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It's Caribbean lives at stake

Mia Mottley

Sunday, October 07, 2018

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The following is a lightly edited transcript of a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, delivered on September 28, 2018:

I came here with a speech that is impossible for me to deliver. Events have happened in the last 24 hours in the world in which we live that cannot be ignored: Whether in my own country — the passage of a tropical storm that we thought had passed us, only to have floods hit too many of our communities overnight or for it to hit our sister country St Lucia — whether an earthquake off the shore of Martinique and Guadeloupe and Dominica this morning, not affecting land but destabilising; whether an earthquake off Indonesia earlier today and a tsunami; or whether a typhoon that is about to deal with the people in Japan. These events are of concern because the world in which we live is a very different world.

And I ask myself what does it matter? Last year the prime minister of Dominica stood from this podium within days of the passage of a hurricane so violent that to describe it as Category 5 would be to do injustice to what the people of Dominica were exposed to.

You heard my colleague, the prime minister of Antigua, speak earlier of the fact that over $140 billion in damage came to the Caribbean through these weather systems.

And I ask, therefore, the interpreters today to bear with me, because it is impossible to deliver a speech that is focused on anything else other than our reality in the Caribbean, our reality in the Pacific Islands, our reality in the world in which we live.

We have asked, as heads of governments, for us to address these issues whether in the Paris Agreement, or whether as we come to COP24 to be seen against a background of a 2-degree change, but two days ago in the One Planet Summit a graph was given that has haunted me for the last 48 hours. That graph spoke to the fate of the world with respect to the tipping points for 3 degrees and under; for 3 to 5 degrees; for over 5 degrees. And, for 3 degrees and under, which we are on course for reaching because of our inability to take decisive action, it means that the Arctic, the Antarctic, Greenland, and the people of the coral islands, the people of the region from which I come, are at risk.

For us it is about saving lives. For others it is about saving profits.

We have reached the stage where we ask the global community to recognise that what is at stake is simply not an academic debate. It is simply not the profits of multinational corporations, but the evidence is clear and decisive that it is the lives and it is the living of our people.

I ask us how do we listen to speech after speech after speech? How many more must we listen to before we realise that the agreements that are necessary to fund climate change, the agreements that are necessary to cap us not at 2-degree change because 2-degree change, means a rise in sea level of one and a half to two meters for our islands.

And for those islands like ours, where much of our economy is based on our coasts, then you begin to understand what it will be like by end of this century for us.

Matters pertaining to migration and security will become ever present in this world if we do not make a stop. So I have come here today not to talk on everything. There are those who would wish that I would speak on denuclearisation and our voice will be heard and our speeches, my speech will be distributed. There are those who would wish that we should also speak on a matter that is affecting our community gravely — chronic non-communicable diseases; and we shall speak on that continuously in other fora because it is affecting one in every four of our citizens.

There are those who would ask that I speak also of the graduation of middle-income countries from access to finance. And that, ironically, affects our ability to be able to adapt our environments, our economies, our societies to confront climate change, to confront the vagaries of it. But when we make these arguments in fora, after fora, after fora, we are met with a stern face and determination that our per capita income — as if that is a real factor in how people eat and how people move and how people sleep — should now preclude us from being able to access the very funding to protect our people from the worst ravages of the storms, earthquakes, and fires.

I ask this global community to pause because, as we learned when we went to San Francisco two weeks ago for the Global Climate Summit and Action on Climate Change, time truly is running out on us.

We will make the decisions that we have to make at a national level. We have committed to ban single use plastics and styrofoam from April of next year. We will ensure that we can try to become a fossil fuel free country by 2030, but what does this mean against the background of a world that is not prepared to put the funding in place to be able to stop those worst aspects of climate change? What does this mean to people who are relying on a Green Climate Fund because their per capita income or their capacity to be able to provide for their people is simply not there?

Is this a sterile environment or is this an environment that recognises that, mighty or small, we must protect each other in this world? We, as a small State, are accustomed to being treated sometimes as if we don't exist. That's what happened when derisking from correspondent banking became the order of the day for the last few years — as if you can cut off a region from being able to have access to trade and to be able to pay for goods and services because its banks can no longer have relationships with banks outside of its borders. Countries that come here as sovereign countries begin to ask themselves: Do we now live in a world where the mighty manoeuvre to make the majority minions? Or is this still a world that to us was promised in the universal declaration of human rights, the respect for the dignity of all?

We, as small states, need a corridor of stability. We simply do not have the buffer to be able to withstand the shocks of international economic crises and financial crises; the ability to withstand climate shocks; the capacity to come to grips with the pervasive nature of chronic NCDs. These are the things that destabilise us, but when to that is added the removal of the insurance policy of the United Nations — an organization that may not be well-known or popular by name among our citizens, but an organization without which we could not make the gains that we have made with respect to childhood mortality being reduced, with respect to billions of people being lifted out of abject poverty, with respect to us being able as a world to create zones of peace as we hope our Caribbean region will always be; not like in previous centuries when it became the theatre of battle.

This United Nations matters! It protects the small! It constrains the large! And it gives us the ability to be able to plan out in that corridor of stability.

When multilateralism is taken away from us, what are we left with and who is left to protect us? Who will hear us? And on whose platform shall we make the cry to be able to call upon, not just the Governments of the world, but the people of the world?

What is clearly required now is a behavioral change to be able to constrain the madness that is taking place for global governance with respect to the unilateral actions of many.

We ask ourselves how do our citizens feel that we must come here year after year and make the call as we do. We come here and we speak about the embargo against the people of Cuba year after year almost as if it is proforma but it is not proforma for the people in Havana or Santiago. We speak about territorial disputes but we see no major gains with respect to them. That may be alright for those other things, but it cannot be alright for the issue of climate change. This is a matter of life and death for us.

We stand here conscious that today's world in many respects looks like the world of a hundred years ago in which my grandparents inhabited. The concentration of wealth, the inequity, the disposition to nationalism, the presence of xenophobia, and what did that lead to a hundred years ago? Two world wars and an atomic bomb!

There are some who may say that it was the presence of those wars that gave us the creation of this organisation; because it allowed nations to agree in circumstances where they would not otherwise agree. I pray truly, that this world does not need to see greater calamity or greater loss of life to understand that what is required of each and every one of us as we stand in trust on behalf of the people whom we represent is decisive action. We are not expected to achieve it all. The Talmud says we are not even expected to complete the task, but we are not at liberty to resile from it.

We in the Caribbean need the world to look again, and in the Pacific, to look again, at a commitment of 1.5-degree change, because 2 degrees is calamitous. We need dedicated financing for development in the Addis Ababa action plan that speaks to small island developing states. We need the world to recognise that that graph that showed the tipping points cannot reinforce in us our greatest fear that the world believes that we are dispensable; for that was how we felt centuries ago.

I ask that in the same way I understand that our principles must remain constant, for 50 years ago, 52 years ago, the first prime minister of Barbados stood at this podium and indicated a principle which binds us still today, that we shall in the conduct of our international relations be forever friends of all and satellites of none. That is still our principle, it's absolute, but the world in which we live is no longer the world that existed when he delivered those comments. The baton has been passed from leader to leader, but it is time now for us in this room, and in my country, to recognise that the baton must be held firmly because the storms and the tsunamis, the hurricanes and the earthquakes, the fires threaten to take the baton from us.

I pray that this organisation recognises that 2020 is but 15 months away, and that there will be a point of no return. This is not a science-fiction movie. This is not a cartoon. And if I ever thought that it was a fantasy, what transpired in the last 24 hours across the different poles of the world has reminded me that it is not. I leave here to cut short my trip to go home to my country.

Some may say that, in spite of the flooding, we were lucky that Tropical Storm Kirk did not do greater damage. Two weeks ago in San Francisco, it was Isaac. I say simply that we cannot plan our affairs, or that of our people, on the basis of luck. It must be on the basis of policy and decisive action, but, above all else on the basis of caring and empathy.

I ask the world to pause and let us get this one right, because it is not about governments any more. It is about people.

Mia Amor Mottley is prime minister of Barbados.

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