We are now mere days away from what could easily be described as the most important gathering for the year -- the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the 196 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
At the 30th Nov. to 11th Dec. meeting in Paris, it is imperative that parties sign a legally-binding accord to keep human-induced global temperature rise within levels that science says will avert catastrophic climate change. This is important for many reasons.
My country, Antigua & Barbuda, and its Caribbean neighbours, already among the most vulnerable of Small States, face an even greater threat from climate change and global warming. This phenomenon is having a material effect on the integrity of our countries.
The effects will have far-reaching consequences for us. Food insecurity is sure to become a bigger problem; marine health is being compromised; the health of our people is being impacted; and there is increased salinization of our already limited ground-water resources as a result of Sea Level Rise (SLR).
So for us, climate change represents a threat to our normal existence.
Our position in the Caribbean is that we have to limit global-temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Anything above 1.5 degrees Celsius will cause catastrophic SLR; will cause warming of our oceans; will cause acidification of our oceans, which will impact our fisheries and impact our tourism sector; and will result in a reduction in potable water availability. This has impacts for agriculture, for ordinary lives, for availability and accessibility to fresh water.
In 2013, after months of persistent drought, our main water catchment -- Potworks Dam -- dried up. We are now 27 months into the drought and with the dry season set to start in a few days, there are no signs of it letting up. We now spend extremely large sums of money each month for desalinated water.
For most countries in our region, total annual rainfall will decrease between 10-20 percent with a 2-degrees Celsius warming. The Caribbean is also projected to experience greater SLR than most areas of the world. General consensus is that by the end of the 21st Century, SLR will be up to 1.5 metres above present levels, if emissions levels continue unabated.
Let me put this into context. What would be the impacts of a 1-metre SLR in the Caribbean?
· Approximately 1,300 km2 of land area could be lost. That's equivalent to Antigua & Barbuda + Anguilla + Barbados + St. Vincent and the Grenadines
· More than 110,000 people could be displaced
· Some 150 tourism resorts could be damaged
· There could be loss of or damage to five power plants
· One percent of agricultural land could be lost
· There could be loss of or damage to 21 airports
· Land surrounding 35 ports could be inundated
· There could be loss of 567 kilometres of roads
A 2 metres SLR (which could easily be realised if we do not have an ambitious agreement in Paris) in the Caribbean would result in the following:
· 3,000 km2 of land area lost (equivalent to Grenada + Guadeloupe + Martinique)
· More than 260,000 people could be displaced
· More than 233 tourism resorts could be damaged
· Loss of or damage to nine power plants
· More than 3% of agricultural land could be lost
· Loss of or damage to 31 airports
· Land surrounding 35 ports could be inundated
· Loss of 710 km of roads
· 40% of sea turtle nesting beaches could be inundated
The total cost to rebuild tourist resorts is projected at between US$10 Billion and US$23.3 Billion by 2050.
The fact is, Antigua & Barbuda and all of the countries of the Caribbean combined do not produce 0.01% of the harmful carbon emissions now polluting the atmosphere. Rather than being polluters, we are the victims of other people's pollution.
So as Paris COP21, the most important conference on climate change ever held, comes to an end, a new climate-change agreement must include the following:
· A Protocol that is legally binding under international law applicable to all Parties underpinned by the latest science and a sense of high urgency
· Strong mitigation ambition with short, rolling commitment periods of no longer than five years
· A compliance mechanism that can trigger enforcement action in the event of non-compliance with obligations
· Enhanced provisions for supporting adaptation needs of vulnerable developing countries
· Commitment by developed country Parties to take the lead in scaling-up climate finance
· Clear reference to the specific needs and circumstances of SIDS and LDCs
· Inclusion of a stand-alone international mechanism on loss and damage (separate to adaptation)
· An explicit goal of limiting long-term global average temperature increase to below 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels
I would like to reiterate, anything above 1.5 degrees will result in an increase in the severity and frequency of extreme-weather events like storms and hurricanes and even at 1.5 degrees, damages for many of us will be serious and irreversible.
So, we have a very real stake in what comes out of Paris -- it is called survival. We cannot allow the Paris agreement to be one that we know will cause us to have a climate that is warming at a rate that is likely to be catastrophic for us.
In spite of our small size, my country has been living up to our end of the bargain. On October 15, we communicated to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) a set of actions we intend to take to help keep global temperature rise to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Our children and grandchildren are counting on us. We must not let them down in Paris.
Gaston Browne - Prime Minister, Antigua & Barbuda
This post is part of a "Voices from Small Island Developing States" series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on the SIDS countries, which are located in the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, and is part of HuffPost's What's Working editorial initiative. To view the entire series, visit here.