Saving for a ‘Rainy Day’ Takes on New Meaning in Caribbean

Extreme weather associated to climate change has resulted in million of dollars in loss and damage in St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the past few years. (Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS)

by Kenton X. Chance

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Friday March 8, 2019 (IPS) – In the tiny eastern Caribbean nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines, proverbs relating to the weather are very common.

Everyone knows that “who has cocoa
outside must look out for rain”, has nothing to do with the drying of the bean
from which chocolate is made or the sudden downpours common in this tropical
nation.

So when the government of St Vincent and the
Grenadines announced in 2018 that there was a need to put aside some money for
“a rainy day” because of climate change, citizens knew that the expression was
both figurative and literal.

In this country, highly dependent on tourism,
visitors stay in hotel and other rented accommodation have to contribute US$3 per
night to the climate change fund.

They join residents who had been contributing
to the Climate Resilience Levy, for over one year, paying a one per cent
consumption charge. The funds go into the Contingency
Fund.

As with many other small island developing
states, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had to struggle to finance
mitigation and adaptation for climate change.

In the year since the Climate Resilience levy
was established, US$4.7 million has been saved for the next “rainy day”.

The savings represents a minuscule portion of
the scores of millions of dollars in damage and loss wrought by climate change
in this archipelagic nation over the last few years.

In just under six hours in 2013, a trough
system left damage and loss amounting to 20 per cent of the GDP and extreme
rainfall has left millions of dollars in damage and loss almost annually since
then.

The US$4.7 million in the climate fund is mere
18 per cent of the US$25 million that lawmakers have budgeted for
“environmental protection” in 2019, including climate change adaptation and
mitigation.

However, it is a start and shows what poorer
nations can do, locally, amidst the struggle to get developed nations to stand
by their commitments to help finance climate change adaptation and mitigation.

“Never before in the history of independent
St. Vincent and the Grenadines have we managed to explicitly set aside such
resources for a rainy day,” Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves told
lawmakers this month as he reported on the performance of the fund in its first
year.

He said that in 2019, the contingency fund is
expected to receive an additional US$4.7 million.

“While this number remains small in the face
of the multi-billion potential of a major natural disaster, it is nonetheless
significant. If we are blessed with continued good fortune, in the near term,
the Contingency Fund will be a reliable, home-grown cushion against natural
disasters,” Gonsalves told legislators.

He said the fund will also stand as an
important signal to the international community that St Vincent and the
Grenadines is committed to playing a leading role in its own disaster
preparation and recovery.

Dr Reynold Murray, a Vincentian
environmentalist, welcomes the initiative, but has some reservations.

“I am worried about levies because very often,
the monies generally get collected and go into sources that don’t reach where
it is supposed to go,” he told IPS.

“That’s why I am more for the idea of the
funding being in the project itself, whatever the initiative is, that that
initiative addresses the climate issues.

“For example, if you are building a road,
there should be the climate adaption monies in that project so that people
build proper drains, that they look at the slope stabilisation, that they look
at run off and all that; not just pave the road surface. That’s a waste of
time, because the water is going to come the next storm and wash it away.”

Murray told IPS he believes climate change
adaptation and mitigation would be best addressed if the international
community stands by its expressed commitments to the developing world.

“My honest opinion is that a lot of that
financing has to come from the developed countries that are the real
contributors to the greenhouse problem,” he told IPS.

“That is not to say that the countries
themselves have no obligation. We have to protect ourselves. So there must be a
programme at the national level, where funds are somehow channelled into
addressing adaptation and mitigation. The mitigation is more with the large,
industrialised countries, but small countries like us, especially the Windward
Islands, mitigation is our big issues…”

St Vincent and the Grenadines is making small
strides as a time when the finance minister said the US$437 million budget that
lawmakers approved for 2019 and the nation’s long-term developmental plans,
must squarely confront the reality of climate change.

“This involves recovery and rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure, investing in resilience and adaptation, setting aside resources to prepare for natural disasters, adopting renewable energy and clean energy technologies, and strengthening our laws and practices related to environmental protection,” the finance minister said.

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