Sustainability in the Hemispheric Integration System
Lionel Hurst
Ambassador to the OAS of Antigua and Barbuda

(Prepared by Madeline Koch)

Hemispheric Trade and Sustainability Symposium, April 17, 2001, Musée de la Civilisation, Quebec, Canada Sponsored by the International http://www.iisd.org/trade/qc2001

Note: The following is a partial summary of the remarks given at the Hemispheric Trade and Sustainability Symposium. It is neither an official document nor a complete transcript, nor has it been checked against the speaker's text.

Lionel Hurst
Ambassador to the OAS of Antigua and Barbuda

You have called on this first panel to discuss the issue of sustainability in the hemisphere. First I must apologize for my perspective is as a diplomat and as an ambassador for my country to the OAS.

From where we sit in Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica is a continent. Yet we have been a member of the United Nations for 20 years. My prime minister will be here this weekend as one of the 34 elected heads. Like me, he will have the opportunity to speak for 10 minutes.

The most pressing long-term issue of sustainability that concerns the Caribbean is global climate change. The 500-year-old civilization created by your and my forebears after 1492 - what is known as American civilization - is hurtling down a dead end. Unless it lessens its reliance on fossil fuels, it will demolish the most vulnerable tiny states of the hemisphere before it destroys itself like every other human civilization that came before it.

Energy is a key issue. Each year North America dumps 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide and other particulate matter into our skies deliberately. These countries have a policies to make our skies a dumping ground, and we indulge in this reckless behaviour. American civilization is undoubtedly the most inventive and creative in the short history of the human race. Our planet has existed for 3 billion, human civilization for no more than 10 000 years. Part of the reason is that prior to those 10 000 years, earth's climate was beastly, and that beast has been in slumber for a long time. But we are now poking the beast. Most of the conveniences and comforts you enjoy are the inventions of the last century: the automobile, the telephone, the airplane, central heating and air conditioning, universal health coverage, telecommunications, Viagra. These are all recent inventions of the 20th century and they all require tremendous amounts of energy to work. Most people in the Americas have no idea how electricity is generated or how food is grown. Generating plants are far from where we live, so we suffer a disconnect - pun intended - that encourages a feeling of not being responsible. As a result of such beheviour, thousands of species of fauna and flora, some still unknown to us, die each year.

President George Bush's recent decision to scrap a treaty negotiated in good faith is worrisome. The Kyoto Protocol and UN convention on climate change were intended as the first steps toward the successful management of this global resource. The result of the abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol is real and not immediately reversible: the sea level will continue to rise, there will be extreme events such as hurricanes and droughts (mostly droughts), and so on. These exact a toll that Caribbean islands have not agreed to pay. American production systems are unsustainable.

At the Summit of the Americas, the leaders' declaration will assert that they recognize the importance of energy to the region's prosperity. They will recognize its importance to improved quality of life and environmental well-being. They will agree to enhancing the framework for promoting sustainable development. Renewable energy will get short shrift. Yet your leaders will fail to provide that institution with the resources it needs to fulfil such mandates. They will make it difficult to foster the very success of its mandate. None the less, the OAS remains a key institution. It was founded in 1948, although Canada remained outside it until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Before that, the Canadians saw the OAS is as a multilateral tool used by its neighbour to the south to get its way. But Canada's mere presence in the OAS has strengthened, even emboldened, the role of small states and their diplomats in their role in the institution.

Cuba is the largest Caribbean state in the OAS, but it has been suspended for 30 years. Canada and the Caribbean we are the largest and smallest, making up two thirds of the territory.

Caribbean countries have defined security in the traditional way as well as in terms of new threats: climate change, which generates intense hurricanes but has no military solution; the spread of HIV/AIDs, which also has no military solution. We are collaborating with others to find solutions: UNEP, the WTO, Caricom, our University of the West Indies, as well as other institutions. We hope to find ways to defend us against these serious threats.

Sustainable development in the hemisphere is achievable. Every problem or challenge faced by American civilization today can be overcome, but it needs financial resources and a commitment of human talent and political will. When these are applied, we can achieve success. American civilization can thrive and flourish, and a summit is a great way to find ways for this to happen. I congratulate Canada by helping to make this summit happen, and with the work of symposiums like this one, we will, I hope, ensure that the future will be greater than the past we inherited.

Comments from the Question-and-Answer Period

Small Caribbean countries that rely heavily on tourism have clearly experienced some growth. Additional growth has brought new prosperity. Barbados's foreign minister refers to the Caribbean as the "recently poor" because the per capita salary stands around at $8000 per year. Depending on the resources of the World Bank and others, the very poor can become the very wealthy or not so poor. There is a problem with the connection between economic growth and prosperity as it relates to energy: the amount of petroleum consumed has a multiplier effect on the price. As you consume more petroleum, you emit more gases, which endanger the atmosphere more. Unless there is an attempt to rely on other sources, you are therefore endangering the future. I congratulate the Puerto Ricans. They cannot afford more petroleum and are relying increasingly on ocean geothermal technology.

The states will abandon the Kyoto Protocol in exchange for the benefits from the FTAA. We have already seen this in the documents on the negotiations. We have seen a willingness to exchange environmental gains for immediate returns from trade, as reflected in those negotiations. I think this will follow through in the more serious negotiations of the FTAA.

The OAS is pivotal, but small countries like mine cannot negotiate against large states like brazil and the U.S. We pool our experts and have them work for us in a regional organization. Our success rate has been, in our view, extremely good because we have made proposals for small economies and have sold the ideas. Often we do not have a lot to trade, and we fear that subsidized food production in the developed north will displace our small farmers whose production levels reflect their individual efforts, which would be disastrous for rural development like Antigua and Barbuda and Jamaica. We have successfully argued that small states have a part to play, which is being noticed in the FTAA.

Many countries of the Caribbean started as part of a global trading system. It was no mistake that Guadeloupe and Martinique were exchanged for all of French Canada. In the case of the Caribbean, I think we are not so fearful because we live in the shadow of these two giants to the north; we dwell on the periphery. The small states of the Caribbean are like the egrets on the cows, enjoying a symbiotic relationship. The large economies are pleased we exist, and we enjoy your coming to us to frolic, which gives us quite a decent living. On the other hand, we provide a source of some very ready intelligent labour to the North. I understand about 50 percent of the nurses at one hospital in Toronto are Caribbean. That translates into a tremendous amount of remittances to our countries. So we are not so afraid of globalization and we think we can manage the threats.

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