Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland has urged all 52 member states to attend next month’s Commonwealth Law Ministers’ meeting so they can progress ways to combat climate change.
She made her call during a series of interviews with Caribbean radio stations while in New York for this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
Speaking to Antigua Observer Radio, where the neighbouring island of Barbuda has been devastated by Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm, the Secretary-General said, “I am certainly calling out for every single law minister to come, because there’s never been a moment where we need to come together and really put our heads together and see what we can do. We need all 52, we really do.
“There’s so much we need to do to make a difference and, you will know how much that is needed in our Caribbean region, but it is everywhere else as well. That’s the drama that we’re in right now. It’s got to be us because if not us, who? So every single one of us has got to make our pitch.”
Law ministers are expected to discuss how the Commonwealth can create a task force to coordinate a rapid reaction response to natural disasters affecting member countries.
Amongst the papers on the Agenda for Law Ministers to discuss are:
- Climate change and national laws which explores ‘practical and swift action” that might be taken through national legal frameworks to implement the Paris Agreement. The paper investigates legal measures that relate directly to implementing climate change policy including legislation and regulatory instruments such as emissions trading schemes and energy efficiency measures;
- Disaster management, risk reduction and international disaster response laws in the Commonwealth which considers the existence and use of disaster risk management laws in the Commonwealth.
Secretary-General Scotland said the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) had been ‘incredible’ in its handling of the three hurricanes which have hit the region.
“We all know that most of the time we were expecting to deal with one disaster at any one season. What has happened this year is heart breaking. Not only has Barbuda been devastated but now Dominica too. But if you look across the Caribbean, as well as our Commonwealth independent member states, you have the British Overseas Territories, the French territories, the Dutch territories.
“The task force I have in mind is to pull people together who have real strategic analytical capabilities to work out how we can help to coordinate in a way that will support the organisations that are already doing a fantastic job but who need our added support and assistance and to coordinate it in a way so that we don’t get in other people’s way because we mustn’t duplicate. We must see where the gaps are and see how we can add value.”
On Saturday, the Secretary-General spoke to the Dominica’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, about the challenges his country was facing and told him ‘no stone will be unturned to relieve the suffering’.
Moments before appearing on ZIZ, the National Broadcasting Corporation of St. Kitts & Nevis, she spoke on the phone to President Charles Savarin of Dominica.
“He’s told me the impact of Hurricane Maria is the equivalent of Hurricane David and Tropical Storm Erica combined and that he has never seen anything like it. The devastation is quite extraordinary. But he says that they are mobilising local people to start doing the clean-up and repairing local areas and they are using the local capacity to the best of their ability,” said Secretary-General Scotland.
“But he says they need everything. Cash would be most welcome of course because they can purchase things in the Caribbean region which are needed. But they need trucks, they need bridging equipment, they need earth-moving equipment, they need chain saws for clearing logs. They need basic food supplies, rice, beans, things to feed people and they need medical supplies.”
She said it was a miracle more people had not perished across the Caribbean when the hurricanes hit.
“It’s heart breaking because we have at least 15 people confirmed dead, many people think 35 are dead. But the truth is, when you look at the devastation that has taken place in our region, but particularly in Dominica, this hurricane took the whole island.
“Normally it goes east to west but this hurricane was north to south, south to north, the eye of the hurricane was over the whole island so absolutely no part of the island has been left untouched. The miracle is that not hundreds and hundreds of people have died because when you look at the damage, some of the building look like matchsticks and how anyone came out of that you can’t believe.”
Throughout her week in New York for the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Meeting and UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Scotland held a series of bilateral meetings. In each meeting she spoke of the existential threat of climate change and how the Commonwealth had led the way in trying to combat it. The Secretary-General told them about her vision to use a regenerative model to mitigate, adapt and eventually reverse climate change. She will share also share her message with Commonwealth finance ministers when they meet in Washington on the margins of the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group, October 13-15.
Speaking to the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation in Barbados, she said, “I am going to drive the regenerative development for climate change. We are going to COP 23, which is going to be held in Bonn to talk about climate change, to talk about what we are doing. We’re developing a blue charter to look at our oceans because the reasons these hurricanes were so strong was because the oceans’ temperature has risen, so it’s feeding the hurricanes like never before. We’ve had three hurricanes in 72 years before this and now we’ve had three hurricanes in as many weeks, so this is an escalation on a level we’ve never seen before.”
The Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting (CLMM) takes place in The Bahamas between 16 and 19 October.
The Secretary-General told broadcasters that she was hoping they would be able to discuss how common legal structures could not only help better trade but enhance the blue economy and find ways to tackle climate change. She said she was proud of all the things the Commonwealth had already done on debt management, resilience, and climate change, but that these were only the beginning.