Cariaccou“If you have as we are anticipating this year, a minimum of 20 hurricanes coming and this lead to huge devastation of infrastructure, the resources, I mean the …fiscal space these countries have is limited” in terms of being able to respond and react.

‘So as some countries…like Barbados, where the Prime Minister is requesting  a re-look of the international architecture to be able to take into consideration the vulnerabilities of Caribbean states in their accessing of concessional grants is very important.

Barbados has since 2022, been pushing for the international community to  adopt the so-called Bridgetown Initiative that targets the financing problem by creating more sources from which developing countries can borrow to mitigate and recover from the climate crisis.

Led by the island’s Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the Bridgetown Initiative outlines a set of proposals aiming to address the specific challenges that countries vulnerable to climate change face and that the international financial system is currently failing to solve.”

The initiative has opened space for debate about the global economic and financial governance in the context of the climate emergency and an acknowledgement that major systemic changes are required for countries to escape their debt, development, and climate crises.

The specific mechanism of a disaster clause represents a successful innovation on the part of Barbados and other Caribbean countries, building on the introduction of a “hurricane clause” by Grenada in 2015 and an outcome of its own skilful negotiation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bridgetown proposes that an automatic debt suspension in the case of an emergency be included in all lending going forward, but this needs to be applied to all debt, retroactively and across the board, in order to make a real difference.

Mottley has said repeatedly that the climate funding available to SIDS amounted to just “a drop compared to the rest of the financing going for man made problems like war.

“The problem is that there is a serious disparity in the pricing of capital between the global north and the global south. We therefore have to start where we can make meaningful progress and we believe that is in the area of finance,” she added.

St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Phillip J Pierre, whose island was not as severely devastated by the storm, like his other Windward Islands counterparts,  told his citizens, while they had been spared the “worst for now…you never know when our turn will come”

His Dominican counterpart, Roosevelt Skerrt said the truth of the matter is, many Caribbean people do not study climate change or think it impacts their lives.

“They think it is something politicians talk about at international gatherings that has no impact on them.

“Our lamentations and our advocacy to the developed world with respect to climate change, the frequency and the ferocity of these storms are manifesting themselves,” Skerrit said, adding “climate change is indeed an existential threat to our survival.

“We are just spending money in the Caribbean responding to disasters. Money that should be spent on development, health and education and infrastructure, we basically have to keep replacing infrastructure and  if you just keep replacing you will never get to the point that you want to get.

Skerrit said at a time when every single country has its own unique challenges, he tries not to get “upset…or angry at the developed world, but this is really unfair to us in this part of the world”.

He said commitments had been made in terms of compensation by the developed countries have not borne fruit and that the situation now is that regional countries are forced to spend scarce resources every month in dealing with climate change events, including droughts, and that “we are no longer waiting for every year too prepare…for the hurricane season.

Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Ambassador Fatumanava Dr. Pa’Olelei Luteru, said “for decades we have been straining to ensure the world hears our calls for urgent, increased ambition on climate action.

“We have warned and warned that climate change impacts will only get worse. We have pleaded with bigger countries to commit to the essential pathways so our world can limit global warming to 1.5C and avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.

“Yet, we continue to be sacrificed on the frontlines of a climate crisis we did not cause. Our sea temperatures grow warmer, encouraging storms to strengthen at alarming speed and increasing the dire threat to our developing countries. The increased danger is evident for the world to see,” he added.

The grouping of 39 small island and low-lying coastal developing states said it refuses to be the sacrificial lambs paying the price for industrialised countries’ obsession with fossil fuel proliferation.

“If the world does not stand with SIDS now, it is only a matter of time before we are all lost,” AOSIS has warned.

The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has activated its Regional Response Mechanism (RRM), mobilising resources such as personnel, equipment, and financial assistance for territories most severely affected by the storm.

Through the RRM, which is being operationally spearheaded by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), personnel are now on the ground in impacted territories carrying out the necessary physical and social needs assessments to effectively support coordination of the first line response.

“We are committed to providing immediate and effective support to the communities affected by Hurricane Beryl,” said CDB’s acting president,  Isaac Solomon.

The Antigua and Barbuda government said it would be making a case at the upcoming meeting of the COP 29 conference to be held in November in Azerbaijan, for the Loss and Damage Fund to be put into immediate effect in light of the devastation caused by Hurricane Beryl to multiple Caribbean countries.

“When we go to Azerbaijan in November for the next COP meeting, we will be pushing hard for the capitalization and the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund.

Additionally, one of the recommendations that we will be making to all SIDS is for them to set up a Disaster Contingency Fund to be capitalized by proceeds of the Loss and Damage Fund to be replenished from time to time. We should not be in the situation where we have to have these pledging conferences and trying to determine where we are going to get resources from to recover,” Prime Minister Browne added.

The Loss and Damage Fund  was designed to provide crucial support to vulnerable nations facing the brunt of climate-related challenges. Its scope  includes human mobility, which means countries, communities and organizations will be able to apply for money under the Fund to address human mobility needs.

For example, in the decade between 2012 and 2022, 5.3 million new internal displacements caused by disasters were registered in the Caribbean.

Several countries have already announced pledges to the Loss and Damage Fund, including the European Union, Japan, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States during COP 28.

As of January this year, total commitments have already amounted to US$661 million.

On Sunday, the outgoing CARICOM chairman, and Guyana’s President, Dr. Irfaan Ali said Hurricane Beryl had also severely impacted the regions agricultural sector and could affect the regional plan to reduce the food import by by 25 per cent by 2025.

“The initial assessment is heart-wrenching to our farmers, the government and to the people of these countries. It is heart-wrenching because of the tremendous investment, tremendous policy commitment and budget support that has been placed on the agricultural sector since 2020.

“The investment in infrastructure, water systems, technology, crop variety, farm support, and farm-to-market infrastructure, many of these countries would have lost all of these investments.”

Ali said that the initial assessment of the impact of Beryl on the agricultural sector including the aquaculture sector “not only shows that we have lost years of hard work and investment but the immediate damages to infrastructure, corps and livelihoods from the agricultural and fisheries sectors, is in the tens of millions of dollars, that’s a desktop initial review>

He said Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, St Lucia, and Barbados that were all affected by the storm “were on track mostly in achieving the 25 by 2025 targets set by themselves”.

He said an initial assessment is “sad” and that Hurricane Beryl in some instances would have damaged or completely wiped out the agricultural sector.

“So not only is the initial investment and cost of damage is concerning to me as lead head in agriculture but to me it is also the long-term investment cost to rebuild, the infrastructure, to find resources, to recapitalise the farmers….

“As you know most the farmers and fisherfolk are not insured, a lot of the crops damaged are long term crops also, seven years duration to maturity, to get high yielding variety, to get intercropping in place whilst reinvestment is placed in those long term crops.”

Ali said that there are a lot of short-medium and long-term issues in the agricultural sector in the region that must be addressed in the region and be addressed in a comprehensive way.

He said assistance would be sought from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and and other institutions.

“I am very concerned also that this is only the beginning of this hurricane season and we have already seen such a major setback. This setback in the totality of the economies of these countries but I am speaking specifically on the area I have responsibility for…

“I know the tremendous improvement, tremendous investment and the tremendous goodwill that this sector has received from the government and farmers, as a result of activism and the strong work by different government and ministries and farmers, there has been a renewed vigour in the increasing the agricultural output in all of these islands,” Ali lamented.