Government Climate Change Officer Angela Burnett-Penn videos in from Dubai to a press conference with Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley on Dec. 8 to discuss their travels to the 28th Conference of the Parties climate change meeting. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

This month at the 28th Conference of the Parties in Dubai, leaders from the Virgin Islands and other overseas territories opened the door to securing more climate-change funding through the United Kingdom, according to Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.

The announcement came during a Dec. 8 press conference, where Dr. Wheatley reviewed his recent engagements with UK and OT leaders at the Dubai conference and at the Joint Ministerial Council last month in London.

COP28, convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was still ongoing as of the press conference, and the premier invited attendee Angela Burnett-Penn, a government climate change officer, to video chat from Dubai.

Costly undertaking

Dr. Wheatley stressed the growing need for small island developing states including the VI to adapt to changing climate conditions that are bringing hotter summers with longer droughts, more flash floods and stronger storms.

“But adaptation is very costly — more than we can afford,” he said. “If we are to adapt, then we must be able to access the scale of financing that we will require over time, on the order of billions of dollars, from the developed countries that have created the climate crisis.”

He noted, however, that many territories like the VI aren’t eligible to access resources like the Green Climate Fund. Prior to COP28, the premier promised that he and leaders including Health and Social Development Minister Vincent Wheatley would endeavour to speak with UK officials about alternative funding avenues, and he reported on Dec. 8 that they at least opened the door.

Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley stressed the growing need for small island developing states including the VI to adapt to changing climate conditions that are bringing hotter summers with longer droughts, more flash floods and stronger storms. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

“I’m very pleased to report that [UK Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero Graham] Stuart was open and receptive to the ask for a dedicated UK Climate Change Fund for its territories, and we have agreed that the next step in materialising this be a formal request from the territories outlining the details of what is required,” Dr. Wheatley said.

Asked who would assist with writing this formal request, Ms. Burnett-Penn said it would be a joint effort by multiple OTs in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

She added that territorial leaders would be assisted by technical advisors in creating a document that clearly details their priorities for adapting to the impacts of climate change, the scale of funding needed, and a proposed funding structure to ensure the most important needs are met.

“There will, of course, need to be further dialogue, including at the political level,” she said.

Leadership turnover

Dr. Wheatley said this formal request would involve OT Minister David Rutley and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for climate adaptation in the UK.

The premier said Mr. Wheatley “also raised the concern for support on building resilience in the health sector, which was also well received.”

While maintaining communication with UK officials has presented a challenge with the frequent turnover of OT ministers, Dr. Wheatley said the VI has sought to be consistent in its presentation of the territory’s needs.

Ms. Burnett-Penn added that she feels more optimistic about the territory’s ability to ramp up its climate change resilience after the recent discussions with UK leaders. She noted that it is “not something that will necessary happen overnight,” but they have established the next steps.


Ms. Burnett-Penn, who was scheduled to present on several topics at COP28, also said VI leaders gained greater access to important meetings at the conference.

“This year at COP28 was extremely significant for the Virgin Islands and all the overseas territories in the fact that this is the first time that all of the overseas territories were afforded the opportunity to actually attend a Conference of Parties,” she said. “It’s important to note that this is not a conference where we can just determine that we would like to show up. We actually have to be accredited through an entity or a country that is party to the convention.”

She said the VI joined as part of the UK delegation.

Dr. Wheatley added, “I’m pleased to report that as a result of the collective representations of the OTs at those key meetings at COP28, we now have agreement from the UK that the territories will be engaged at the start of the cycle for the UK to prepare its negotiating strategy for COP29 and COPs going forward.”

He continued, “This provides the critical window that we needed to ensure that our concerns and issues are considered in the process and have a chance to make it into the global negotiations.”

Both he and Ms. Burnett-Penn noted that this year’s conference generally focused on larger-scale discussions about how to collectively work toward combating climate change rather than any one environmental threat.

She said the conference also provided valuable opportunities to meet with fellow members of the Caribbean Community and Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.

Her presentations on subjects like the territory’s Climate Change Trust Fund and expanding mangrove restoration efforts should be made available to the public online, she said.

Dr. Wheatley said he’s heard from people critical of his foreign travels while legislators were in the midst of Standing Finance Committee deliberations to work on establishing next year’s budget.

But he expressed his full confidence that government colleagues acting in his stead, including Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer, capably performed their duties during the deliberations.

Dr. Wheatley added that he would be reviewing the budget proposals coming out of SFC in depth before heading into debate in the House of Assembly on Dec. 18.

JMC meeting

The premier’s recent travels also included attending the JMC meeting in mid-November in London.

On Dec. 8, he said that meeting was dominated by debate surrounding a declaration about reforming the relationship between the UK government and OT governments.

The communique typically published shortly after JMC meetings has not yet been issued, but Dr. Wheatley said he expects it to come eventually.

“I would imagine that because the declaration has to be agreed upon by cabinets of the overseas territories, including the BVI’s, that’s perhaps why the communique hasn’t gone out yet,” Dr. Wheatley said, adding that he is awaiting a formal update.