SMALL island developing states (SIDS) may have had a planned agenda for COP 23 in Bonn, Germany last month, but not all their expectations and ambitions were realized. St. Lucia, however, did at least achieve a small victory.
That triumph has to do with acquiring the expertise required to go after the grants and concessionary loans available to developing or poor countries for strengthening their resilience to climate change.
Sustainable Development Minister, Dr. Gale Rigobert, explained that there was a particular focus on financing at the conference that was really tough on the SIDS.
“What we expected to see were very concrete actions, commitments that would materialize and benefit those countries and islands most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In that regard, there was a particular focus on financing and the complaint remains that very often island states trying to access these finances feel as if they have to go through some very onerous processes or modalities simply to access monies which we think are critical for our survival,” Dr.Rigobert said.
She said that asking for such modalities of access to be addressed or revised so as to make the financing available for climate change accessible was not easy.
“We raised the issue of the necessity to borrow to build resilience and whether some consideration could be given to the way in which the monies are accounted for. But island states such as ours find ourselves in what could be described as a catch-22 situation,” she said.
For example, Dr.Rigobert said that if St. Lucia borrows to build up its resilience, which it must do, such an act would reflect negatively on its debt-to-GDP ratio. So at the climate conference, it was asked whether there could be a separate methodology that allows for the money borrowed not to be reflected on a country’s debt-to-GDP figures.
Another hurdle to accessing the required financing for climate resilient projects had to do with the classification of the SIDS. Dr.Rigobert explained that because of how several of the SIDS had been classified, they no longer benefited from concessionary grants or loans because they were considered not to be poor countries, or not poor enough to benefit from the high concessionary loans available to poor countries.
“So the question was put: Can we not consider our particular vulnerability to climate change and have that be considered when classifying countries?” she said.
Dr.Rigobert further explained that there was much sensitivity regarding use of the word “vulnerability” because it could come from several sources, like climate change vulnerability to vulnerability stemming from political turmoil in countries, etc. Despite that, there was some acknowledgement of the particular exposure of countries like St. Lucia to the effects of climate change.
“The other issue is do we have the capacity to go after financing, especially the grant money, and we must admit, notwithstanding the rich talent pool we have in St. Lucia, that our department is too small to have the time to exclusively devote efforts to going after the climate finance,” she said.
According to her, that is why government had been considering whether to establish a project unit or some institutional construct to allow it to bring in people whose near exclusive role was to go after available money, especially grant money, seeing that her staff and those of other government departments were stretched.
“In that regard, I was able to engage at least two or three agencies which have committed to making available to St. Lucia; additional personnel so that we can purposely pursue the available money treating the issues of climate change,” Dr.Rigobert said.
She added that the additional personnel come with no cost to St. Lucia but as a gift for a period of time.