During the COP21 in Paris, ECLAC hosted a side event in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat. The event, held on 8 December, considered the possibilities for integrating the twin imperatives of pursuing climate resilience and debt reduction with a proposal for debt for climate adaptation swaps.
The Hummingbird sat down with ECLAC Caribbean Director, Diane Quarless, who chaired the event, to get her perspective.
Q: What were the immediate outcomes of the ECLAC side event?
A: Our principal objective at this stage is to get the word out on the existence of the proposal; on ECLAC’s rationale for initiating it; its vital importance to the economic future of our subregion, and to secure the buy-in of the member states of the Caribbean, as well as the receptivity of the partners who will be central to ensuring the success of the proposal in its implementation. In this respect, I think the side event was a resounding success. There was participation from a wide cross section of representatives at the COP, including Caribbean states and Associate Members, and the presence of regional and international organizations including the Inter-American Development Bank, the Commonwealth Secretariat, CARICOM, and the Caribbean Climate Change Centre, all supportive of the proposal, and equally importantly, of a proposal whose time had come. Representatives of Caribbean states with more climate change than economic orientation also had an opportunity to better understand what was being proposed, and how it would work in the first instance. The idea remains a work in progress; we are developing the model even now. We are proceeding wisely and slow, to ensure that we get it right ultimately, and that we secure the full support of the international donor community alongside the countries of the Caribbean in this most worthy and urgent endeavour.
Q: How important would you say the COP21 meeting was for SIDS?
A: The global conference provided an excellent opportunity for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to press for fundamental breakthroughs in the agreed global response to climate change. For Caribbean SIDS in particular, COP21 represented the culmination of an important process of advocacy over the past year that began with the adoption of the SAMOA Pathway on SIDS, which called on the global community to increase its support through partnerships with SIDS to build their resilience to the economic and environmental shocks they face, including the impact of climate change. The Paris meeting provided a critical opportunity to turn the spotlight on the integrated development issues that define the economic, social and environmental vulnerability of Caribbean SIDS.
Q: How crucial is the debt issue in the Caribbean at this point in time?
A: The Caribbean subregion is currently shouldering a serious debt burden. A recent ECLAC assessment has indicated that for some states considerable efforts at adjustment have been insufficient to reduce the stubborn debt burden. There is no respite for these countries which, despite their vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather events, are categorized as middle income, and considered capable of fending for themselves. However from our perspective the debt to GDP ratios in the subregion which are significantly over the 70% level deemed sustainable by international financial institutions tell an entirely different story. If the countries of the Caribbean continue shoulder this debt burden, their capacity to achieve sustained growth and development unquestionably will be compromised. This proposal being advanced by ECLAC at once focuses on efforts to alleviate the burden and open fiscal space for growth initiatives and addresses attention to the development of green industries - which will contribute significantly to the transformation of Caribbean economies, while responding directly to the need for Caribbean SIDS to build their resilience and strengthen measures for adaptation to climate change.