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Secretary-General Patricia Scotland visits the Stadium Shelter in St Peter, Antigua

Hurricane Irma victims crying out for action on climate change

2 November 2017

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland praised the resilience and resolve of Antiguans and Barbudans as she attended an independence day celebration and visited a shelter for those affected by Hurricane Irma.

She said, “What I saw was both heart-breaking and inspiring. I met people who have lost everything they own. Their furniture, their clothes, their homes. I spoke to children whose childhoods were interrupted, who have had to deal with trauma and adjust to being in a shared accommodation and a new school. I heard of older people who are terrified at the prospect of starting over.

“But I also saw the power of community spirit. People opened up their homes, they gave generously and made it possible for those most affected by this tragedy to find the strength and support to get up again and to focus on rebuilding.”

The Secretary-General continued, “One of the residents in the shelter spoke of the need to respond to the increasing frequency and ferocity of natural disasters. So the voices of the victims of this onslaught of fast and furious natural disasters are crying out for action. This is why the Commonwealth, under my leadership, will remain resolute in its commitment to tackle climate change, the root cause of this tragedy and destruction.”

Since the Secretary-General took office in April 2016, she has been working with member states to address climate change. Recently, in addition to tireless advocacy and key interventions at high-level international forums such as the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Secretary-General has been looking within the Commonwealth for solutions to climate change and vulnerability challenges.

She said, “A year ago, we had the foresight to put climate change on the agenda for finance and law ministers. But when mudslides took hundreds of lives in Sierra Leone, and floods displaced millions in India and Bangladesh and hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated islands in the Caribbean days before these ministers met, it drove home the point that climate change is everybody’s problem. Every part of government needs to be involved in the quest for solutions.”

She added, “At our meeting the finance ministers examined funding for mitigation and adaption and we updated them on our Climate Finance Access Hub, which is already at work in Antigua helping them to create innovative climate action projects which can attract financing from the Green Fund. We are working with Dominica to get one of our experts on the ground as soon as possible.”

Law ministers, she said, focused on legislation to strengthen climate change and disaster response laws that will speed up recovery after disasters. During their summit, the Commonwealth launched its Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform, which includes an online platform with resources such as model laws, best practice, step-by-step reform guides and legislative drafting tools to help implement and update laws.

“Today I fly to Barbuda to witness for myself the extent of the destruction. But I am heartened, because yesterday I celebrated with Antigua, on the day of their independence, their resilience, their generosity and their commitment to rebuild better and stronger.”

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