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A Case for Compensation for Climate Change Destruction

Flood-stricken road in St. Vincent. presstv photoCan the countries of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) take international legal action against the States that are warming the planet with devastating consequences not only for their survival, but in some cases even their existence?

This question comes into sharp focus in the wake of the damaging effects of flooding and landslides in St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica as 2013 came to an end.  The Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, described the flooding and landslides as “unprecedented”. He gave a preliminary estimate of damage in his country alone to be in excess of US$60 million.

People who live in the Caribbean know from their own experience that climate change is real.  They know it from days and nights that are hotter than in the past; from more frequent and more intense hurricanes or freak years like the last one when there were none; from long periods of dry weather followed by unseasonable heavy rainfall and flooding; and from the recognisable erosion of coastal areas and reefs.

Sceptics continue to deny that these phenomena are in any way related to climate change.  But, increasingly, scientific evidence points to human-induced effects of climate change – something that the science-sceptics have not been able to disprove.

Over the last two decades the Caribbean area has been the victim of climate change even though it contributes the least to the problem.  Trinidad and Tobago is the region’s biggest polluter at a paltry 0.17 per cent of the world’s total CO2 emissions.  Each of the other 13 independent CARICOM countries emits 0.01 per cent or less.  The region has become the kitchen sink for the world’s polluting countries – developed nations principally the United States and Japan, and large developing ones such as China and India. The European Union (EU) countries taken collectively are also major polluters.

Recent studies give Caribbean countries, including the mainland states of Guyana and Belize, no reason for comfort.  The Inter-American Development Bank fears that the tourism industry in the Caribbean – the mainstay of many of the islands - could lose upwards of US$900 million a year by 2050. It also says that flat islands like the Bahamas are particularly vulnerable, and it estimates that, by 2053, climate change will cumulatively have cost the Caribbean up to US$2 billion. Also, the annual income from fishing may be affected by as much as US$140 million from 2015.



The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize has also posted an authoritative report which shows that the Caribbean is particularly at risk for dramatic rises in temperature with damaging effects on sensitive ecosystems that cannot tolerate even small changes in climate if they occur at a rapid pace.  The indications are that, if nothing is done to halt the current trend of global warming, Jamaica will be among the first places on Earth (2023) to see a significant increase in temperature from the historical average.  It will be followed by Haiti (2025), Dominican Republic (2026), Bahamas (2029), Guyana (2029), and Belize (2034). While these countries are specifically mentioned, all Caribbean countries will be similarly affected to some degree with consequences for agriculture, water, tourism and production.

The problem is real.  It is also enormous.  While it has been present for some time, its urgency for governments has been overtaken by immediate problems such as contracting economies, high debt, high deficits and high unemployment caused by a combination of factors including poor policy choices.  But, the problem is fast becoming one that goes beyond survival to actual existence.  What happened in the twilight days of 2013 in Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines are wake-up calls that are echoes of flooding in Guyana and climate events in other parts of the region.

Amid all this, the Inter-American Development Bank says the “region needs to dramatically increase its investment in climate change adaptation and mitigation in the coming decades”.   But, where is the money to come from in a region that is highly indebted and whose governments are strapped for?   So far, the international community has shown little willingness to provide the funding that Caribbean countries urgently need for adaptation to a problem of which they are not the perpetrators but the victims.

Therefore, the idea of taking international legal action against the countries that are warming the planet has substantial merit.  The idea was posited a few days ago (December 29) by Chris Huhne a former Environment Minister in the present coalition government in Britain. He pointed out that in 2013 “a group of small island states threatened by rising sea levels, led by Palau, came close to asking the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion, and the main reason they did not press ahead then was that the scientific case is strengthening by the month”.  He is supported in this view by Phillipe Sands QC, a professor of international law familiar with the Caribbean.

At the urging of Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the governments of CARICOM have set up both a regional and national commissions to develop a legal case to seek reparations for slavery.  Dr Gonsalves will shortly formally become the Chairman of CARICOM.  Against the background of the clear evidence of the effect of climate change on the Caribbean, and his own country’s most recent experience, perhaps he might consider similarly placing on the agenda of Heads of Government possible international legal action to secure from the main polluters the financing they have been unwilling to provide despite the ruin inflicted on the Caribbean.

The Caribbean can no longer merely endure the effects of global warming whose evidence is plain to see and whose offenders have been identified by no less an organization than the United Nations.  The scientific documentation is already collected.  What is needed now is a high quality team of negotiators backed up by scientists drawn not only from the Caribbean’s Universities and Climate Change Centre, but such sympathetic and experienced people in the global community who recognize the clear danger to survival of the Caribbean people.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a Consultant, Senior Research Fellow at London University and former Caribbean diplomat.

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11 Comments In This Article   

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raising the awareness #3

#11 Observer... » 2014-01-05 21:53

Sometime I wonder if the politics is to deliberately keep the people of the Caribbean back, because I see no reason why we should not make the most use of our natural resources. We always seem to be depending on foreign goods and services. We even use to many pesticides and other chemicals in our agriculture industry. Thereby sooner or later polluting our ground water basins. And before you know it water would be more expensive then oil. Ok I say no more because this a really a topic to widely debate and put the questions at the feet of our politician. Why?
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raising the awareness #2

#10 Observer... » 2014-01-05 21:45

There are some agencies trying hard to bring the awareness of reducing the carbon footprint. But I don't think the message is getting there. People will not even consider walking from lets say the Public Market to Heritage Quay if they have a car. I am guilty of that myself. Then their is the issue of plastic bags. Every supermarket, store or vendor is using plastic bags. And we know the pollution they bring. In the USA going to some big supermarkets they are selling, recycle bags. No plastic whatsoever. And then all the plastic cups and forks we consume and the Styrofoam takeaway containers. Boy oh boy you can pick them up at the beaches or at the road sides. So you cannot make a case when you yourself are contributing to the problem. Be it in a much smaller portion. Antigua is so small that you wonder why it is we need all these vehicles running on expensive fuel. Why not electric cars or sun energy cars. Or even natural gas. That would safe a lot of money and is much cleaner. The technology has been so much improved and is widely use in Europe. Most of the cars are outfitted with dual systems. Fuel and natural gas.
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raising the awareness #1

#9 Observer... » 2014-01-05 21:35

I first thought wait, Sir Sanders is applying for a job as negotiator. And I know his fees are not small. But the issue itself is worth debating. I don't think we in the Caribbean can point a finger to anyone when it comes to polluting, Climate Change, whether we are big or small contributors. In the end if you look at our small population we are per capita big polluters. Antigua alone has about as many people as cars and none is environmental friendly. And when you sometime drive behind some trucks you wonder how come these trucks have licenses to be on the road. In Europe cars with a certain emissions are taken of the road. In Antigua as long as it drives. No standards whatsoever.
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Observer...

...conspiracy question....

#8 Jumbee Picknee » 2014-01-05 18:37

Is the Cartoon or Movie Storm real and true? Do we have the capacity's and or capability's to create, control these 'natural powers'...Air, Water, Fire, Earth, to the extent that, they are disguised as weapons of mass destruction for population control? An added thought, WE are living the truth and reality of the Jetsons...
Like Jimmy Cliff would say...there are more questions than answers, pictures in, and I would add "of", the mind that will not flow, or does not make sense...
@Natural Scientist...engage your analytical mind around the though, that, those natural elements i.e. air, water, fire, earth; as they are related to the "equilibrium" of the hueman Spirit/Soul...
a...have destroyed parts of the human nature/psyche, thus allowing for at times, the violent behavior, in other words, the psychological and psychiatric realms which leads to increase in violence?
b...since the Earth/Universe is a living organism and by all linkages, extensions interrelated, would it, could it not be reasoned, that as 'we' destroy ourselves(the hueman body) through lasers, infrared energies etc., the earth and universe, are been destroyed in the same vein? Even though, it might take several trillion years...
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Jumbee Picknee

the price we pay

#7 Jumbee Picknee » 2014-01-05 14:51

It's the price we pay for advancement, dominance, control...be it individually(one person) or collectively(A Nation)...

Fifty One pairs of shoes...when only one pair can be worn at a time...
20,000 sq. ft. houses lived in by one or two individuals...
Thousands of satellites to control and protect what we(Nations) have stolen from others.
Eating ten pounds of food daily when the body may only require two...
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Jumbee Picknee

Climate changes are normal for earth's balancing act Part II

#6 Natural Scientist » 2014-01-05 11:21

Let take this up a notch and get into some research. The equilibrium climate sensitivity refers to the ultimate change in global mean temperature in response to a change in external forcing. Despite decades of research attempting to narrow uncertainties, equilibrium climate sensitivity estimates from climate models still span roughly 1.5 to 5 degrees Celsius for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, precluding accurate projections of future climate. The spread arises largely from differences in the feedback from low clouds, for reasons not yet understood. Here we show that differences in the simulated strength of convective mixing between the lower and middle tropical troposphere explain about half of the variance in climate sensitivity estimated by 43 climate models. The apparent mechanism is that such mixing dehydrates the low-cloud layer at a rate that increases as the climate warms, and this rate of increase depends on the initial mixing strength, linking the mixing to cloud feedback. The mixing inferred from observations appears to be sufficiently strong to imply a climate sensitivity of more than 3 degrees for a doubling of carbon dioxide. This is significantly higher than the currently accepted lower bound of 1.5 degrees, thereby constraining model projections towards relatively severe future warming. Peace
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Natural Scientist

Climate changes are normal for earth's balancing act

#5 Natural Scientist » 2014-01-05 09:28

My educated hunch is that all these earth shattering events occurred to balance the stratosphere of earth's gravitational balance needed to stay in strict orbit. It gain wind and water proportionately where when need to cool or balance the rotation to keep earth rolling smoothly at all times as it keeps the right distance away from the hot sun. Notice the extra cooling thus freezing and icing needed in the northern hemisphere this week and next to keep the rest of the earth from roasting. However, when these adjustments occurs in your neighborhood there could be destruction and loss of life. This is the nature of the earth and it needs that freedom to compensate. Not much we can do except interfere with it and create more trouble because of the lack of knowledge. True if man/elements overheats one area or change water balances etc., there will be natural compensation. Peace
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Natural Scientist

NATURE'S ELEMENTS

#4 RAWLSTON POMPEY » 2014-01-05 08:46

Happy New Year Sir Ron,
Interesting " ...Compensatory Issue."

Supportive of the views of " ...Antiguan Abroad."

Litigation- seems" ...Ambitious: ...Fanciful; ...Fallacious and Far-fetched."

How can regional nations prove that " ...emissions from China's, India and/or American manufacturing machines had caused " ...weather precipitations and/or destruction in the disaster-prone islands?" Sympathies to the affected.

Early teachings spoke to Nature's most destructive elements- " ...Earth; ...Water; ...Wind and ...Fire." These are natural phenomenon. Man knows of their " ...FURY," and has used them " ...positively and destructively."

Not sure if man can be blamed for the " ...wind," but undeniably true, man has done something either to, or with three that he could see -devastatingly too.

In the name of national and/or economic development, Man has " ...Changed natural water courses; ...Made massive dams; ...Fell trees; ...Destroy vegetation; ...Cut through mountains for inland access; ...Cut through land spaces for shortened sea journeys (Panama-now Nicaragua in contemplation); built machines for producing food, clothing. technology and weaponry, thereby, causing atmospheric fumigation-choking man to death."

This is the price for man's " ...adventurism; ...reckless experimentation and ...gross negligence." But then, some of these are necessary for " ...human survival."
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RAWLSTON POMPEY

RE: A Case for Compensation for Climate Change Destruction

#3 Fed Up » 2014-01-05 08:45

Interesting opinion, although flawed in so many ways. We in the region should set examples by using solar & wind power instead of allowing politicians to swell their accounts by 'investing' in old fuel swilling, inefficient power stations. Instead of allowing old polluting vehicles on our roads we should make sure that they are cleaner, more efficient. We have small and poorly maintained roads, why do we allow hugely inefficient large American vehicles here. We suck up to our largest 'benefactor' China, which happens to be the biggest polluter on the planet, for what, a few dollars, or is there something else down the line that China will want from us at some point.
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Fed Up

Absurd idea...

#2 Julian » 2014-01-05 07:50

How can anyone take this argument seriously? Yes, in all probability global warming is here, however, we here in the Caribbean Islands all want these fossil fueled vehicles & gas guzzling outboard motors to power these super fast boats just like the ones in the 'big countries'
What about these non fuel efficient power generators for our lighting, cooking, cooling & everyday living?
If the writer wants to make is serious point we should start setting examples by utilising more solar power projects & wind power projects. We have plenty of free sun & wind, lets at least show these 'big countries' that we are making the effort to curb global warming before we hold our hands to beg.
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Julian

RE: A Case for Compensation for Climate Change Destruction

#1 Antiguan Abroad » 2014-01-05 05:02

It's more than a little naive to believe that any "advisory opinion" from the International Court of Justice, or "ICJ" (which is one of several judicial branches of the UN) will be effective in curbing any global activities by Western nations. Even if the Caribbean, or any developing nation for that matter, was successful in bringing a cause of action before the court, the pesky issue of jurisdiction arises. The simple fact of the matter is that the US, which is the biggest offender with respect to carbon dioxide emissions (and by extension, the primary instigator of global warming, according to some scientists) must agree to the jurisdiction of the ICJ in order for any of its rulings to be binding. Furthermore, the US sits on the UN Security Council and has the power to veto any adverse ruling of the ICJ. So, essentially, this talk about lawsuits is simply that - "talk" - and will go nowhere. Any resolution to the global warming conflict must come via political means – not legal.
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Antiguan Abroad

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Sir Ronald Sanders

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean diplomat who publishes widely on Small States in the global community.

 

 

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