In a powerful intervention at the Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting (CFMM) in Washington DC, the prime minister of Saint Lucia called for the rules to be changed so countries affected by natural disasters could access funds more quickly.
Over the past few weeks the Caribbean has been battered by three category five hurricanes which have left devastation in their wake. Parts of South Asia have faced floods, leading to hundreds of deaths. In Africa, Commonwealth member states have had to contend with the dual perils of mudslides and desertification.
Speaking after the meeting at the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Saint Lucia’s prime minister, Allen Chastanet said, “While we’ve been theorising about the impact of climate change, this summer and other summers previously, we have seen in reality what it means. It requires us to accept the fact that some of our economies are going to be wiped out. We’re having to deal with the reality that our future is not within our control.
"We came here and we’re continuing to plead with the donor agencies that the SIDS (small island developing states) be carved out and that we compartmentalise resilience building and we allow there to be a special fund that we can access, that’s at concessionary rates. Time has run out against us and it requires us to bring the human side back to what has taken place.”
Commonwealth finance ministers discussed the need to tackle climate change and ensure member states could become more resilient to shocks which were becoming more frequent. They called for the Commonwealth to take the lead on freeing up access to funds. Small states, they said, were at the coal face of climate change and needed urgent funds for mitigation and adaptation. But that meant changing the way things were done, said the Barbados finance minister, Christopher Sinckler.
“The theory of science has met the practicality of what is happening in terms of climate change. We have a very important opportunity as a group to stamp our authority on the issue of mitigation and adaptation. People in Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and the other islands which have been affected by these very terrible storms need action now.
“We need financing. We need to have the islands and the countries affected access the large pools of finance that are available. We need the major financial institutions, the IMF, the World Bank and so forth to be able to coalesce around these countries.”
The meeting heard that the United Kingdom government has pledged £100 million in aid, of which eight million pounds would be used to tackle climate resilience. It is also leading the charge to change official development assistance (ODA) rules to help countries hit by natural disasters which are currently unable to access funds.
Secretary-General Patricia Scotland explained to ministers that recent events demonstrated the extent and impact of climate change and brought home the value of initiatives such as the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub and the programme for regenerative development.
Speaking to the BBC after the meeting she said, “I was really happy to hear the UK and others say that resilience is going to become very much part of what we are doing. We, as a world, are going to have to take these climatic incidents seriously because none of us knows who’s going to be next. These storms are not a respecter of international boundaries.
“I’m calling on us to come together, creating a taskforce to look at what we’re doing already so there is no overlap. Where are the gaps? We can come together to make a better response. And we can’t work on the basis that this is a one-off. We have to plan for the fact that this is likely to happen more and more frequently. So what is our contingency plan? How can all the international agencies work better together?”
The meeting was chaired by Canada with the overarching theme of building resilience through innovation.
To succeed in building climate resilience, Secretary-General Scotland said, the Commonwealth needed to create favourable cultures and enabling environments.
This meant working together on legal, technological and financial frameworks so that innovation would flourish.