World leaders will gather in Glasgow this week to discuss climate change. And if it feels like we’ve been here before, we have. I was a college student in 2009 studying journalism when Commonwealth heads of government descended on Port-of-Spain for two days in November. Then French president Nicolas Sarkozy was a special guest. Climate change dominated the summit which served as a preamble to the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, a week later.
Since then, there have been pledges made and promises broken, which brings us to the point of Glasgow. The Conference of Parties (known as COP26 this year) is the UN meeting of the 197 countries that have agreed to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This year’s conference will take place in Scotland’s largest city. The UN itself has desperately tried to put the worsening climate situation at the forefront of global headlines with its general secretary Antonio Guterres declaring the latest reports “a code red for humanity” and warning “we are approaching a point of no return.”
In journalism, we are careful not to sensationalise stories but Guterres seemed justified in labelling the Emissions Gap report “another thundering wake-up call.” The report found that nations, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, South Korea, and Mexico never met their old target. Scientists say the planet has warmed by 1.2 degrees.
Trinidad and Tobago is one of the victims and one of the culprits in this climate catastrophe. This country has over the last decade placed within the top ten contributors per capita of CO2. Three years ago, the World Bank’s Global Carbon Project put T&T in second place worldwide for carbon emissions. Now, with more violent storms and hotter days, the effects of climate change are being felt by all, even those who are not aware of it.
Racquel Moses, the UN Global Ambassador for Climate Change, who is from T&T, has confirmed that there has already been sea level rise across the region.
She’s the CEO of Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator, an organisation that supports climate action and economic growth through sustainable development, and she was recently appointed as the new UN global ambassador. Moses will sit at the global table in Glasgow, speaking on behalf of the people of the Caribbean.
In an interview with the Sunday Guardian before leaving for Europe, Moses said she will tell global heads of government that the Caribbean is ready to lead, provide solutions and use those solutions to create jobs. However, she insists investments made in the region must be grant money. “I intend to make the case that we are certainly vulnerable but we are innovative and ready to deliver solutions to the world, that we need the funding and much of that needs to be free money because if we’re talking about additional loans we just don’t have the capacity to take on additional debt to solve a problem that we didn’t cause,” Moses said.
Free money will be at the centre of Moses’ case when she presents in Glasgow. The concept isn’t new. Free money is a benefit that has no costs. It merely means that the entity is not asking for anything directly in return for the money. While the region has access to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), created in 2010 to support the efforts of developing countries in responding to the challenge of climate change, Moses admitted “they don’t move as fast as we would like.”
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley recently held talks with the GCF and a new mechanism will be piloted in the hope that funds are released quicker than they have been in the past. Her country has also set up a regional fund. These are part of several broader initiatives around the Caribbean to generate funds quicker. Moses’ Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator set up a financial advisory committee consisting of regional representatives providing them with projects every month and working alongside corporations such as the Inter-American Development Bank.
She further explained, “There are a number of efforts that are being coordinated to ensure that funds continue to flow through the region. The challenge that we have is that a lot of that money is not free money. It’s loans or even equity investments and those are all great but we also need access to free money because, again, we don’t have enough room to take on any additional debt.”
Moses said what is required is bringing these different instruments under a single umbrella so people understand where to go, how they qualify, and how to get access to it.
World leaders start arriving in Glasgow as their countries begin feeling the early effects of climate change. Unprecedented flooding across European towns this year along with images of New York city’s subway system underwater have prompted several international news outlets to conclude that climate change has arrived. T&T is not immune. In fact, the change in weather patterns which has seen more violent storms and hotter temperatures point to the damage that is already being done.
Moses went further in saying, “We’re definitely seeing sea levels rise across the region. You’re hearing people talk about with 1.5 degrees you’re going to see this much sea level rise–sea level rise is happening now, erosion of the coastal areas is happening now, people are being forced to move across the region now. These things are all happening already.”
She remains optimistic of COP26, even as recent history shows that countries renege on promises made at major climate summits, none more so than The Paris Agreement of 2015. Moses agrees that the reason everything hinges on Glasgow is that nations failed to deliver on their targets at home in the last five years.
“We’re on the wrong trajectory but unless we remain hopeful, determined and action-oriented on measuring the changes that need to take place we won’t get there, so I refuse to believe that anything but positivity will come out of Glasgow because there is not another option,” she said.
It may very well be the summit where world leaders are told they cannot be the arsonist and the firefighter at the same time.