Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley addresses the United Nations’ special committee on decolonisation on Monday at UN headquarters in New York. (Screenshot: UN)

The Virgin Islands and other island states are facing an “existential threat” because of the escalating impact of the climate crisis, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley has told a United Nations committee in New York.

Dr. Wheatley used his Monday address to the UN’s special committee on decolonisation to call for greater help for island states like the VI in combating increasingly severe weather patterns.

“I have made the journey here to New York under very challenging circumstances,” he said. “Five days ago, the British Virgin Islands experienced torrential rains that caused severe flash floods and landslides across the islands.”

Though he noted that no lives were lost in the floods, he said a “great deal” of the territory’s infrastructure had been impacted.

“The government, private sector and people are working together in communities around the territory to clean up in the aftermath of the rains,” he said.
Such weather events, he added, are linked to climate change.

“This is the second extreme weather event we have had to endure in five weeks,” he said. “In early May we also had torrential rains and flash floods that affected our infrastructure, particularly roads. These two recent events are a setback to our hurricane recovery efforts, which have continued ever since hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the British Virgin Islands in 2017, causing $2.3 billion in damage.”

Financing issues

Dr. Wheatley insisted that the international community needs to do more to help small islands address such problems.

Echoing remarks he made at a summit of small island developing states last month in Antigua, Dr. Wheatley said the VI and other non-independent territories are unjustly “locked out” of most climate finance.

“Climate justice demands that we are given access to concessional financing and grants based on our vulnerability to help us build our climate resilience to cope with the negative impacts of climate change on our societies,” he said.


The premier also used the address to push the case for more “self-government” for the VI.

Dr. Wheatley reported that Governor Daniel Pruce’s first quarterly review on the implementation of Commission of Inquiry reforms last month had been “largely positive,” but he said the territory needs greater autonomy.

“My administration sees governance reforms as a vehicle by which to better position the British Virgin Islands to achieve a full measure of self-government as we continue on the path of self-determination,” he said.

In a swipe at Britain, the premier also took issue with London’s power to override the VI Constitution via an instrument known as an order in council that was put in place after the COI report was published in 2022.

“We remain opposed to the [United Kingdom] policy of holding an order in council in reserve over the territory to suspend our Constitution if triggered,” the premier told the committee. “This is not in good keeping with the spirit of a modern partnership. The UK position remains that the order will be lifted when the governance reform programme is completed, whereas we believe there should be no prerequisite to doing so if there is a genuine desire for partnership.”

UN mission

Dr. Wheatley signalled that an upcoming visit to the VI by a mission from the UN committee would help spur debate on the territory’s future.

“The visiting mission will be very timely as the people of the British Virgin Islands are actively engaged in the process of considering their constitutional future, which cannot ignore the question of self-determination,” he said. “The visiting mission is a very important tool that the special committee has at its disposal to support the decolonisation of the 17 remaining non-self-governing territories.”

After the mission’s visit, he added, his government will further consult the public on planned constitutional reforms as it prepares for negotiations with the UK.