Caribbean should seek climate justice before Int’l courts

Gaston Browne

St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is lending support to a suggestion by his Antigua and Barbuda counterpart, Gaston Browne, that countries most affected by climate change, such as those in the Caribbean, should seek redress before international courts.

Gonsalves, speaking on a radio programme, said that damage to private and public infrastructure from recent heavy rains is a result of St Vincent and the Grenadines mountainous terrain “and global warming, where we are having bouts of excessive rainfall, alternated with periods of drought and having also storms and, of course, hurricanes too”.

He said these are matters being discussed in Egypt at the two-week 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), ending later this week.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, in September, Prime Minister Browne called on world leaders “to act on behalf of the smallest and most powerless among us, and in the interest of global justice”.

He said that an opportunity looms for action, in the form of the resolution being sought by Vanuatu in the coming months to request the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion that would clarify the legal obligations of states to protect human rights and environments from climate change.

Ralph Gonsalves

Browne also spoke of an initiative taken by his country in solidarity with Tuvalu and Palau, which, on the eve of COP 26 in Glasgow in 2021, launched the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and international Law (COSIS).

The purpose of the commission is to “develop and implement fair and just global environmental norms and practices,” Browne told the United Nation, reiterating the position at the COP 27 in Egypt.

“In this connection, it will seek an opinion from the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea, regarding the binding obligations of its member states, to mitigate the effects of their greenhouse gas emissions, or to pay for the loss and damage they cause,” Browne said.

Gonsalves said that while he is not present at COP 27, regional blocs CARICOM and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) are represented by other leaders as well as delegates from Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

He said “some of our own people” are asking, “‘What Gaston talking about?

“But I want to make this point. When you’re delivering a speech in a short period of time, you don’t explain everything. But those who are listening, informed persons who are listening, know what you’re talking about.

Gonsalves said the questions would be in respect of small island developing states and other states which, due to their geographical circumstances and level of development are injured or specifically affected by or are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change as well as people and individuals of the present and future generations affected by the adverse impacts of climate change.

He said that in the 2015 Paris Accord, reinforced at Glasgow last year, countries agreed to work toward keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels.

“You look in our budget, it’s about 60 per cent of our capital budget is related to repairing damage caused by the climate change phenomenon or seeking to prevent action by the climate, prevent damage by climate change, the climate change phenomenon,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves further noted that at the Conference of Parties in Stockholm in 2009, developed countries pledged annually from 2020 onwards US$100 billion towards climate change matters, including adaptation and mitigation.

“No money has come down. It’s bare hypocrisy, double-talking,” he said, adding that with the unavailability of fuel in Western Europe as a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, “very quickly, the countries have gone back, many of them, to provision of electricity by coal, which is the worst form”.

The seas “will continue to rise over the 21st century if we don’t take action among the major emitters,” Gonsalves said, naming the United States, Europe and China as the major emitters.