What happened in Dubai this month at the United Nations Climate Change Conference won’t stay in Dubai.
It will have wide-ranging ramifications for the Virgin Islands and the wider Caribbean as the world warms.
As policymakers converged at the meeting better known as COP28, they discussed the slow progress that the world is making toward cutting carbon emissions. This topic is of vital concern to Caribbean residents, who are among those most affected by rising sea levels and other adverse effects of the climate crisis.
We are heartened that the VI government made the issue a priority by sending a delegation led by Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.
The Dubai meeting, the 28th conference that the UN has convened on the topic, aimed to assess work to reduce emissions since the groundbreaking Paris Agreement came into force in 2016.
That treaty aimed to limit the increase in global average temperature to below two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, but policymakers and scientists have since recognised the need to hold warming limits to the even lower 1.5-degree level.
Meeting that goal, the UN has said, means that greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and fall by some 43 percent by 2030.
Unfortunately, the world is far behind. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a statement last month describing countries’ efforts to date as “baby steps” and urging much more urgent action.
Without it, Caribbean states and other island nations across the globe will suffer more and more.
There are some signs that world leaders are beginning to step up to the challenge.
One takeaway of the meeting was that leaders have pledged to “operationalise” the “loss and damage fund” that they agreed to create at the COP 27 meeting in 2022. That fund, to which countries such as United Arab Emirates and Germany have pledged to donate $100 million each, will be used to help poorer countries deal with the staggering effects of a warming planet.
This step is urgently needed. It will take real resources and sustained effort to combat the impact of extreme weather events like the 2017 hurricanes in the VI, to shore up food security, and to compensate coastal nations for the loss of coral and other sea life from ocean acidification and other potentially catastrophic effects.
The premier, then, is right to attend COP28. We hope that his conversations in Dubai and collaborations with other Caribbean leaders will yield rich support to fund climate change adaptation projects here and across the region.
But he and his team must also get to work here at home.
An important step in that direction was his government’s recent re-appointment of the board of the Climate Change Trust Fund, which was established in 2015 but has never been funded. As soon as possible, government must provide the body with substantive funding (by which we mean millions of dollars annually) from sources including the tourist environmental levy as initially envisioned.
Additionally, VI leaders should resurrect the well-conceived 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Policy. The great majority of that policy’s goals — most of which were set for completion in two to four years — remain undone, and successive governments have failed to hold the five-review that the policy requires.
The VI and other Caribbean islands and developing countries across the globe have contributed the least to increasing carbon emissions. It makes sense that the largest contributors pitch in the most to meet this existential threat to humanity.
But the territory must play its part at home as well.