The front lines of climate change

Several Caribbean leaders are gathered in The Bahamas this week for the Regional Meeting to Prepare for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt in November.

This is a strong showing of leadership on this matter and Prime Minister Philip Davis, who has made the climate change issue a focus of his, is no doubt pleased to be hosting high-level colleagues for the talks.

In so doing, Davis is building on the work previous Bahamian prime ministers have done to raise global awareness on the impact of climate change on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like The Bahamas.

We were pleased that all three former prime ministers were present at the opening of the conference at Baha Mar yesterday.

On the ground, however, many Bahamians do not see the issue as a priority item, notwithstanding the horrific videos that circulated on social media as Hurricane Dorian pounded the Abacos and Grand Bahama in September 2019, and the widespread coverage of its destruction.

For many, cost of living issues are more urgent, as is the case elsewhere.

In April, CBS News reported that with issues like the economy and inflation, crime, and the war in Ukraine weighing most on Americans’ minds, the percentage who think climate change needs to be addressed right now has dipped some since one year ago, but most Americans do think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed now or at least in the next few years.

The European Commission reported on a survey last year that showed that European citizens identify climate change as the single most serious problem facing the world.

Multiple studies have shown that SIDS are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. While these small states contribute least to global warming, they stand to suffer the most.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development noted in March that for SIDS to survive climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, they need to adopt an integrated approach that promotes economic diversification, innovative financing instruments, and scaling up the blue economy.

It is a message that Davis and colleagues continue to promote as the need for urgent action by small and large states becomes even more urgent.

Our very survival depends on what is done collectively to address the crisis now.

Last August, a report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.

Researchers found that climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe with human influence contributing to many observed changes in weather and climate extremes.

The report projected that in the coming decades climate changes will increase in all regions.

IPCC predicted that coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st Century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.

For SIDS, there are special concerns and interests.

Addressing the climate conference yesterday, Davis stated, “If we advance our interests merely as individual Small Island Developing States, our voices will be dispersed, unable to be heard above louder, wealthier, carbon-producing interests.”

He noted that the Caribbean has been identified as the region with the largest number of indebted countries, due in many cases to borrowing associated with recovery efforts from the impact of climate change.

The prime minister also pointed out that many Caribbean states have already faced challenges in accessing climate-related funds.

“By acting in common cause, we can move with more authority and with greater impact to address legacy issues which have held us back from making meaningful progress,” Davis said.

“… Let us work together to construct a joint solution in respect of climate risk insurance and other climate risk facilities. And let us take practical steps to improve access to climate finance.”

The Bahamas and regional states are wise to strengthen their joint approach in placing the interests of SIDS at the forefront of the global climate agenda.

The urgency of this existential threat cannot be overstated.

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