BY ALEX BALUKU
NEW YORK, USA, September 22, 2023 – The 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly bore witness to a resounding and unified chorus of world leaders, each resolutely echoing the urgent call for action on climate change.
The impassioned speech delivered by Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda on the fourth day of the assembly served as the catalyst for an extraordinary display of global unity and solidarity in response to the pressing environmental challenges of our time.
As Prime Minister Browne took to the podium, his message resonated profoundly, not only with the delegates assembled in the General Assembly but also with leaders hailing from every corner of the globe. Within his address, a wide spectrum of critical topics was broached, ranging from climate change and sustainable development to the formidable obstacles confronting Small Island Developing States (SIDS), all underpinned by a fervent plea for unified global action.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda issued a resounding call to the international community, urging unity and concerted action in tackling the most pressing global issues.
His comprehensive discourse spanned a multitude of subjects, encompassing climate change and sustainable development, along with an exploration of the unique challenges confronting Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Throughout, there was a resounding emphasis on the imperative of fostering global solidarity.
Prime Minister Browne’s address also encompassed expressions of pride in the invaluable contributions made by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to internationalism within the United Nations and various other multilateral bodies. Highlighting the recent election of Guyana to the Security Council for the 2024-2026 term, he underscored this achievement as a testament to CARICOM’s capacity and the pivotal role of smaller nations in the realm of global decision-making.
Moreover, Prime Minister Browne delivered a compelling message, stressing that the concept of ‘smallness’ should by no means be perceived as a hindrance to the ability to make substantial contributions to international affairs. He expressed a hopeful vision that the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) would be accorded a seat at the table as observers in various other fora, including G20 meetings.
Failing Developing Countries
Prime Minister Browne echoed the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who recently stated that the world is failing developing countries. He emphasized the remarkable progress made by developing states in lifting millions out of poverty and their active participation in seeking global solutions. However, Browne lamented the fact that these countries find themselves facing crises they did not create, including soaring prices, overwhelming debt, and the increasing frequency of climate disasters.
He pointed out that current global frameworks, largely shaped by more affluent nations, are unresponsive to these crises and called for a united front to compel the global community to take action.
Unity of Purpose
Browne called for the developing world to build a unity of purpose, not through confrontation but collaboration, not through division but cooperation. He urged nations that have been excluded from global decision-making to come together and advance their collective interests.
Antigua and Barbuda, Browne explained, has initiated strategies to build alliances with like-minded nations to counter the threats posed by climate change and the failure of international financial institutions to respond to the urgent needs of vulnerable populations.
Seeking Legal Clarity on Climate Change
The Prime Minister discussed an initiative that began two years ago in the margins of COP 26 in Glasgow. Frustrated by the lack of progress and broken promises by major emitters, Antigua and Barbuda, along with other small island states, initiated the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS).
COSIS sought and received a favorable agreement from the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to hear their pleadings regarding the obligation of states to combat pollution linked to climate change and its effects on marine environments. Browne emphasized that small island developing states depend on the ocean for sustenance and as a crucial part of their heritage, identity, and climate regulation.
The Prime Minister stressed that the initiative is not just for the survival of SIDS but for the preservation and prosperity of all nations. He announced Antigua and Barbuda’s support for the General Assembly’s decision, initiated by Vanuatu, to seek an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on the obligations of states regarding climate change.
Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI)
Browne highlighted another initiative involving the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI), as set out by the General Assembly in December 2021. He explained that while SIDS are not the poorest countries, they are extremely vulnerable to climate and other shocks due to structural problems, limited resources, lack of economies of scale, and higher costs resulting from isolation.
The Prime Minister argued that using per capita income as the sole criterion for financing access is unfair and unjust. He stressed the importance of the MVI as a gateway to essential financing, national planning, debt servicing, and insurance against climate-related risks.
Antigua and Barbuda plans to raise this issue at the joint meeting of the IMF and World Bank in Marrakesh, calling on all SIDS and fair-minded countries to join them in advocating for the MVI as a vital component for accessing concessional financing.
Fourth International Conference on SIDS
Browne announced that Antigua and Barbuda will host the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States from May 27th – 30th, 2024, under the theme “Charting the Course Towards Resilient Prosperity.” He highlighted the numerous challenges SIDS face, including the lingering effects of COVID-19, climate change, and economic repercussions resulting from global events.
The conference aims to develop a bold, decade-long strategy to address the unique and interconnected challenges faced by SIDS. Antigua and Barbuda plans to establish a Centre of Excellence for SIDS in collaboration with the private sector and UN entities to help SIDS achieve sustainable resilient prosperity.
Climate Change Urgency
Prime Minister Browne emphasized the urgent need for action on climate change, stating that the 1.5-degree Celsius temperature target outlined in the Paris Agreement is in danger of being breached. He pointed out the devastating consequences of rising temperatures, including extreme weather events such as storms, flooding, and droughts.
Browne stressed that all nations must act now to safeguard the oceans, which play a critical role in regulating the Earth’s climate system. He called on countries to recognize the urgent need for reducing emissions and the global consequences of failing to do so.
Crucial COP28 Summit
The Prime Minister highlighted the upcoming Summit meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Dubai, emphasizing its importance in the face of escalating climate chaos. He noted that global progress on climate action has been insufficient, and temperature targets are at risk of being surpassed.
Browne called for the establishment and adequate funding of a Loss and Damage Fund to help SIDS withstand the damage caused by major polluters. He warned that failure at COP28 to address this issue could undermine global trust and cooperative efforts on various global challenges.
Climate Justice and Reparatory Justice
Prime Minister Browne asserted that climate justice and reparatory justice are deeply intertwined, emphasizing the historical injustices faced by nations that thrived on the industrial revolution at the expense of enslaved generations from the Caribbean and the African diaspora.
He called on nations complicit in these historical wrongs to recognize, reconcile, and redress the moral and ethical obligations stemming from these injustices.
Rebuilding Trust and Global Solidarity
Browne highlighted the theme of rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity within the General Assembly. He stressed that no nation, large or small, can truly flourish in an atmosphere of global turbulence. The Prime Minister urged powerful nations to engage in dialogue and embrace mutual respect, emphasizing the importance of global peace and prosperity.
Browne urged the United States to revisit its stance on Cuba and remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, as well as ending the outdated embargo on Cuba. He also advocated for the removal of sanctions on Venezuela, particularly those affecting access to the U.S. financial system and oil imports from PDVSA.
Addressing the Crisis in Haiti
Prime Minister Browne discussed the enduring challenges faced by Haiti and the historical factors that have contributed to its struggles. He expressed support for a broad-based transitional government in Haiti and called for external assistance to restore governance, security, and the rule of law while addressing humanitarian needs.
Browne reaffirmed Antigua and Barbuda’s solidarity with the Haitian people and pledged to collaborate with all stakeholders and the international community in efforts to restore order and bring lasting peace and prosperity to Haiti.
Combating Illegal Guns and Autonomous Weapons
The Prime Minister highlighted the issue of illegal guns in the Caribbean, which account for a significant percentage of homicides. He emphasized that none of the Caribbean countries manufacture weapons or ammunition, and the majority of illegal weapons originate in the United States.
Browne expressed concern about the potential for autonomous weapons to fall into the hands of organized criminals. He pledged support for the UN Secretary-General’s call to formulate a legally binding instrument by 2026 to prohibit lethal autonomous weapon systems.
A Call for Global Cooperation
In closing, Prime Minister Browne stressed that Antigua and Barbuda, despite its size and limitations, stands ready to play its part in shaping a more just, prosperous, and inclusive world. He called on powerful and wealthy states to do the same, emphasizing the importance of global cooperation and collective action in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges.
The Prime Minister’s speech at the UN General Assembly served as a passionate call to action, highlighting the urgency of addressing global issues and the critical role that small nations can play in shaping a better future for all.