Bahamas Prime Minister says his country is ‘burning’

Bahamas Prime Minister says his country is ‘burning’

Bahamas Prime Minister Phillip Davis has told delegates attending the Fourth International Conference on Small Island States (SIDS 4) that his country “is burning”.

“Bushfires stubbornly burn throughout our islands in the heat of the Bahamian dry season. The flames have scorched our coppice and pine forests, unleashing an ashy haze that has spread across our communities. Bahamians living near these fires have been forced to breathe smoke-filled air and endure these hazardous conditions,” Davis said.

Davis told the more than 3,000 delegates attending the four-day event under theme “Charting the course toward resilient prosperity,” that at one point, the bushfires seriously compromised visibility, forcing the Lynden Pindling International Airport to temporarily halt all incoming and outgoing air traffic for several hours.

“Our fear is that this new, fiery reality will become the norm, and April showers will now be replaced by May blazes,” Davis said, noting that bushfires are but the latest disaster in an escalating climate crisis facing SIDS.

He said while this problem is not unique to The Bahamas, in the past five years, every island in the Caribbean has experienced some degree of water scarcity.

“The people of the Caribbean live in one of the most water-stressed regions in the entire world. Short-term droughts have developed in Suriname, Tobago, Guyana and Grenada. Meanwhile, long-term droughts continue to afflict Trinidad, Belize, Cuba, and Dominica. Jamaica and Barbados have been compelled to implement policies limiting water usage,” Davis said, warning “the region is more water-insecure than it has ever been, and we, the people of the Caribbean, are thirsty for change.”

Davis said that while he has no intention of becoming a climate martyr, the deadline for climate reform is long gone, reiterating that the time has come for climate revolution.

“Human action caused this crisis, and only humane actions can fix it. To empower SIDS, we need sustainable, long-term solutions, not quick fixes or gimmicks. Continuing this trend of band-aid solutions without addressing the root of the problem will, quite frankly, kill us.”

Davis warned the international community that “if we keep kicking the can down the road, eventually we will run out of road.

“We, as small island developing states, cannot afford to wait any longer. Every year, severe droughts, raging fires, and extreme storms claim more lives. We are past the point when platitudes about corporate responsibility are enough to excite us. We need far more than the empty promises and policy paralysis currently offered by the global north.”

The conference is aimed at assessing the ability of SIDS to achieve sustainable development, including the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. It will result in an inter governmentally agreed, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented political outcome document.

Davis said that another significant challenge facing SIDS pertains to the financial systems that govern their recovery efforts.

“Recently, we have seen how blacklisting in international finance disproportionately affects our nations, particularly when it comes to insurance claims in the aftermath of disasters. Such punitive measures, often imposed without adequate representation or input from SIDS, only exacerbate our vulnerabilities and hinder our recovery processes.

“This is not just a matter of financial policy but of justice and equity. Therefore, I call upon the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the European Union to join forces with the United Nations to formulate a global tax treaty that truly represents the interests of all nations, particularly those of us who are often left out of the conversation.”

Davis said that this treaty should aim to provide a voice for SIDS, ensuring that their unique challenges and perspectives are acknowledged and addressed in global financial regulations. “The OECD cannot give with one hand and take back with the other; true partnership requires consistent and fair support,” Davis said, noting “furthermore, the unfair financial practices imposed on Small Island Developing States by global institutions can be likened to a knee on our necks, restricting our growth and suffocating our recovery efforts.

“These practices are not merely bureaucratic hurdles; they are existential threats that impede our ability to breathe freely in the wake of disasters. Again I call on behalf of all SIDS to ‘Take your knees off our necks!’ We seek not just survival but the opportunity to thrive without these oppressive constraints.

“If we want to secure a safe and just future for small island developing states, we must lead the discussions and drive the changes ourselves. It will take a serious reckoning with the fact that the major polluters have reaped economic benefits while disproportionately offloading environmental costs onto vulnerable nations like ours. ”

Prime Minister Davis said accountability mechanisms will also be key in operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund established at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai last year.

“We have secured less than one per cent of the estimated US$400 billion per year needed to assist the most severely impacted societies. Colleagues, it is more important than ever that we work together to operationalise this Fund. No SID can do it alone.

We must unite because unity will be the key in unlocking concessional finance from the very creators of this most dire emergency.”

The Bahamas Prime Minister said that climate and debt are twin crises, which the Caribbean countries know all too well.

“My nation has incurred billions in debt due to recovery efforts from climate-driven disasters and billions more are needed to meet climate change targets. We cannot and should not take this tremendous burden on alone while those who created this problem do the bare minimum to take accountability for the impact they have had on our nations.

“Of course, as we forge new pathways here at SIDS4, it is important to not just point fingers but to take a good look at what is going on inside our own countries.”

He said the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing global conflicts have underscored the need to strengthen health systems, invest in social protection, and address food insecurity.

Davis said economic diversification will be the key to increasing our resilience to external shocks. And investments in clean energy and digital transformation remain vital for the sustainable development of all small island developing states.

“As we look ahead to the next 10 years, let us commit to holding major polluters accountable, securing the financing we need, and developing the best future we can for our people,” Davis added.

  • PublishedMay 28, 2024

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