Secretary-General Antonio Guterres meets Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will visit hurricane-ravaged Dominica on October 8. The purpose of his trip (also include Antigua & Barbuda) is to survey the damage and to assess what more the Organization can do to help them recover.

On October 4, the Secretary-General spoke at a press encounter, at the UN headquarters in New York and urged all countries to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change “with greater ambition.”

Below is a transcript of that press encounter, published on the United Nations website, including questions put forward by members of the press.

PRESS ENCOUNTER – New York, 4 October 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for your presence and it is indeed good to see you again.

As you know, we are coming off a jam-packed High-level week and opening of the General Assembly.

Some of the most important speeches during that period came from the leaders of Caribbean nations reeling from back-to-back hurricanes.


The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda reported that the entire population of Barbuda had been left homeless.

The Prime Minister of Dominica declared that he had come to the United Nations “straight from the front line of the war on climate change”.

Today I am announcing that I will travel on Saturday to Antigua, Barbuda and Dominica to survey the damage and to assess what more the United Nations can do to help people recover, visiting of course also the operations that are taking place there.

When I met them last month, I was struck most of all by a prevailing message from all the Caribbean leaders – including from the hardest hit countries.

Yes, they said, we urgently need support today.

But even in the wake of utter devastation, they urged the world to act for tomorrow.

As I said in my address to the General Assembly, we should not link any single weather event with climate change.

But scientists are clear that such extreme weather is precisely what their models predict, and they predict it will be the new normal of a warming world.

I would like to share some relevant data about what we are seeing.

First, some facts about this year’s Atlantic hurricane season.

Hurricane Irma, which devastated Barbuda, was a Category 5 hurricane for three consecutive days – this is the longest on satellite record.

Irma’s winds reached 300 kilometres per hour for 37 hours — the longest on record at that intensity.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma marked the first time that two Category 4 storms made landfall in the United States in the same year.

And, of course, they were followed by Hurricane Maria, which decimated Dominica and had severe impacts across Puerto Rico.

Dominica after Hurricane Maria

The historic Roseau Public Library two days after Hurricane Maria © 2017 Yuri A. Jones

It is rare to see so many storms of such strength so early in the season.

Second, some facts about the changes in major climate systems.

Sea levels have risen more than 10 inches since 1870.

Over the past 30 years, the number of annual weather-related disasters has nearly tripled, and economic losses have quintupled.

Scientists are learning more and more about the links between climate change and extreme weather.

Climate change is warming the seas. This, in turn, means more water vapor in the atmosphere. When storms come, they bring more rain.

A warmer climate turbocharges the intensity of hurricanes. Instead of dissipating, they pick up fuel as they move across the ocean.

The melting of glaciers, and the thermal expansion of the seas, means bigger storm surges. With more and more people living on coastlines, the damage is, and will be that much greater.

Scientific models have long predicted an increase in the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. This is precisely what is happening – and even sooner than expected.

To date, the United Nations and its partners have provided a variety of humanitarian assistance to the Caribbean region by air and by sea: 18 tons of food; 3 million water purification tablets; 3,000 water tanks; 2,500 tents; 2,000 mosquito nets and school kits; 500 debit cards for cash assistance; and much else.

We have launched appeals for $113.9 million to cover humanitarian needs for the immediate period ahead.

I commend those countries that are showing solidarity with the Caribbean countries at this time of dire need, including those doing so through South-South cooperation.

But on the whole, I regret to report, the response has been poor. I urge donors to respond more generously in the weeks to come.

The United Nations will continue to help countries in the Caribbean to strengthen disaster preparedness, working closely with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

We are strongly committed to helping small island states and, indeed, all countries to adapt to inevitable climate impacts, to increase the pace of recovery and to strengthen resilience overall.

Innovative financing mechanisms will be crucial in enabling countries, like the Caribbean ones, to cope with external shocks of such significant magnitude.

We know that the world has the tools, the technologies and the wealth to address climate change, but we must show more determination in moving towards a green, clean, sustainable energy future.

Once again, I urge countries to implement the Paris Agreement, and with greater ambition.

That is why I will convene a Climate Summit in 2019, as you know.

But today and every day, I am determined to ensure that the United Nations works to protect our common future and to seize the opportunities of climate action.

Thank you very much.

Dominica after Hurricane Maria

Many streets in the capital Roseau looked like this one after Hurricane Maria © 2017 Yuri A. Jones

Questions and Answers

Spokesman: Maggie and then Edie.

Question: Secretary-General, good morning. Margaret Besheer, “Voice of America”. Secretary-General, a follow-up on what you just said about climate change. You say it’s the new normal, these storms and… and also we’re seeing drought. So, what can the UN do specifically? Could you start a climate change task force or a special CERF (Central Emergency Response Fund) just to mitigate the effects of climate change on some of the smaller island nations? What actions can you take? And if you’d indulge me on a… one other question, next week, President [Donald] Trump will decide whether to certify whether Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal from 2015. He’s indicated, perhaps, that he won’t. Other world leaders have weighed in on it, and I would just like to ask you your opinion on what should be done and how important this deal is to international security.

Secretary-General: Well, first of all, the most important thing is to do everything possible to stop the changes that we are witnessing in relation to climate patterns, and this is, of course, related to emissions. That is why the Paris Agreement is so important, and that is why we need an enhanced implementation of the Paris Agreement, because the Paris Agreement in itself is not enough. And this is something in which we’ll be mobilising the whole international community. Second, it’s very important to build resilience in the areas that are more dramatically impacted, and we have… we are working with different Caribbean organisations and others around the world and with World Bank in order to make sure that we are able to provide assistance in relation to that and, of course, funding is essential. Many of these countries in the Caribbean are middle-income countries. They have no access to concessional finance, and they now having external shocks of huge dimension.

I remember when Jordan and Lebanon were impacted by huge refugee inflows. They were finally entitled to receive concessional loans by the World Bank because of the fact that they had these huge external shocks. I think we are facing a similar situation. That is why I’m appealing for innovative financing mechanisms able to support these countries that clearly are too small to be able to have the solution of their problems but just by the normal access to financial markets. And, on the other hand, we will be working hard in relation to the immediate response to this humanitarian crisis. We have already, for instance, in Dominica 40 members of the staff of different UN agencies, and we are doing everything we can to support these countries to be able to face the challenge. There will be… there is, at the present moment, the preparation, two post-disaster assessments, done together by the World Bank and the UN, both in Dominica and Barbuda. So, we are very actively working both in relation to the immediate response to the present situation and to prevent further shocks both by climate action and building resilience.

© 2017 Yuri A. Jones

In relation to the nuclear agreement with Iran, we have said time and time again that we can see that it was a very important breakthrough from the point of view of global peace and security and that we strongly hope that that agreement will be maintained.

Spokesman: Edie?

Question: Thank you very much, Mr Secretary-General. On the climate issue, two questions. First, the Prime Minister of Dominica said that he wanted to be the first country that would build back better and climate resilient, climate resistant. What can the UN do to promote this? And are you considering an overall donors’ conference for the affected Caribbean countries to actually help them build back better?

Secretary-General: I think we need several fronts. First, the assessment we are doing with World Bank that will be presented to the Government of Dominica. Second, it’s very important to allow Dominica to have access to innovative forms of finance in concessional conditions, because, as I said, it’s very difficult for these countries to rebuild just by having access to normal capital markets. Third, we need, obviously, donor support, but we need that donor support to be linked both to the humanitarian response and to the plans that, based on the assessment [that] will be made by the Government, in order to make Dominica an even more resilient country in relation to future storms of this nature. So, there are several areas, and the UN will be very active in all of them and in all of them cooperating with the government. We have already had… we have a donor conference that is scheduled, and we’ll be working according to the needs in relation to all the fronts I mentioned.

Spokesman: Sherwin.

Question: Thank you, Secretary-General. The more we talk about the Paris climate change agreement, the more we begin to understand that it wasn’t enough. We constantly hear you talking about the need to upscale ambition. Was this a failure of the international community to agree to something that was seen at the time as a panacea for… in terms of mitigation? Was this a failure that they didn’t go far enough, given the fact that scientists are now telling us that the ambition levels in the current agreement is not going to be enough to mitigate climate change?

Secretary-General: No, it was clear from the beginning that that was not enough, but that was an extraordinary step forward. So, the Paris Agreement is, indeed, the best foundation for the future. Countries are asked to make their own commitments, as you know, and it was clear from the beginning that those commitments will need to be enhanced in order to be able to have a growth in the temp… rise in the temperatures below 2 and, if possible, at 1.5. If one looks at the Paris Agreement as it is, we’ll probably reach about 3 degrees. So, it’s clear we need more, but this was clear from the beginning. And what is important is that the Paris Agreement is the solid foundation to allow us to have the ambition to go further and to make sure that we do not have a warming of the planet at the catastrophic levels that would happen if we’d just move on as we are.

Spokesman: Evelyn.

Question: Mr Secretary-General, Evelyn Leopold. There’s an elephant in the region called the United States, which is withdrawing from the climate agreement and the administration denies that climate change even exists. What kind of an impact do you think it has on the region?

Secretary-General: I believe that what we are witnessing [in] the US society in relation to the reaction of some states but also cities, business community is such, and I would quote my Special Envoy on cities and climate change that recently said that he believes that the US commitments to Paris will be met independently of the Government decisions by the efforts that he is witnessing in the US economy, in the US society. As I said, governors, mayors, business leaders make Mike Bloomberg be very optimistic about the possibility of the US to meet its commitments. Last question?

Question: Thank you. Mr Secretary-General, following… following up with Evelyn’s question, have you have a chance to share these comments on climate change with President Trump or perhaps her daughter… his daughter?

Secretary-General: It is clear that there is a different perspective on this issue. I have not yet lost my hope that what is happening will be making those that are still sceptical about climate change to be more and more realising that this, indeed, is a major threat for the international community at the present moment. Thank you very much.