Grenada’s minister for climate and environment has told Sky News that the COP26 climate summit is a “make or break” moment for the survival of dozens of island nations.
Simon Stiell said: “I think it’s make or break. The support of the international community… is absolutely essential for us, and other developing nations… for our survival.
“And our right to thrive – survival is such a base term. I want more for my children than just to survive.
“I want more for my people. I want more for myself than just to survive. We need to be able to thrive.”
Mr Stiell’s stark warning comes just weeks before world leaders gather for the G20 summit in Rome and the COP26 UN backed climate meeting in Glasgow.
He said: “How long can we continue to talk about the same things? How many more reports do we need to wait to see?
“Lives are at risk… entire nations will be underwater, if we don’t protect our people, if we don’t protect our livelihoods.
“What price? What price do you put on lives? What price do you put on culture? Our right to exist?”
The comments illustrate the growing faultline between climate-vulnerable developing nations and rich countries at COP26 if they are not given more assistance to protect themselves from the changes already locked in as a result of global warming.
Poorer countries, backed by the UN, are asking that at least 50% of the promised annual $100bn in climate funding from wealthy nations and institutions go directly to adaptation measures.
This includes building sea walls, moving communities away from rising sea levels, and better protecting critical infrastructure like roads, water and electricity supplies from storms, droughts, and saltwater intrusion.
But Sky News understands that some rich countries who are more focused on reducing carbon emissions are resisting this request, setting up a David and Goliath style battle for survival that could threaten the most important climate summit since the Paris climate accord was agreed in 2015.
Mr Stiell has emerged as a leader amongst a coalition of dozens of island and low lying nations who have done the least to cause climate change but are most vulnerable to it.
Many of those nations view the Glasgow summit as a last chance to secure the help they need.
He said: “The extraordinary challenge we face in small island developing states such as Grenada, is that we do not have the resources to protect ourselves, we don’t have the technology, we don’t have anywhere to run. “
“We don’t have the financial economic capacity to absorb this, and let’s remember the challenges that we are facing were not created here.”
He issued a plea to the Group of 20 nations who will meet in Rome immediately prior to COP26, saying: “But those developed nations within the G20 who generate 80% of global emissions and constitute 85% of global GDP?
“The responsibility lies there, the technology and the means to do what is necessary lies there, the financial resources to take that necessary action resides there.”
Although huge efforts are under way to both adapt to existing changes and to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, Grenada, on the most southerly tip of the crescent of Caribbean islands, is a nation under pressure.
The two pillars of its economy are tourism and agriculture and both are vulnerable to climate change.
Increasing heat and drought and unpredictable and intense rainfall alongside saltwater intrusion into the water supply and soil make agriculture increasingly precarious.
Sea level rises will eventually threaten lavish tourist resorts, and rising ocean temperatures threaten fish and the reefs that support them.
Telescope Bay resident Patricia Richards told us she had made the decision to leave after the beach in front of her home disappeared.
She said: “It’s really bad, really really big changes. My son turns 30 next month and he was born in this place – I used to walk far out to bathe him in the sea, and now there is no land.
“I feel angry because I know it is humans that caused climate change but they keep doing the wrong thing… right now the sea is up on us and it keeps on coming and there is no stopping it.”
Melon and pumpkin farmer Witfield Lyons said: “We are now noticing there is so much rain during the dry season, unexpectedly so much sun during the rainy season so it’s difficult as farmers to cope, we cannot really plan … simply because the climate has changed.
“It’s hard to be a farmer because of global warming.”
Grenada’s government estimates that it will cost around $350m USD to deliver all the protective adaptation measures, including protecting the capital’s vulnerable harbour, that are needed.
This represents around half of Grenada’s entire annual GDP.
At the moment, nearly a quarter of the $100bn in promised global climate finance provided by rich nations to developing ones is earmarked solely for adaptation measures.
But the UN Environment Programme estimates that the actual cost for global adaptation is closer to $70bn annually, and will rise to $140-300bn by 2030 and $280-500bn by 2050.
The IPCC said in a recent assessment that no matter what humans do to reduce carbon emissions, lasting sea level rise will be irreversible for hundreds to thousands of years, and that the world is likely to experience 15-30cm of sea level rise through the middle of the century.
Under scenarios where emissions continue on their current path, with warming approaching 3-4C, it is projected to be closer to two feet.