Friday, February 29, 2008

Caribbean countries should be compensated for global warming

Sir Ronald Sanders, a Caribbean diplomat, raises issues of climate justice and compensation in the Huntington News (West Virginia): The Caribbean is a victim of climate change caused by larger countries and yet no attempt is made to compensate the area for the damage being done to it by the profligate emissions of harmful gases by larger countries.…In a real sense, the countries of the Caribbean are paying for the abuse by other countries.

… With insurance companies raising premiums with each hurricane, and commercial banks charging high rates of interest on loans, plus the high cost of importing material, the cost of doing business in the Caribbean becomes increasingly more prohibitive in the face of climate change.

This observation is true too for non-tourism business. Heavy rains and flooding affect agricultural production in the small islands and in the mainland territories. In Guyana, for instance, heavy and unseasonable rainfall threatens the sugar and rice industries and makes dry-weather roads from the interior dangerous if not impassable. In turn, this affects the costs of transportation in critical areas such as forestry.

What all this adds up to is that the region becomes less attractive as an area for doing business.

The question arises as to what can be done about it? The experts call for programme to be agreed at a global level that would compel individual states, particularly the major users of fossil fuels to cut down on the emissions of harmful gases. Attempts to do achieve this have been lukewarm at best.

…One salvation for small island states and mainland territories with low lying coastlands is that climate change is beginning to affect industrialised countries as well. They too have low lying areas that are threatened by the sea and by rivers.

…So far in the Caribbean, the focus has been on measures to mitigate the impact of climate change. These measures have been viewed in the context of what individual countries could do to limit the damage caused by disasters and how best they might try to recover from them. But, no Caribbean country has sought to introduce into trading arrangements the matter of compensation for the damage being done to the region by the emissions from the industrialised countries.

Yet, if the Caribbean is so low an emitter of harmful carbons but is a major victim of the high emissions of many of its trading partners, surely a formula could be worked out by which the Caribbean trades its low use for meaningful development assistance.

No doubt, the trading partners such as the EU, who at 14%, are the third largest emitter of harmful gases, would argue that such a discussion should take place in an international forum such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or the Kyoto Protocol. And, undoubtedly if the Caribbean were to try to introduce the notion of compensation for its low emissions and damage caused by high emitters, there would be considerable resistance.

But every journey starts with a first step. And, the Caribbean could take the first step by introducing the concept in the African, Caribbean and Pacific group and exploring whether, together, they might advance the idea in the international institutions such as the UN and the WTO.

Map of Caribbean Islands by Raimond Spekking, Wikimedia Commons

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