By Anders Lorenzen
When the catastrophic, and record breaking category 5 hurricane, Irma, diverted from its devastating path through the Caribbean, it prompted the Prime Minister of the island nation Barbuda and Antigua to attribute the weather event to climate change.
Gaston Browne was speaking to the BBC’s Today Programme when he said: “The science is clear. Climate change is real in the Caribbean we are living with the consequences of climate change. It is unfortunate that there are some who see it differently.”
Irma has left its mark on Barbuda. Due to his fears that it was not yet over yet, Mr Browne moved to completely evacuate the island, as another hurricane, Jose, was predicted to be heading towards the island. Though to Mr Browne’s relief, the island narrowly escaped. Irma is estimated to have damaged 90% of the buildings on the island and left half of its 1,600 inhabitants homeless.
He argued that Irma sets a new president: “This storm was easily the strongest to have developed in the Atlantic. The carnage is there for all to see.”
And he appeared to deliver a coded message to US President Donald Trump and other politicians who deny the reality of human induced climate change: “The irony about it is that islands in the Caribbean are very small … Many of us are not emitters of carbon and we suffer from all of these profligate emissions from large industrial countries. And at the same time, you have some leaders in the industrial world who are trying to say that climate change is not real. We do not accept that, we see that as a form of irresponsibility. These heavy polluters ought to take responsibility for climate change. They are the ones who have the large carbon footprint and in essence, are contributing to global warming at the expense of other countries that clearly are not polluting the planet.”
While the US is not currently the world’s largest emitter in second place behind China, they have been historically and are the nation deemed most responsible for climate change and therefore campaigners have argued that they should make the most ambitious step to address it. That started to happen during the Obama years but has since regressed under Trump.
Upon a helicopter Mr Browne wrongly thought that the island had escaped the worst of the impacts, only later did he learn that the island was literally devastated, saying that was one of the most painful things he had ever experienced. He said it could take years and tens of millions of pounds to rebuild the island: “It could be in the region of $100m, for a small state that is definitely beyond our means. We will have to approach the international community for some level of assistance.”
There was some relieving news for the small island state and Mr Browne as the nearby island Antigua which is part of the nation (Barbuda and Antigua) and is more populous than Barbuda escaped the worst of the hurricane. However, it will be days and perhaps weeks before the full extent of the damages and fatalities will be known.
The prime minister will have been relieved that the island avoided, and will be working round the clock to make island habitable again and start the rebuilding process. Barbuda is one of the two major islands that make up the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda and are part of the British Commonwealth.