‘Climate change and debt are sinking us’: Small island nations cry for help

Ahead of the 75th United Nations General Assembly which begins in New York on Tuesday, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS, a coalition of 44 low-lying nations sounded alarm bells saying they were sinking not just because of climate change impacts like sea-level rise but are also neck-deep in debt.

“We are sinking in debt. This situation has been building up for quite some time now. But with the collapse of the tourism sector due to Covid-19 pandemic, we are in a state of emergency. We need systemic changes and not short-term measures. The climate crisis is unabated. The promise of green recovery cannot be rhetoric,” said Lois Michele Young, a Belizean diplomat and ambassador of AOSIS.

She called on donor, developed countries to honour their commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement. “Official development assistance is needed leading up to COP 26 in 2021. COP 2021 should have enhanced nationally determined contributions (NDCs to keep global warming under 1.5-degrees C. We are on the trajectory for a 3 degree C rise now over pre-industrial levels. 2020 is a critical year, we have a ten-year window according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to correct the trajectory and we are at end of year one,” Young said.

Marla Dukharan, economist and advisor on the Caribbean, said, “Small island countries were in debt even before the Covid-19 pandemic. But now they have to borrow more and the debt to the GDP ratio is skyrocketing as economies are contracting due to the pandemic. They are in unsustainable territory and governments soon will be defaulting. A natural disaster or even Covid-19 can wipe out 40 percent of the GDP for any of these countries in a go.”

Dukharan explained that high vulnerability to natural disasters, higher imports, lack of efficiency or achieving economies of scale for various public services have led to debt.

According to Climate Action Tracker, only 8 countries have submitted updated NDCs; 2 have proposed updated NDCs; 7 have declined to update and 172 countries haven’t updated their NDCs. On 4 November 2019, the US started the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. They can effectively withdraw after November 4, 2020.

Global carbon dioxide (CO2 emissions are likely to fall by 4 to 7 percent in 2020 due to Covid-19 lockdown and associated slowdown according to a United in Science 2020 report released by UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres last week. During the peak of Covid-19 lockdown in early April, the daily global CO2 emissions dropped to 2006 levels falling by 17 percent as compared to 2019. By early June, however, daily fossil fuel CO2 emissions returned to within 5 percent below 2019 levels. But, this dip in CO2 emissions hasn’t made any impact on global co2 concentrations.

The world is set to see its warmest five years on record and is not on track to meet the Paris Agreement targets to keep global temperature increase well below 2 degrees C or at 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, stated the report drafted by multiple agencies including the World Meteorological Organisation.

‘Climate change and debt are sinking us’: Small island nations cry for help