OECS Environment Ministers Rally in St. Vincent and the Grenadines
OECS Media Release
Tuesday, June 21, 2022 — The Council of Ministers with responsibility for Environmental Sustainability in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) convened its ninth meeting (COM:ES 09) in St Vincent and the Grenadines from May 31 to June 2, 2022. The meeting was held under the theme “Shifting to more Integrated Approaches for Sustainability, Resilience and Prosperity in OECS SIDS”.
The hybrid plenary sessions were open to relevant Ministers and senior technical officials from the 11 OECS Member States, along with invited (regional and international) participants from development partners, the private sector, and Civil society who joined in person and virtually.
Dr. Didacus Jules, Director General of the OECS, paid tribute to the outgoing Chair, St. Kitts and Nevis, and welcomed the incoming Chair, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. While lamenting the “unprecedented disruption and distress from a COVID pandemic, a volcanic eruption, and geopolitical events,” and noting the continued vulnerability and anxiety of OECS SIDS on the eve of another hurricane season, Dr. Jules also acknowledged the “unparalleled opportunities for innovation and transformation …" that the region must grapple with.
The Chair, Hon. Carlos James, Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Sustainable Development and Culture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, citing the recent IPCC reports, and the implications for SIDS, reiterated the call for larger countries to step up in Climate ambition and action. The other Member States called out the global community for the disproportionate urgency demonstrated and financing invested in dealing with the conflict in Europe, while Small Island Developing States continue to struggle on the front lines of a climate change war zone with very little to show in terms of the speed and size of resources from the polluters.
The Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, in his feature address at the cocktail ceremony, highlighted the struggle of OECS Member States, using the scenario of the recent volcanic eruption coupled with parallel crises, and the injustice of mounting debt to deal with recovery, mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. He lamented,
"Some 40% of our Capital expenditure is spent on addressing issues touching on [climate change], land degradation and biodiversity - money that has to be borrowed."
He also expressed gratitude to the OECS and CARICOM countries and institutions for the support provided to St. Vincent and the Grenadines during and post the volcanic eruption.
Several policy papers and frameworks were considered and deliberated by Ministers to help set and advance harmonized approaches to key challenges and opportunities. These included: an OECS Stakeholder Engagement Strategy for civil society and the private sector; a Regional Action Framework for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM); an OECS Strategy and Action Plan for Ship and Land-Based Generated Waste; a Research Agenda, Strategy and Action Plan for Terrestrial and Marine Biological Resources; and a Needs-based Finance (NBF) Strategy for access to and mobilization of climate finance.
Ministers were also apprised of upcoming and ongoing regional initiatives designed to support identified needs and priorities, such as the second NDC Investment Forum from July 5-7, 2022 (Visit https://ndcfi.oecs.org/2nd-ndc-investment-forum/ for details); Regulatory Support for Renewable Energy Transition in the OECS; Geothermal Energy Capacity Building for Utilization, Investment and Local Development (GEOBUILD); the UNESCO initiative for scientific cooperation; Cooperation for the Adoption and the Promotion of the Circular Economy in Caribbean Businesses (CAVEC); and the Sargassum Algae Control Cooperation Program (SARG’COOP).
At a closed Caucus session, Ministers deliberated on preparations for key upcoming fora such as the 103rd meeting of CARICOM Council on Trade and Environment (COTED), the UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 27), the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15) and the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Ministers gave special consideration to strategies and actions for collectively addressing bottlenecks and opportunities related to climate finance, and agreed on key priorities and other matters for advancing the operationalization of the Eastern Caribbean Conservation Caucus in collaboration with the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF).
At the closing of the COM:ES 09, Ministers received and welcomed an intervention from the Virgin Islands, through Special Envoy for the Premier’s Office, Benito Wheatley, who expressed deep gratitude to the region, including sister OECS Member States and the Commission, for their strong expressions of support amid the threat of consideration of direct rule by the United Kingdom (UK). Special Envoy Wheatley was particularly grateful for the offers of assistance to help strengthen institutions and systems of Government in the Virgin Islands, stating that democracy must not be seen as a problem but as an important part of the solution. The meeting reiterated strong support for the Virgin Islands and applauded the bi-partisan steps taken in their quest to ensure they retained their level of autonomy and dignity.