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The Premier of the British Virgin Islands, Ministers, parliamentarians, and technical officers from Caribbean countries gathered at the OPCC side event at the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS4) to exchange knowledge on legislation initiatives set to amplify climate financing in the subregion.

The Parliamentary Observatory on Climate Change and Just Transition (OPCC) held a side event titled “Climate change and environmental legislation in support of the delivery of the new Programme of Action for SIDS” at the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS-4) in Antigua and Barbuda on 29 May 2024. The event was co-hosted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change of the British Virgin Islands, and the Commission of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

The event was moderated by Honourable Veronica Dorsette-Hector, Parliamentary Secretary of the Montserrat Legislative Assembly. As a participant at the OPCC, Hon. Dorsette-Hector opened the event by highlighting the importance of effective legislation in unleashing financial support to cope with the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean. She emphasized the historical importance of this high-level forum for Caribbean SIDS and thanked organizers for bringing the discussion to the public eye. 

Mrs. Diane Quarless, Director of ECLAC subregional headquarters for the Caribbean, highlighted the ECLAC’s support to the OPCC since 2021 and affirmed the OPCC’s commitment to contributing to discussions toward seeking solutions to Caribbean SIDS. According to Mrs. Quarless, the Caribbean’s particular development challenges need to be addressed as the sub-region grapples with multiple crises: increasing and catastrophic impacts of climate change, slow economic recovery and stagnation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the stifling and increasing debt servicing costs that prevent growth and prosperity, and the need for renewed international financial architecture. The Director’s remarks emphasized the need to address the financial gap hindering the adaptation and mitigation efforts of Caribbean SIDS, which should require more resources to finance the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economic development paradigm. National frameworks emerge as a fundamental element to enable access to critical resources. Modernising national laws and regulations is crucial in de-risking, unlocking, and mobilising climate finance to foster a just transition.

The event also counted on the distinct participation of Honourable Dr. Natalio D. Wheatley, Premier and Minister of Finance of the British Virgin Islands and an active OPCC participant. Hon. Wheatley highlighted that the OPCC Legislative Tracker offers comprehensive data on environmental legislation across the region. This valuable resource can serve as a model for developing innovative environmental management and enforcement mechanisms, such as the British Virgin Islands' Environment and Climate Change Bill, which is currently in its final stages. The Premier addressed the financial limitations that SIDS have experienced in light of the devastation of climate events. He emphasized the urgent need to amplify access to finance for Caribbean SIDS as a climate justice demand. While diverse, the SIDS and low-lying coastal states of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) share many of the same development aspirations, vulnerabilities, challenges, and underlying values and ways of life. With that, the Premier concluded by praising the OPCC as a mechanism to share policy and legislative solutions. He called for more Caribbean parliamentarians to join and become active participants “so that together we can keep afloat in the rapidly rising seas”.

The OPCC and the Caribbean

Following the opening remarks, OPCC participant Honourable Gwendell Mercelina, Member of the Parliament from Curaçao presented the OPCC and its planned activities for the Caribbean. He explained that the OPCC is a network of lawmakers and government technical officers from LAC whose main goal is to bolster the region's environmental and climate change legislation. The OPCC’s portfolio comprises three pillars: (i) a network for knowledge building and sharing; (ii) an online database and information dissemination tool; and (iii) a forum for high-level coordination and dialogue in international forums. Mr. Mercelina noted how the OPCC can be a useful resource and tool in the topic of Climate Finance, mentioned examples of sustainable finance laws showcased in the OPCC’s Legislative Tracker (available at opcc.cepal.org), and listed the sustainable finance legal instruments contained within the OPCC. Finally, he expressed the OPCC's intention to support Caribbean SIDS’ national legislative priorities and highlighted that the Observatory is open to collaborating with Caribbean legislators as required. 

Caribbean Legislative Cases

To highlight innovative legislation and its role in creating a positive funding environment for building resilience and enhancing institutional capacities to face the challenges posed by climate change, the OPCC side event at SIDS-4 Conference featured presentations of four legislative cases from the British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and Grenada. These presentations focused on climate change legislative initiatives and their connection to climate finance.

Ms. Angela Burnett-Penn, Environmental Officer at the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change of the British Virgin Islands presented the first case: The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund Act. She indicated that access to finance is significantly constrained in the British Virgin Islands, a situation that worsened after Brexit as the country lost access to the European Development Fund. Ms. Burnett-Penn argued that the Trust Fund does not exist in isolation, but it is part of a comprehensive climate change architecture whose foundation started with a Climate Change Committee in 2008, which develops a policy updated every five years and supported by an implementation plan. The trust fund integrates domestic and international climate finance with the country’s national strategies. It supports policy implementation and innovative climate initiatives, focusing on capacity building, education, research, public knowledge, and disaster risk reduction. Guided by an operations manual and a business plan, the Fund functions as a granting mechanism. By partnering with loan institutions, it facilitates national projects, like the solar technology energy program removing upfront costs for homeowners installing solar panels. Mrs. Burnett-Penn indicated that, since the operational manual aims for Green Climate Fund accreditation, it can serve as inspiration to other overseas territories and independent countries in the region. She indicated that the USD 4 million expected to be leveraged to the Fund may allow the British Virgin Islands to demonstrate proof of concept, which can then enable more international finance.

 Mrs. Milagros De Camps, Vice-minister for Climate Change and Sustainability of the Dominican Republic sent a video, due to a scheduling conflict that prevented her in-person participation. In her speech, she outlined the country’s Legal Framework to address the phenomenon of Climate Change. The Dominican Republic has produced the draft of a climate change legal framework, a crucial piece of legislation to attract and ensure sustainable finance. This would be achieved by unlocking investments from private organizations, international climate funds, local funds, and commercial banks by providing clear guidelines, regulations, and incentives for climate resilience projects. It also sets out a climate change financial strategy that redirects existing funds to climate adaptation and mitigation. The Vice-minister indicated that the legal framework also seeks to enhance transparency, accountability, and governance, ensuring investments’ contributions to the country's sustainable development goals. The Vice-minister highlighted the importance of the collaboration with policymakers from across LAC through the OPCC. The exchange with OPCC participants allowed the Ministry to identify gaps, address concerns, and incorporate innovative approaches that strengthened the draft law, which is currently being proposed to the Congress of the Dominican Republic.

The next speaker, Mr. Travis Sinckler, Senior Environment Officer at the Ministry of Environment and National Beautification, Green and Blue Economy of Barbados, presented on “Addressing Climate Resilience through Policy, Institutional and Legislative Frameworks in SIDS, and Opportunities for Knowledge Exchange - The Barbados Case”. Mr. Sinkler emphasized the need for consistent parliamentary engagement beyond periodic meetings such as the SIDS4, thereby indicating that the OPCC could be an institutional innovation with the potential to advance the SIDS agenda at a parliamentary level. Going beyond the specific aspects of legislation, Mr. Sinckler showcased several Barbadian programs and policies that tackle different areas affected by climate change. Barbados' blue economy roadmap, supported by the IDB, includes a financial instrument, a debt-for-nature swap, and a blue bond aimed at enhancing climate resilience and marine spatial planning, generating USD 1.75 million annually and USD 70 million over its lifespan. Despite much progress, Barbados faces institutional capacity and regulatory gaps regarding knowledge management. For instance, he noted the  GEF-funded project titled SIDS-SIDS Green-Blue Economy Knowledge Transfer, developed by Barbados and Grenada aimed at facilitating knowledge support and transfer across the Caribbean. In conclusion, Mr. Sinckler called for ECLAC and OPCC support to address the gaps and opportunities for support to SIDS.

Honourable Kerryne Z. James, Minister of Climate Resilience, the Environment and Renewable Energy of Grenada, stated that the creation of strong parliaments needs to be ensured, therefore commending the topic of the side event and the OPCC’s focus in the Caribbean. Mrs. James utilized the topic of the plastic treaty negotiations to further develop an angle for finance for SIDS and indicated that the new plastic treaty does include specific finance provisions to develop a robust mechanism leveraging financing from all sources, from both private and public sectors. SIDS have advocated for sub-funds within this mechanism, such as a plastic implementation fund to support national action plans and a remediation fund for existing plastic pollution. The treaty proposes a dedicated multilateral fund to provide timely, adequate, predictable, and accessible financing for SIDS, supporting activities like compliance, technical assistance, capacity building, training, and technology transfer. Additionally, the treaty encourages leveraging private sector financing that is predictable, timely, and adequate, emphasizing the sector's responsibility in addressing global plastic pollution.

Discussion

Mrs. Dawn Pierre-Nathoniel, Chief Sustainable Development and Environment Officer, Minister for Education, Sustainable Development, Innovation, Science, Technology, and Vocational Training of Saint Lucia, expressed her satisfaction with the OPCC initiative for data knowledge, information sharing, dialogue, and coordination, aiming at providing greater support to the region. Mrs. Pierre-Nathoniel indicated that Saint Lucia very recently enacted their Climate Change Act of 2024, a framework legislation that allows for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, and more. This framework provides an overarching structure that differs from some of the approaches previously discussed. Addressing the panelists, she inquired whether their countries have considered carbon markets and issues related to loss and damage, and if they are planning to make amendments to incorporate these elements given the evolving climate landscape.

The Honourable Premier Wheatley indicated that the British Virgin Islands is currently in the process of transforming its exclusive fishing zone into an exclusive economic zone, which necessitates legislative approval from the United Kingdom. This transformation is crucial for carbon markets, particularly concerning marine assets. Furthermore, the current Government of the British Virgin Islands is collaborating with private sector partners to develop accurate metrics for asset valuation, thereby addressing the challenges related to asset pricing in carbon markets. Engaging in carbon markets, potentially on a multilateral level, is essential given the cross-national nature of this issue, and does require legislative measures. Mrs. Burnett-Penn complemented the Premier’s response by indicating that the Trust Fund can potentially receive revenues from the carbon market, as it includes a clause permitting any sources of revenue deemed appropriate by the Board. 

Mr. Sinckler indicated that Barbados had an Emergency Disaster Fund under the Emergency Act, which was later integrated into the National Insurance Scheme. Barbados is also a member of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), which provides the country with a level of support. Additionally, Barbados has natural disaster clauses that provide support through loan interest payment relief in the event of a natural disaster, inspired by similar initiatives in St. Kitts and Dominica. Mrs. Quarless recommended ECLAC’s study titled “Exploring  the notion  of a Caribbean emissions trading scheme” to the audience and expressed her belief that a regional route, in addition to national initiatives, could be a feasible solution for CARICOM countries accessing carbon markets. 

Finally, Shanna Emmanuel, Programme Officer of the Environmental Sustainability Division at the OECS Commission, speaking on behalf of Mr. Chamberlain Emmanuel, highlighted the establishment of the OECS regional parliamentarian caucus in 2023, an initiative that echoes the considerations expressed by panelists previously on the importance of integrating parliaments and parliamentarians in issues pertaining the region’s priorities. The Caucus is expected to hold one to two annual meetings. Ms. Emmanuel also addressed the question on carbon markets by indicating that the OECS launched a coalition to pursue a regional approach to carbon markets including all member countries. The coalition seeks to develop capacity, understand market mechanisms, and explore access strategies over the next few years, to create a new regional carbon market.

Conclusion

Although the event explored diverse cases, the British Virgin Islands Premier’s statement synthesized the discussions promoted during the OPCC side event at the SIDS Conference: “In this sub-region, we know well that we are not divided by the Caribbean Sea, but connected by it”. The presented cases from the British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Barbados, and Grenada, plus the perspectives shared by representatives from Montserrat and Curaçao, clearly showcased the role of legislation in enhancing climate finance to address climate change vulnerabilities in the Caribbean. The discussion fostered throughout the side event shed light on innovative legislation and its role in creating a positive funding environment for building resilience and enhancing institutional capacities toward facing the challenges posed by climate change. As posed by Honourable Mrs. Veronica Dorsette-Hector, as much as the challenges are tremendous, great progress is being made in the Caribbean. She claimed that now it is the time to strengthen the initiatives underway and mobilize efforts to advance even further. The OPCC continues to affirm its commitment to supporting Caribbean countries in advancing their legislative priorities and their initiatives in compliance with the new Programme of Action for SIDS. 

 

To watch the event in full, please access the YouTube video: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ6PjhtcgYY

 

For background information, please refer to the event’s website: 

https://www.cepal.org/en/events/climate-change-and-environmental-legislation-support-delivery-new-programme-action-sids