St Vincent PM: A terrible time for small-island states

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines. –

PRIME Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has criticised the annual UN climate change conference (COP), labelling it “largely a talk shop,” after the devastation caused by Hurricane Beryl.

He spoke in an interview published in the Guardian UK on July 1.

The “extremely dangerous” category 4 storm made landfall in the Windward Islands on July 1, wreaking havoc.

Gonsalves expressed frustration over what he saw as the lack of meaningful action by major greenhouse-gas-emitting countries.

“You hear a lot of talk, but you don’t see much action – like making funds available to small-island developing states and other vulnerable countries.”

He said the early-season hurricane should raise awareness of the region’s vulnerabilities and prompt action on commitments from the Paris accord and other agreements.

Gonsalves pointed to the July 4 UK election campaign as an example of weak political will on climate action.

“Climate change is not a major part of the campaigns.

“While some Labour and Green party members mention it, it is not central to the major parties’ messages because it is not seen as an election winner.

“The same situation is occurring in Western Europe and the United States as countries shift to the right. It’s a terrible time for small-island developing states and vulnerable countries.”

SVG, still recovering from a major volcanic eruption in 2021, and neighbouring Grenada have been affected by Hurricane Beryl. After it hit Carriacou, Grenada, officials reported significant devastation.

From his residence in St Vincent on July 1, Gonsalves described the catastrophic impact of the storm, which ripped off roofs, including that of the 204-year-old St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Kingstown, the capital.

“We have no electricity and as I speak, the rain is pounding on the official prime minister’s residence and the winds are howling.

“It’s going to get much worse.

“The coming hours are going to be horrendous.”

The hurricane’s torrential rain and gale-force winds downed power lines, damaged vehicles and forced thousands into shelters.

Videos posted on social media showed aluminium roofing sheets flying through the air.

Gonsalves said on Union Island, 90 per cent of homes lost their roofs or were severely damaged.

The US Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned Beryl posed a “life-threatening” danger.

The hurricane rapidly intensified from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in just 42 hours, a rare event in Atlantic hurricane history.

By the morning of June 30, countries across the eastern Caribbean, including SVG, Barbados, Grenada and St Lucia, were on hurricane watch. By the end of the day, some islands had declared a state of emergency, imposing curfews and movement restrictions.

The hurricane also disrupted flights and postponed major events, including the St Vincent Carnival and the Caricom leaders’ summit scheduled for this week in Grenada.

Scientists attribute the increased intensity and destructiveness of tropical storms to human-caused climate change, which warms oceans and fuels storm strength.