The Caribbean is “ground zero” of the global climate emergency, says the Secretary-General

Aerial view of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve

The Central Suriname Nature Reserve, declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCOis a huge protected green area that covers around 11% of the national territory and is recognized for its plateau mountains and its infinite biodiversity, which is not believed to have been fully discovered. Furthermore, for the most part, those mountains remain inaccessible and unaffected by human activity.

From above this Sunday, the rainforest canopy was colored in countless shades of green, with some treetops covered in waves of orange or even purple blossoms. Along the way, the mighty Coppename River, as well as the upper reaches of the Lucie, Saramacca, and Surinam Rivers flowed past the trees in what looked like a landscape painting.

However, before reaching the protected area, the General secretary of the United Nations was able to verify that the forests of Suriname are seriously threatened by the activities of the mining sector and timber production, both industries driven by incentives to scale economic activity. Amidst the immense green cover, it was impossible to ignore patches of deforestation, destructive gold mining, and flooding.

Aerial view of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve

UN News/Laura Quiñones

Aerial view of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve

A moment of maximum danger

Although Suriname is located in South America, it is considered a Caribbean nation due to its history, culture, and challenges similar to those faced by small island nations.

After flying over the Reserve, António Guterres arrived at the Assuria Events Center in Paramaribo, to attend the opening of the 43rd Conference of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The head of the UN was received with four different musical and cultural performances. The short walk showcased Suriname’s unique ethnic diversity, a product of its long history, and Dutch colonization. Afro-Surinamese, East Indian, Indigenous, Chinese, and Javanese descent they presented their traditional dances and folk music.

On his turn at the microphone, the General secretary highlighted the leadership in diversity and climate action in the regionwhile outlining a series of actions to be taken in the face of the planetary crisis, the current COVID-19 pandemic, and global financial challenges.

“Rich in diversity, bridging land and sea, and protecting fragile coastal ecosystems, mangroves are a fitting symbol of the Caribbean nations: face challenges, seize opportunities, preserve their natural gifts,” Guterres told the region’s Heads of State and Government today, inspired by his visit to the coastal carbon sink wonderland of Paramaribo a day earlier.

The UN leader recognized that the small island and coastal states of the Caribbean are especially vulnerable to what he called “the greatest challenge facing our world”: the climate crisis.

The Caribbean is ground zero of the global climate emergency”, he asserted, regretting that this is not the only challenge facing the region.

“This year’s CARICOM summit comes at a time of greatest danger, both for people and for the planet,” he added, referring to the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in health systems and tourism, as well as in economic growth and foreign investment, a line in which the impact has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

bold solutions

The Secretary General argued before the CARICOM leaders that bold solutions are needed to address the problems, among which he highlighted the three most pressing

1. Adapt climate action to the scale and urgency of the crisis

Guterres asked for a urgent and transformative emissions reduction in order to stop the increase in global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C by the end of the century. He requested support for adaptation to climate effects and financial assistance to ensure resilience.

“I thank the leaders of the Caribbean for helping to show the way. I am inspired by their many efforts, including those of indigenous communities, to safeguard their incredible biodiversity and natural resources,” he noted.

He added that all countries need more ambition and climate action, but especially the G20which represent 80% of global emissions.

“The war in Ukraine cannot lead to short-sighted decisions to close the door at the maximum increase of 1.5°C. With the commitments currently on record, emissions are still projected to grow 14% by 2030. This is simply suicide, and it must be reversed,” she pointed out.

Guterres emphasized that richer countries must lead the way in a “renewable energy revolution”” fair and equitable, and they must deliver on their promise to deliver $100 billion in climate finance for adaptation starting this year.

It is time for a frank discussion and a decision making space regarding the losses and damages that their countries are already experiencing,” he stressed.

Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, is located on the banks of the Suriname River.

UN News/Laura Quiñones

Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, is located on the banks of the Suriname River.

2. Reform a “morally bankrupt” global financial system and stimulate a sustainable recovery

The Secretary-General stressed that developing economies need access to free or low-cost financingas well as debt relief and restructuring.

“Regarding the debt, we need a immediate relief for developing countries whose payments are about to become due”, he explained.

The Secretary-General expressed his full support for the creation of a Caribbean Resilience Fund and reform of the international financial system to help the region better respond and reduce massive vulnerability to external shocks.

“Clearly, our old metrics have failed. It is time to change them”, said Guterres, proposing to go beyond the concern of the financial system for per capita income and establish a “multidimensional vulnerability index” to determine access to financial support.

“For your countries, this would mean ensuring that the complex and interdependent factors of debt and the impact of climate change are covered in any analysis to receive debt relief and financing,” he detailed to the Caribbean Heads of State and Government.

3. Keep up the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic

Finally, the Secretary General called on governments, organizations and pharmaceutical companies to work better together to locally produce tests, vaccines and treatments against COVID-19.

“We are not out of the woods yet… And we must continue to work closely together to stop the spread of the virus in the Caribbean through proven public health measures. We also have to prepare for future pandemics with bold investments and training”, he said, warning that countries must never again be so unprepared.

To conclude, António Guterres reaffirmed the support of the United Nations to the Caribbean to advance towards these solutions.

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