UN chief attends CARICOM Heads of Government summit

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres says he will be attending the 40th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) that is taking place this week in St. Lucia.

In a wide-ranging, exclusive Caribbean Life interview, just before his departure for the region on Tuesday, Guterres said he will attend the summit on Wednesday and Thursday.

“This is a visit of solidarity with the Caribbean people,” he said. “I will meet with Caribbean leaders and listen to their concerns, learn about how they’re tackling their most pressing challenges, and find out how the UN can support their countries. I’m also looking forward to meeting the people of St. Lucia.

“As people in the Caribbean know, climate change is one of the biggest challenges that the region is currently facing, and I want them to know that the UN is working to increase the ambition of all countries to address this issue,”

The UN boss was last in the region two years ago, when he visited Barbuda and Dominica in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

“This was not the first time that the Caribbean has faced such devastation and loss, but what is new is that climate change is making these disasters more frequent and more severe, putting people’s lives at risk, as well as all the development gains that countries have fought so hard to achieve,” he said.

Guterres, however, noted that the Caribbean is not alone in this experience, stating that this is happening the world over – from floods in the US to drought in Africa and most recently the heatwaves in Europe.

Just a few months ago, Guterres said he visited the South Pacific, where he said he saw how climate change is threatening small island nations.

He said sea-level rise in some Pacific countries is four times greater than the global average, “posing an existential threat to several island States. Oceans are in serious trouble, from coral bleaching to biodiversity loss to plastic pollution. Extreme weather events are on the rise, jeopardizing lives and livelihoods.”

“All this makes it clear that we must urgently reduce global emissions and work collectively to ensure that global temperature rise does not go beyond 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels,” Guterres said. “This is not just the responsibility of small countries that are already being affected, it is a global responsibility.”

In this regard, the UN chief said he will be convening a Global Climate Summit in September, and is asking governments and businesses to “come with concrete plans and not just speeches.”

“Everyone has a part to play, and countries all over the world must know that what is happening to small island countries in the Caribbean and the Pacific affects all of us,” he said.

Like Pacific island countries, Guterres said Caribbean countries, through CARICOM and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, are “playing an important role in leading global climate action.”

He said “Caribbean voices are being heard loud and clear in the negotiation halls,” stating that the region is “pushing for new models of economic development and affordable energy access.”

“The region is also becoming an innovation hub in this area, and other countries are following its example,” the UN head said, noting that, last month, Antigua and Barbuda hosted a concert with the President of the General Assembly to raise awareness about marine pollution.

He also noted that, next year, St. Vincent and the Grenadines will hold a seat at the UN Security Council.

“I’m encouraged by these developments and know that Caribbean countries will continue to lead the way on climate action,” Guterres said.

In addition to the threats posed by climate change, he said Caribbean countries face other challenges, including a range of economic constraints.

He said the small size of their domestic markets and their limited capacity to participate in global markets hinder them in generating economies of scale.

Because Caribbean countries depend heavily on imports, Guterres said they are “highly vulnerable to price change and other external shocks,” adding that “the high levels of national debt often make it difficult for them to tackle persistent poverty and inequality.”

“I believe that small island developing countries should be able to access financing quickly to address these issues and that the current system needs to be reviewed,” he said. “I am committed to bring more resources so that the UN can fully support the unique needs of Small Island Developing States (SIDS).”

Guterres said that is why he embarked on the reform of the UN’s development system, “so we can better help countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the next decade.

“And the UN as whole has various mechanisms that will target the challenges faced by small island developing countries,” he said, stating that these include the finance summit and the high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage.

On the ongoing political malaise in Haiti, Guterres said he is concerned by recent developments in the French-speaking CARICOM member-state, reaffirming the UN’s solidarity with the Haitian people.

“The UN strongly condemns the use of violence, which only increases the suffering of the population, and calls for the respect of democratic institutions and human rights,” he said.

Last week, the Security Council adopted resolution 2476, which creates a UN “Integrated Office” in Haiti, designed to support the country’s government in strengthening political stability and good governance.

The UN said the office, named BINUH, will replace the peacekeeping mission in Haiti on October 16.

“While we are following current developments in the country with concern, I also want to emphasize that this transition is an opportunity for the country to catalyze on the many achievements realized in the past years,” Guterres said. “As such, our work to support Haitians continues and I want to emphasize how important it is for all Haitian actors to overcome their differences, to work together to find a peaceful and sustainable solution to the current crisis and to respond urgently to the expectations of the population, who live in increasingly precarious conditions.

“There is no way in which the international community or the UN can replace the work of national institutions; so, what we need is to support those institutions, so they can create the mechanisms for dialogue and mediation,” he added. “A political solution is the way out of the crisis, and the United Nations stands side by side with Haiti as a partner.”

With CARICOM’s division on addressing the political crisis in neighboring Venezuela, Guterres said the UN has followed the developments in Venezuela “from the very beginning, and have supported and continue to support efforts to address the political situation through dialogue.”

He stressed that “serious negotiations are the only way to achieve a peaceful solution to the pressing challenges facing the country,” adding that his “good offices also remain open to all parties for this purpose.”

Since late 2018, Guterres said the UN has “scaled up” its humanitarian response to the Venezuela situation, “with a particular focus on health, nutrition and protection, and in line with humanitarian principles.”

Guterres said UN agencies are present inside the country, as well as in neighboring countries, which “have been extremely generous in receiving those Venezuelans who have left the country.” He noted that this includes Caribbean countries.

The Joint Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the region, Eduardo Stein, has also called on the international community show solidarity and support to countries in the region “to avoid intolerance and further tensions,” Guterres said.

Additionally, just last week, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, visited Venezuela to assess the situation.

Guterres said Bachelet’s office will be carrying out an evaluation of the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture “to assess the main obstacles for access to justice in the country.”

During Bachelet’s visit to Venezuela, Guterres said the government committed to grant more access for international human rights bodies, including the UN’s independent experts or Special Rapporteurs.

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