Small island nations are facing some of the most extreme consequences from a climate crisis that they have done little to create. In fact, the Alliance of Small Island States is historically responsible for only a small fraction of greenhouse gas emissions.
But this glaring injustice has not punctured the solidarity that leaders from these countries are pursuing. The only way to overcome the climate crisis and transition the global economy, they believe, is for every country to work together toward a shared goal.
That’s the message that Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda and current chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), has been conveying in the lead-up to the COP26 climate conference in November. In recent years, he’s become one of the most ardent champions of climate action, delivering bracing speeches at global forums on the need to reduce emissions and safeguard biodiversity.
“I have no doubt that the message from myself and others have resonated,” he told Global Citizen. “We have seen action being taken globally.
“At the end of the day, those who are involved in the profligate use of fossil fuel, they have a legal and moral obligation to not only reduce the emissions, but to provide some level of compensation to other developing countries, [and] include small states to assist them in adapting and mitigating against the effects of climate change,” he added.
In an interview with Global Citizen, Browne outlined the threat of the climate crisis, called for urgent action, and described how Global Citizens around the world can take action to defend the planet.
Global Citizen: How is the climate crisis impacting small island developing states like Antigua and Barbuda and other members of the Alliance of Small Island States?
Prime Minister Gaston Browne: Climate change is the most significant existential threat facing the planet and our common humanity. Unfortunately, small states like Antigua and Barbuda are the most affected. In fact, we are disproportionately affected by climate change. And as a consequence, our development would have been literally marred by the consequences of climate change to include more frequent storms, more powerful storms, and also would have seen more frequent droughts or ocean acidification and a plethora of problems that literally would have undermined our development.
You mentioned all of the problems, but if we fail to do anything about these issues, what's next?
Well, you know, fundamentally, we will destroy the planet and as a consequence, we will destroy human civilization because we do not have any planet B on which to live. So we all have an obligation to work collectively to protect the planet and to protect human civilization.
In what ways do you think that this whole climate crisis is worsening global inequality?
We all know that small states and even developing countries have been disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. So they do not have the type of financial resilience. They have limited financial and human resources. So as a consequence of the damages sustained from climate change, they have had to spend very scarce resources to rebuild their economies, to rebuild infrastructure. And as a consequence, funds that ordinarily would have been deployed towards human development have had to be utilized in order to rebuild the economies, to rebuild their infrastructure, their buildings, and as a consequence, there would have been a reduction in income and increase in poverty. So unfortunately, smaller states and other developing countries globally have suffered disproportionately from the effects of climate change in the region.
What do you think that many people may not realize about the climate crisis?
I do not think that people understand the urgency for us to take action, to take collective action in order to reduce emissions and to keep global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels. If we fail to do so, then clearly our planet will become uninhabitable and human civilization will be destroyed. So I do not think that most people understand the enormity of the problem and the consequences that will arise.
You know the climate crisis and action that needs to be taken. Do you think people in general and in particular world leaders are taking your message seriously?
I have no doubt that the message from myself and others would have resonated. We have seen action being taken globally. In fact, we all welcome back the United States and the leadership that it is providing on the issue of climate change. We have seen, for example, the leaders' summit that was held recently (Earth Day Summit, held in April 2021), sponsored by the United States President Joe Biden. And more recently, the G7 countries would have increased their NCCAM ambitions. In addition, they would have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2040. And we will continue to advocate until such time as we get a full global consensus on addressing the issue of climate change and to reduce global temperatures below one point five degrees of pre-industrial level in order to ensure the sustainability of our planet.
Industrialized nations have been blamed for the climate crisis. What actions do you think that these countries need to take to fund climate adaptation and the whole issue of global transition away from fossil fuels?
Well, at the end of the day, those who are involved in the profligate use of fossil fuel, they have a legal and moral obligation to not only reduce the emissions, but to provide some level of compensation to other developing countries, [and] include small states to assist them in adapting and mitigating against the effects of climate change. And this is absolutely necessary in order to achieve some level of carbon neutrality. To reduce global temperatures and at the same time to protect human civilization.
What specific areas of climate action do you think need additional funding?
I think that the industrialized countries — the developed countries and even the advanced industrialized countries to include China, India, the G7 countries — they have an obligation to share their technology with small states and other developing countries globally to provide funding to assist these countries, to adapt and mitigate against the effects of climate change, to help them to build resilience and at the same time to help them to build back better whenever, you know, their countries become decimated by these powerful storms and even the other attendant effects of climate change.
So ultimately, they need to provide funding to assist with the adaptation and mitigation against effects of climate change. And I think, too, that there should be some form of climate reparations in which they should also compensate for the debts that small states and other developing countries have had to incur in order to rebuild from climate disasters. Those are very important areas of funding to include the necessary green energy technologies as a form of climate justice, to transition into green applications and also the system to reduce their own carbon footprint.
You have been speaking a lot about the whole issue of climate change and the need for action. What has Antigua and Barbuda done to mitigate climate change in particular?
We have been literally transitioning into green energy technologies here in Antigua and Barbuda and green energy technologies constitute about 20% of our energy mix. Our sister island, Bermuda, is now being transitioned into a totally green island community. Perhaps it will become one of the first in the world. In fact, it's literally a year away from becoming a totally green community. In addition to that, we have banned single-use plastics. We've done so for a few years now and we have incentivized the use of green energy technologies, the use of electric vehicles in order to reduce our carbon footprint. And as you know, within the same family, we have been very strong and firm advocates for a reduction in emissions and for a more sustainable use of plastics and to also reduce the use of fossil fuel energy.
What do you think Global Citizens around the world can do to support this new climate action initiative?
I think they need to hold their representatives accountable and ensure that they have a very strong climate agenda — a commitment to literally keeping the planet healthy. And at the same time, for them to, literally perhaps, adjust their consumption and to reduce the amount of plastics that they utilized, the plastic products, and ... to also transition into these green energy technologies, to acquire electric vehicles, to utilize wind power, solar power, etc., in order to play their part in reducing the carbon footprint of their respective communities.
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