Dr. the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell Prime Minister Opening Remarks MIT

Friday, December 15, 2017 2:42 PM- George's, Grenada

December 13, 2017


Sisters and Brothers,

I begin by thanking the MIT community for their kind invitation and for the opportunity to speak on this important and very germane topic of Resilient Reconstruction in the Caribbean.

I present today in my capacity as the current Chairman of CARICOM and lead Head of State with Responsibility for Science and Technology in the Region.

I also speak from the vantage point of having personally experienced the devastation of my own country, Grenada, in 2004 and again in 2005 on account of Hurricanes Ivan and Emily. I was Prime Minister then as well, and we had to face the daunting task of rebuilding.

The estimated damage to Grenada after those back to back hurricanes was in excess of 200 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

The 2017 unprecedented Atlantic Hurricane season brought destruction and devastation of unimaginable proportions to several Caribbean Islands.

The entire island of Barbuda was rendered uninhabitable and provided a vivid example of the climate refuge problem – In your face so to speak.

Dominica lost 226% of its GDP in just a few hours.

I can go on and on, but suffice to say that, two months later, the affected islands are still reeling from the impact; and despair and disbelief still abound throughout our region.

The impacts on the physical infrastructure, the macroeconomic fundamentals, and the social, environmental and psycho-social fabric will continue to linger for an extended period.

Hence the call for resilient reconstruction in the Caribbean, where Caribbean people ought to be active participants in designing and implementing resilient solutions.

I fully subscribe to the MIT consensus in the concept note, which I now paraphrase for emphasis, that Islands’ infrastructure must be rebuilt and replaced by economically efficient infrastructure, capable of withstanding a 100- year storm every five years, with local environmental integrity and more accessibility to the broad population.

Thus, the multi-disciplinary research and outreach programme embarked on must be tailored to the specific realities and circumstances, and the unique vulnerabilities of the Caribbean region.

A case in point is Dominica’s resolve to be the first climate resilient nation to serve as a beacon for island nations throughout the globe.

What then do we mean by resilience? I encourage you to further interrogate this concept as it relates to the Caribbean.
The literature is replete with definitions of resilience in various fields of research, following the pioneer work of the Stockholm Resilience Institute on risk reduction and impact mitigation.

The European Commission, in its publication “Resilience in Practice,” defines resilience as absorption, adaptation and transformation capabilities to deal with change across multiple sectors of an economy.

The United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction defines resilience as the ability of human settlements to withstand and to recover quickly from any plausible hazard through risk reduction methodologies.

Several definitions focused on people-centered approaches and the broad application of resilience principles, like anticipation through preparation, planning, communication, simulation, cooperation and coordination and reactivity.

In Grenada, our resilience mantra following the devastation was “build back better” beginning with sound macroeconomic and fiscal policies and through strategic approaches.

I will argue that we need to view resilience in the Caribbean through two interconnected lenses.

The first being the short term and immediate response of establishing protective and defensive mechanisms and crisis management processes that minimize the impact of the extreme events. The second being the longer term  post-crisis stage reconstruction through detailed and comprehensive planning and multi-stakeholder participation and inclusive approaches.

Such approaches must be driven by climate smart investment portfolios, for socioeconomic transformation and sustainable development of the region, through affordable clean energy, resilient designed and low carbon infrastructure and human settlements, creative and innovative financial tools and effective partnerships.

Affordable Clean Energy

I will argue that the reform of the energy sector provides the greatest potential for socioeconomic transformation of the economies of the Caribbean.

Research and outreach must be tailored to ensure the elimination of fossil fuel imports and 100 percent renewable energy use by 2030. The current high price of fossil fuel imports which constitute close to 100 percent of energy use in some Caribbean countries is largely responsible for inhibiting growth and development.

In some countries of the region fossil fuel imports account for over seventy percent of export earnings. Coupled with debt to GDP ratios averaging in excess of 70 percent, unemployment rates averaging in excess of 25 percent and poverty rate averaging in excess of 30 percent, the region is mired in a viscous cycle of under development and poverty in some areas, with the attendant social consequences.

Reform of the energy sector must also include the removal of growth inhibiting monopoly power production institutions and relations, and the introduction of pro-competitive power generation structures, aided by progressive and modern regulatory frameworks.

The research and outreach planned must, at a minimum, examine, analyse and provide options, technologies and applications for a resilient Caribbean energy sector.

Low carbon infrastructure and Human Settlements
I will also argue that there should be no delay in investing in resilient low carbon infrastructure and human settlements and that doing so at this juncture will be less costly and more effective in the long run.

Despite the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015 and the subsequent climate conferences, global greenhouse gases continue to rise.

It is a well-established fact that while the Paris Agreement calls for a limit to global warming to well below 2 degree Celsius, above pre industrial levels, and to pursue efforts for a limit of 1.5 degree Celsius, that the current global trajectory is more likely to hit the 2.7 degree Celsius to 3 degree Celsius mark - an existential threat for Caribbean nations.

The recent World Bank Report projected that should global average temperature rises by 2 degree Celsius, the number of severe hurricanes will increase by 40 percent. The report also projected that based on current trends, global average temperature is more likely to rise by 4 degrees Celsius which will see an 80 percent increase in severe hurricanes.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the thousands of scientists the world over, the voices of a few loud climate skeptics loom large on the development prospects of the region.

The IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degree Celsius is due early next year but research done on the Caribbean categorically states that even at the 1.5 degree Celsius limit, the region will be severely impacted with exponentially damaging impacts at the 2.0 degree Celsius limit.

The research indicated we are currently on track to hit the 1.5 degree Celsius mark in 2030 and that the Caribbean will be significantly warmer and drier. There will be increased intensity of rain events, higher sea levels and more intense hurricanes. This is what we are facing, Sisters and Brothers.

The research concluded that the 1.5 degree Celsius limit is a necessity, a compromise and a call to action. A call for aggressive reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions; a call for legal and regulatory actions; a call for adaptation actions and a call for a comprehensive regime on loss and damage.

Creative and Innovative Financial Tools

Sisters and Brothers, we need to develop new creative and innovative financial tools geared to deepen the resilience of the Caribbean economies. Our research and outreach must be geared to leverage significant financial resources for resilience building.

Due to fiscal constraints, Caribbean economies do not have the budgetary space to finance the resilience project and promote sustainable development. The economies do not have the fiscal space to invest in the widespread use of low carbon technologies in the pursuit of the goal of climate mitigation and adaptation; to improve energy efficiency; and to expand the use of renewable energy technologies.

There is the need to re-examine the insurance facilities, the risk transfer and risk management mechanisms and the facilitative access modalities for innovative sources of finance.

There is the need to re-examine our sovereign debt regimes and restructure them accordingly, in light of these extreme events, which create additional debt burdens and more fiscal and microeconomic trauma. Hurricane clauses as risk transfer elements in sovereign debt instruments are crucial for liquidity relief, debt sustainability and economic stability, which are necessary conditions for building resilience.

Research and outreach can look at the feasibility of Blue bonds, Green bonds, debt swaps, resilience bonds, social impact bonds, credit guarantees, carbon pricing mechanisms and other instruments geared to the Caribbean markets.

The issues of de-risking and blacklisting of economies can be critical on the research agenda; as well as the issue of graduation and of eligibility to concessional resources based on the single per capital metric rather than on the unique circumstances and specific vulnerabilities of the Caribbean countries.

In sum, Sisters and Brothers, the research and outreach agenda on this topic of creative and innovative financial tools is very extensive and has great potential to unleash the required development paradigm shift for a more resilient Caribbean.

Sisters and Brothers, the role of partnership for development and building resilience has been well articulated in the Samoa Pathway, the Paris Agreement and Goal 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The research and outreach agenda should look at practical mechanisms to engage the private sector in public private partnerships.

The engagement of a range of development partners in strategic relationships is necessary to mobilize and access the funds required for investing in resilient infrastructure, capacity building and technology development and transfer.

The multi-stakeholders approach including social protocols and participatory and inclusive decision-making fora among governments, private sector organisations, non-government organisations, trade unions, faith-based organisations, academia and special interest groups is indeed a powerful tool for building resilience.

In fact, your list of planned activities is a testimony of the spirit of effective partnership for development, and I must congratulate you.

Sisters and Brothers, I will conclude by reiterating that resilient reconstruction demands an intense research and outreach focus on economic, environmental, social and psycho-social dimensions, both in the short term crises mode and the longer term post-crises mode.

That climate smart investments in affordable clean energy, low carbon infrastructure and human settlements, creative and innovative financial tools and effective partnership are necessary, albeit not sufficient for sustainable development of Caribbean economies.

As I close, let me remind you that we are only seven months away from the start of the next hurricane season. That the incontestable science has predicted that frequent and intense hurricanes in the Caribbean is a new normal.

Therefore, as I commend you for the noble initiative here today, I enjoin you to be hold, be aggressive and ambitious in your research and outreach agenda to aid in the resilient reconstruction of the Caribbean.


I thank you





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