Assistant Secretary General Speech


November 6, 2018 - Washington, DC

Her Excellency, Patricia Fuller, Canada’s Ambassador for Climate Change; Ambassador Jennifer Loten, Permanent Representative of Canada to the OAS;
Mrs. Kim Osborne, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for Integral Development;
Distinguished Ambassadors and Representatives of Permanent Missions to the OAS

Ladies and gentlemen

I wish to congratulate the leadership of Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Permanent Mission of Canada for teaming up with the OAS Department of Sustainable Development to organize this important and timely Regional Workshop.

Global Climate Change is real and it poses the gravest threat to the security, human development and the livelihoods of the people of our hemisphere.
Today’s event is very timely as it follows closely on the heels of a Special Report issued by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change a few weeks ago.

This Report is deeply worrying to me, as I am sure it is to every one seated in this room today.

The first observation I had about the Report is that it is in line with the position that was adopted by the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS), including those in the Caribbean, in the run-up to the Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention held in Paris in December 2015. Many of you would remember that the AOSIS argued strenuously for global warming to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, instead of the target of “below 2 degrees Celsius” which is contained in the Paris Agreement.

According to the Special Report, we are already seeing the consequences of a 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.

Very importantly, the report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided if global warming were limited to 1.5ºC as opposed to to 2ºC, or more.

For example, the Report notes that if global warming is kept at below 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of 2 degrees Celsius, by 2100 the rise in global sea levels would be 10 cm lower; the likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer months would be once per century, compared with at least once per decade; and coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent compared with a disappearance at 2ºC.

The Americas is one of the regions at highest risk of sea level rise as most of our cities are coastal cities and many countries are low-lying. I come from Belize, one of these low-lying countries that will be seriously impacted by this 2 Degrees Celsius warming scenario. The likelihood that Belize’s coastline may be inundated by sea level rise of as much as 15cm and that its coral reefs may be totally lost, is frightening to me. This is not the kind of future we should leave behind for our children and future generations.

This is one of the most pressing issues of our times and we must take firm action immediately, as the Special report of the IPCC warns.

Indeed, the incremental cost of the adverse impacts of climate change on countries in our hemisphere over the next 50 years is significant. For the Caribbean alone, this damage is estimated at an average of US $ 100 billion per year.

The impacts of climate change that we have already seen and those that we anticipate, such as more intense hurricanes, changes in rainfall patterns and sea level rise, all increase the region’s risk and threaten to further set back its economic and social development.

A colossal effort is required to build the capacity of local and national governments to mainstream climate action and disaster risk management in development planning and in decision-making.

Particular attention must be given to building the capacity of countries to design and manage comprehensive Early Warning Systems that assist in the prediction of and response to, slow and rapid-onset disasters. Attention should also be focused on internal and external policy failures that can weaken the vulnerability and resilience of countries to disasters.

Mitigating the factors that cause climate change and building resilience to its impacts is beyond the capacity of any one country and therefore should be approached within a hemispheric framework that promotes sustained collaboration among OAS Member States, more particularly in areas such as policy dialogue, research on climate science, technology transfer and public education and awareness.

Effective climate action must involve sustained investment in vulnerability reduction. Governments and their development partners will need to allocate significantly more resources to address the root causes of vulnerability - such as rapid urbanization, high poverty levels, weak institutions, inadequate land use planning and environmental management, and weak enforcement of building standards.

And while we are addressing these root causes of vulnerability, we should not lose sight of the importance of Conflict Resolution and Conflict Management techniques and strategies for dealing with competitive uses over land and water, such as Land-use Planning, Environmental Impact Assessment, and Risk Assessment.

From the perspective of the Organization of American States, the challenges of climate change require a holistic approach. We believe that risk reduction should be an integral component of strategic development programming and of sound governance that ensures participation of government institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector.

We must also continue advocating partnerships and alliances within and between societies, to more effectively coordinate our efforts, to mobilize resources and to implement recovery and reconstruction programs.

Two years ago, OAS Member States adopted the Inter-American Program for Sustainable Development (PIDS), which calls on the General Secretariat to help them to speed up the implementation of the Climate Change Convention and the Paris Agreement. The PIDS treats climate change as a cross-cutting issue and encourages an integrated approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

In my view, the Council for Integral Development (CIDI) and Meetings of Ministers and High Level Authorities for Sustainable Development and Development Cooperation respectively could serve as hemispheric fora through which a Regional Partnership on Climate Change could be built.

Through these organs, climate action in the Americas can be further institutionalized, as it includes all Inter-American Organizations, all relevant regional Inter-governmental organizations, especially the Central American Integration System, the Caribbean Community, the Andean Community and the Association of Caribbean States, all relevant UN System agencies. Development banks, International Financial Institutions (IFIs), and multilateral and bilateral cooperation agencies, along with universities and other academic institutions, complete the Regional Platform in the Americas.

Further, there is a need for increased support and assistance to be given to the small and vulnerable economies in the Caribbean and Central America to manage climate-related risk in their societies.
I thank you for your attention and for the opportunity to deliver these brief remarks.