Jessica Faieta: Closing of the Technical Session at the CARICOM-UN High Level Conference "Building a More Climate-Resilient Community"

Dec 20, 2017

Eight hurricanes hit the Caribbean in just five months. Photo: Michael Atwood/UNDP

Today has been a long and productive day.

I thank you for being here, for your passion in exploring the issues that underpin resilience building and for your commitment to the Caribbean. From our rich discussions today, it is very clear that building resilience in the Caribbean will not happen over-night. It requires our collective experience, expertise and wisdom through durable partnerships.

Clearly, a holistic, multi-dimensional approach will have to be taken in earnest to get to the vision of a more resilient-Caribbean. This must be underpinned by strong national leadership, strong national institutions and a global environment that recognizes the specific characteristics and vulnerabilities of Small Island Developing States.

As Hurricanes Irma and Maria have revealed, and as we have heard today, irrespective of a country’s income status or legal status, Caribbean Islands like other Small Island Developing States will face the brunt of a changing climate in a manner that is unprecedented. The fierceness and velocity of category 5 storms or similar will batter even the most developed countries and threaten even the most prepared. As we have seen in Barbuda – this is indeed an existential issue.

The global community has at minimum a moral responsibility to help the most vulnerable countries, while the world makes progress in implementing in the commitment of the Paris Agreement, SAMOA Pathway and Agenda 2030.

An issue that has resonated with us here today, is the importance of not losing sight of human vulnerabilities. While it is important to focus on the built environment – such as damage to infrastructure, economic loses from destroyed capital stock – it is also important that we remember the most vulnerable in our societies and ensure that “building back better” is not only about fixing roads and bridges. It is also about helping people to build and sustain resilient lives and livelihoods that can “weather the storms of Life”. This is why in the Caribbean Human Development Report for 2016 – UNDP emphasized the importance of understanding vulnerabilities at three levels: State, Household and Individual levels.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me now turn to the main takeaways from our discussions today which have set the tone perfectly for tomorrow’s High-Level segment of this conference:

First, we have heard from the affected countries that the cost of the disasters will be in the billions of dollars and that the hurricanes have not only destroyed critical infrastructure such as housing stock, ports, hospitals, but also people’s lives. Not only have has the region experienced the loss of lives and livelihoods, but many families and communities are traumatized, with their lives forever changed. Responding effectively to this will require an emphasis on more climate resilient infrastructure, provision of psycho-social support and an enabling environment for people to realize their capabilities. We welcome the expression of commitment from governments, development partners to work with the region on these issues. UNDP will be a committed partner.

Second, we discussed and agreed that it cannot be business as usual going forward. Countries need to transform the way they manage risks through prudent risk governance to achieve sustainable development outcomes. Effective risk governance must mean integrating risk analysis systematically and continuously into all levels of government and across the full spectrum of development plans, strategies, and policies at the national and local levels. We were reminded that achieving the vision of a resilient Caribbean is fundamentally about achieving the sustainable development goals. Key opportunities for resilient transformation in the Caribbean include: rapid transition of energy mix from importation of fossil fuels to a significant share of renewables across all countries, which implies that economic diversification of small economies is an urgent need and that good land-use planning informed by rigorous climate data and rigorous enforcement of building codes is important for climate resilient infrastructure. We should not forget that Caribbean Islands are heavily indebted and that they in many cases, infrastructure has been built with loan resources. Extreme weather events such as Irma and Maria destroys such infrastructure further exacerbating the debt situation in these countries. A new generation of financial instruments such as counter-cyclical loans – is necessary to ease the fiscal pressures on small, vulnerable states. Continued investments in preparedness will be critical to withstanding the impact of future extreme weather events.

Finally, the third set of issues that I would like to mention is linked to the discussions we had this afternoon on moving risk to resilience. This session reminded us of the important role private sector must play in securing a resilient future for the region. We welcome the work being done by a coalition of public-private institutions to develop new insurance protection schemes that address the need for insurance at the household and business levels. This will be pivotal to the region’s ability to bounce back from exogenous shocks.

Tomorrow, we continue this dialogue and we look forward to the statements of support for affected countries from the global community of - countries, multilateral institutions, private sector and other development partners.

Thank you.

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