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Secretary-General’s remarks during joint press encounter with the Prime Minister of the Bahamas Hubert Minnis

Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Hubert Alexander Minnis, Prime Minister of the Bahamas (13 September)
Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Hubert Alexander Minnis, Prime Minister of the Bahamas (13 September) credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

I am here express the solidarity of United Nations and the international community with the Government and the people of the Bahamas, after the unrelenting onslaught of Hurricane Dorian.

I bring our deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones, and our sympathies to the many others who have lost their homes and communities.

I have just heard from Prime Minister Minnis about the Government’s comprehensive response.

The courage and the commitment of Bahamians during these very difficult times is inspiring.

United Nations humanitarian agencies are on the ground, supporting the Government’s efforts, and I hope the weather will allow me to travel shortly to see the impact for myself and to assess what more we can do.

But I want to express my very deep appreciation for the very quick and effective response that the government was able to mobilize and coordinate and for the impressive support of so many entities in the international community expressing their solidarity with the people of the Bahamas and in particular from other Caribbean islands, namely other islands that have been themselves victims of similar situations in the past.

In some areas, more than three-quarters of all buildings have been destroyed.  Hospitals are either in ruins, or overwhelmed. Schools turned into rubble.

Thousands of people will continue to need help with food, water and shelter. Many more facing of course the uncertainties future after losing everything.
Our hearts go out to all the people of the Bahamas and the United Nations is right by their side.
 
In our new era of climate crisis, hurricanes and storms are turbo-charged. They happen with greater intensity and frequency – a direct result of warmer oceans.
 
I recently visited Mozambique where I saw the horrendous devastation caused by Cyclone Idai.
 
Science is telling us: this is just the start.
 
Without urgent action, climate disruption is only going to get worse. July 2019 was the hottest month ever. The period from 2015 to 2019 is on track to be the hottest five years since records began. Every week brings news of climate-related devastation.
 
The Arctic permafrost is melting decades earlier than even the worst-case scenarios. In Japan last month, almost a million people were evacuated because of flooding.
 
From the Arctic to the Amazon, wildfires blazed as a result of record high temperatures. Across Africa, long-term drought is a growing reality, creating hunger and insecurity.

And this climate emergency packs a triple punch of injustice.
 
First, the worst impact is on countries with the lowest greenhouse emissions, the Bahamas are a very good example of that.
 
Second, it is the poorest and most vulnerable people in those countries who suffer most, and again, this has happened with the communities in the Bahamas.
 
Third, repeated storms trap countries in a cycle of disaster and debt.  
 
The financial cost of the damage caused by Dorian is not clear, but it will be in the billions of dollars and the Bahamas cannot be expected to foot this bill alone.
These new large-scale climate-related disasters demand a new multilateral response.  

Climate financing is one element. We must reach the target of $100 billion dollars per year from public and private sources, for mitigation and adaptation in the developing world, as rich countries have been promising for nearly a decade.  

And we must improve access to development financing.

In cases like the Bahamas, I strongly support proposals to convert debt into investment in resilience.

Concessional financing must be made available to indebted middle-income countries that are vulnerable to extreme weather events and this is something which we have been working hard tom make the international community fully support.

But most importantly, the entire international community must address the climate crisis through raising ambition and action to implement the Paris Agreement. The best available science, as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says we must ensure collectively that global temperature rise does not go beyond 1.5 degrees.

It says we have a window of less than 11 years to avoid irreversible climate disruption. And that we must reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. That is why I am asking all leaders to come to the Climate Summit with plans, not speeches in New York in one week’s time.

Plans to commit to carbon neutrality as soon as possible.

Plans to raise their so-called Nationally Determined Contributions to reduce emissions or improve adaptation.

This is a battle for our lives, but it is a battle we can and must win.

Solutions exist, but for them to be achieved, we must shift taxes from people’s incomes to carbon, stop subsidizing fossil fuels; and stop building new coal plants by 2020 across the world.

I thank the Bahamas and all the countries of the Caribbean for your strong moral and political leadership.

Please continue to raise your voices in New York next month.

The United Nations stands with the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

You can count on our solidarity and support as you build a better future with confidence and hope. 

Thank you.


 Question: Secretary-General what is your advice to Caribbean leaders to help mitigate the effects of climate change with a window fast approaching of 2030?

Secretary-General: Well, first of all, it is very important that those that cause climate change - and they are not in the Caribbean islands - accept the responsibility to reduce their emissions according to what the best available science tells us is necessary. And that is why we are asking for countries to commit to carbon neutrality in 2050 and to dramatic reduction emissions in 2030, and to change that so called National Determined Contributions next year as they were supposed to do according to the Paris Agreement. So it's not only for the Caribbean.

But in relation to islands of the Caribbean, one thing is clear: climate change is already here. It's not a threat to the future. It's happening. And it's happening with devastating impacts. And so, it is absolutely essential to have a very relevant investment in resilience and adaptation.

We have seen how climate change impacts differently on different situations, according to how infrastructure was built, how communities are organized, investments are made, the equipments that exist. And so obviously, one of the things that is very clear when I talk with Caribbean governments, is they're very strongly committed to adaptation, and to resilience. And that is where it's very important to have international financial support.

There is, if I may, there is still an idea in the international community that middle income countries should not have access to concessional financing, to grants or to concessional loans. The truth is that even if you are a middle income country, if you have external shocks, with an impact as dramatic as the ones I've seen in Dominica, just two years ago, or today, in meaningful parts of the Bahamas, the fact that you have a middle income country doesn't allow you to solve the problem alone. And so when you have external shocks of these dimensions, it is absolutely essential to create an international consensus that concessional financing needs to be put at the disposal of countries for the reconstruction, and for the capacity to do that reconstruction increasing the resilience of the societies of the communities and of the countries to future disasters that inevitably will come.

Question: President Trump has called climate change a hoax, how do you convince him of what you're telling us today?

Secretary-General: Well, I think what is important to note is that independently of the positions of the government, we see now in the American society, an extraordinary commitment to climate action. We see it in several states, we see it in cities, we see it in the business community, we see it in the civil society. And indeed, it is quite amazing to see how in the US climate action is becoming a very important factor of mobilization of the society as a whole. When we look into today's modern world into ways modern economies, governments have much less influence than what people can imagine. The influence is today, more and more in relation to climate change, related to what cities, businesses and communities do and then I must say we are having very important positive signals from the US society.

Thank you.

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