Address to The High Level Segment of The 15th Conference To The United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change by the Hon Stephenson King
ADDRESS TO THE HIGH LEVEL SEGMENT OF THE 15TH CONFERENCE TO THE UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE
The Honourable Stephenson King, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia
December 16, 2009
Please permit me, first of all, to express profound gratitude to the Government and people of the Kingdom of Denmark for the warm welcome extended to my delegation and myself. Permit me, also, to congratulate your government for successfully taking on the challenge of hosting such a huge, and logistically complex, and truly momentous, international event.
Mr. President, Saint Lucia came to this fifteenth Conference of Parties to the Convention, and 5th Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, in search of one thing:- an ambitious, legally binding outcome to these negotiations- one that will safeguard our collective future in the face of advancing climate change, for, indeed, we will all be affected.
Prior to leaving Saint Lucia a few days ago, I heard about the demonstrations taking place around the world and in particular, in the streets of Copenhagen. I also learned that the negotiations here in this Centre had entered choppy waters and that, at one time, work had come to a virtual standstill. These developments reminded me of two facts; firstly that these climate change negotiations underway here are delicate and challenging, and secondly, that the attention of the entire world is riveted on Copenhagen, all in the hope of a successful outcome.
Despite all of this, however, and despite the current state of negotiations, and the continued non-involvement of the Republic of China on Taiwan, therein, I remain hopeful of a successful outcome. This is because I am convinced in my mind, and in my heart, that we truly have no real choice but to reach agreement.
Mr. President, Saint Lucia is a proud member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the fundamental position of CARICOM and AOSIS is well known. Our mantra of “1.5 to stay alive” is not merely a political slogan but one grounded in scientific reality. Some have asked why we stick to this negotiating position, when others are holding on to a two-degree target. Mr. President, in life, and diplomacy, many things are negotiable, but the survival of our island homes is not. The lives of our people are not, and will never be negotiable, whatever the inducement.
Mr. President, Saint Lucia, as the CARICOM Lead Speaker on Sustainable Development, which includes climate change, would therefore like to underscore the fact that the entire Caribbean is highly vulnerable to the effects and impacts of climate change. The latest scientific and economic studies have warned us to expect, temperature increases well above the global average, a decline in overall precipitation of 20-30 percent and a significant increase in the frequency of category 4 and 5 hurricanes, to peak in the next decade. We have also been advised to expect the inundation of the land around 14 of 50 of our seaports, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people living on the coast, due to sea level rise.
Mr. President, until 2005, my country, Saint Lucia, was listed among the top four dive destinations in the world. However, in that year, unprecedentedly high and sustained sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean Sea resulted in the bleaching of many of our coral reefs. To date, many of these reefs have failed to recover and this, in addition to jeopardizing the livelihood of many fishers and their families, has resulted in Saint Lucia slipping well out of the top ten dive destinations, with a corresponding negative impact on the vital tourism sector. And while on the subject of tourism, Mr. President, please permit me to mention the deleterious effect of the substantial carbon tax unilaterally imposed on airline tickets to the Caribbean by a certain “friendly” country.
Mr. President, we, the presidents, prime ministers, ministers and other leaders gathered here, have to ask ourselves, individually and collectively, some hard questions. Have we come to Copenhagen to preside over the greatest political failure and environmental catastrophe in history or have we come here with a genuine determination to save the planet? Are we trying to postpone or evade the responsibility and cost of tackling climate change? Are we trying to negotiate the most expedient deal, based purely on selfish and short-term national interest?
If we are here purely for the purposes of expediency, then, let us not waste any more time; let us simply depart Copenhagen and hope that tomorrow, and the day after, we will be able look the people of the Bahamas, Tuvalu and the Maldives in the eye, even as they contemplate the rising seas, and explain the reason for our failure to act.
Let us also pray that our dreams will not be filled with the voices of the suffering, the dying and the displaced- the accusing voices of those, present and future, whose lives and future have been destroyed or rendered wretched by climate change or by our failure to act appropriately.
However, if we are here for the right reason, then let us erase the artificial lines of territorial sovereignty that we have drawn upon the surface of the planet and work towards the only outcome that will be acceptable to the billions of people that we represent; a pact to collectively, equitably and effectively address climate change
This will, for some of us, require a huge leap of faith. We must therefore all be prepared to negotiate in good faith. Yes, we will be breaking new ground, and there will be moments of fear. However, at these times we must remember that “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is doing what you are afraid to do. It is having the power to let go of the familiar and forge ahead into new territory."
There is an ancient story about a wise man who was frequently tested by the young men of the city. They would come to him with a bird cupped in someone’s hands and would ask him if the bird was alive or dead. If he said it was alive, they would squeeze it to death and drop it at his feet. If he said it was dead, they would simply release it and let it fly away. One day, they brought the entire village to the cave where the wise man lived and posed him the usual question, in the hope of humiliating him. This time, to their surprise, he simply responded, “The life of this bird is in your hands.” Mr. President the message I leave with us all is therefore clear: The future of our planet and its inhabitants is in our hands. Let us make this famous city truly unforgettable. Let us seal the deal, now. I thank you.
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