Statement

Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration
Release Date:
Monday, 17 July 2017 - 4:07pm

Remarks by Honourable Pickering at Inaugural Meeting of the First Board of Trusteesof the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund

A pleasant good morning to all of you gathered here this morning. Good morning Dr.Romilly and Dr.Trotz.

There are milestones in the development of any country,and there are turning points that determine the destiny of a place under shifting circumstances. In a global era defined by climate change,the establishment of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund and now the instalment of its first Board of Trustees is one such marker for the Virgin Islands.Therefore, as minister responsible for the subject I want to take this opportunity to personally [thank you] and on behalf of the ministry and the Government of the Virgin Islands, for taking the challenge and the opportunity to serve, because essentially that is what it is. It has been a long process to get to this point but the legal parameters had to be fulfilled before we could get to this point. So, the process is complete; Cabinet has given its approval and we are here to issue you today your formal instruments of appointment to serve on this Board of Trustees. 

The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund will be the single most important vehicle to ensure a sustainable flow of financing from local and international sources to support climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Virgin Islands. I am sure that Dr.Trotz and Dr.Romilly would be smiling that we have arrived at this point in time because it has been a long gestational period.

Climate Change is an existential threat globally, but particularly for small, highly vulnerable islands like ours. How the Virgin Islands responds to climate change will literally determine whether we sink or survive under the new and evolving global climate regime. Reputableglobal studies have estimated that the impacts of climate change are expected to cost governments 4% to 12% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if action is not immediately taken to address climate change risks.

We simply do not have a choice. It is imperative that the Virgin Islands acts to protect against the many direct threats associated with climate change, such as therising temperatures; stronger hurricanes; changing rainfall patterns resulting in more frequent flood events and a great propensity for droughts; and of course the problem that small island developing states will have to face more than any other is the issue of risingsea level. The impacts of climate change are far reaching; the Virgin Islands Climate Change Adaptation Policy formally identifies 12 affected sectors ranging from the engines of our economy- tourism, financial services,to our food security, our infrastructure and our environment.

The Virgin Islands must not only ‘adapt’ to climate change but must also ‘mitigate’ by realigning its energy economy to keep pace with the global shift in renewable energy and energy efficient technologies. Doing so is important both from a moral and economic perspective.From a moral point of view, the Virgin Islands must do its part, however small, to reduce global carbon emissions and curb climate change.

Adaptation and mitigation require the coming together of three critical pillars, and I want us to pay attention to these.One is a strong institutional framework, which is primarily why you are here today; a comprehensive policy, which has been already concluded and okayed by the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands; and a high and continuous level of financing, on the order of millions of dollars per year. And that is the job that you the Board of Trustees now have standing in front of you. A mountain to climb but I am sure we will climb it and we will be able to conquer any limits that are set to us.

As the Minister responsible for the climate change portfolio, I am pleased to report that in less thanten years the Virgin Islands has not only managed to put in place the three pillars of comprehensive climate change response but it has carved out a reputable space for itself in the regional and global climate change landscape in the process.With the passage of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund Act in 2015, the Territory made another important mark in history becoming the first among its sister Overseas Territories and independent Caribbean islands in establishing a trust fund focused on climate change, created by legislation and supported by a comprehensive climate change management framework. 

The idea of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund was born in 2009 when representatives of the Virgin Islands Government attended the 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). So if, as it is commonly said that necessity is the mother of invention, the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund was born out of necessity. As an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom, the Virgin Islands finds itself in a peculiar situation where unlike other Small Island States (SIDS) globally, we are currently excluded from accessing the billions of dollars available under the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Changeumbrella to help vulnerable countriesadapt to climate change. At the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, it became clear that the powers that be were simply not doing enough to fight for access for the Territory and the Virgin Islands needed to fight for itself.

And so as minister I want to pause here to say to you that the work that you have to do is huge. But as is commonly said, little by little the bird builds its nest; I think that is our approach to this monumental task. The fact is what it is. We don’t access funds directly; we don’t get funds directly, but this framework should put us in a position to be able to start accessing the funds that will then help us to do the work that is necessary to mitigate against the effects of climate change.

With inspiration and the steadfast assistance from the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, in particular Deputy Director, Dr. Ulric Trotz, and consultant to the centre at the time, Mr. George de bert Romilly, the idea of The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund was born as our key to accessing a sustainable source of climate financing that would allow us to survive and prosper in this new climate regime.

The significance of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund cannot be overstated.The fund will be a reputable financial institution meeting the gold standard in global climate finance with accreditation by the Green Climate Fund, which is the biggest source of climate change finance globally. You are in a position right now to help carve out a space for us here in the Virgin Islands. It is a space that the Government can’t carve any farther, we have done our part. We have now engineered it to as far as we can go and we are now putting the baton in your hand and saying run your leg of the race and take us to the next leg of the journey.

With the assistance of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States under the umbrella of their iLAND Resiliance Project and funded by the European Union, we are already engaged in the development of the operational manual for the Trust Fund as legally mandated and also as the first preparation towards meeting the requirements for accreditation. So we have done some of the initial work that is necessary for the board to really carry out its mandate.

By providing a secure and transparent mechanism for investment, the Trust Fund positions the Virgin Islands to access and manage climate financing available through levies, private donors and foundations, bilateral arrangements and hopefully, eventually the Green Climate Fund and other instruments under the UNFCCC umbrella, as the Government continues to work to ensure the Virgin Islands’ access.

The Climate Change Trust fund is truly a national institution built in a bipartisan fashion on the backs of successive administrations. It is here to stay, created in perpetuity for the benefit of the people of these Virgin Islands. Ultimately the success of our climate change response and therefore our future security rely on the success of the Climate Change Trust Fund providing the resources necessary to translate policy and plans into realities on the ground that build resilience that we need to effect climate change. As they commonly say, the proof is going to be in the eating.

I want to stress that the work to establish the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund as a reputable global financial institution with theability to fulfilits important purpose is far from over; in fact, it has just begun. There are a number of important requirements that must be put in place over the next few years to not only make the Trust Fund operational but have it meet international good practice so that it is positioned as a favourable vehicle for investment. And you will be aware also that the Financial Secretary sits on the Board of Trustees, ex officio. That also is important to ensure guidance with the principles of good international financial practice.

This morning, I close my remarks by handing the baton over to you, the first Board of Trustees of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund and entrusting you, as the head of this independent body,with the beginning of its great future. I said earlier that one of the big pillars of this Climate Change Trust Fund is the whole question of institutional building. And that to me from where I sit is the critical component. I was sharing this story earlier that in my home where I live there are several mango trees in my yard. My father, of blessed memory, planted the majority of those mango trees and right now we are eating the abundance of the fruit. You see, my father planted, he watered, and now we are reaping.

See yourselves as you sit here today, sitting on the threshold of history, because from what I have gleaned in my time being in this position and listening to the guidance and the intelligence of Dr.Romilly and Dr.Trotz, this Trust Fund can become as huge as we want it to become. It can become a guiding light for the rest of the Caribbean; it can be a goalpost by which others will measure their success. Because the funds are available, we just have to be able to access them and this is a part of that mechanism that puts us in a position ahead of the game, so to speak, to be able to do that. Once we have been able to access the funds, then it is your responsibility to help guide how those funds will be distributed for the relevant projects for which the fund is intended. And if we had any doubts with what needs to be done, the heavy rains that we had last week and some of the flooding that took place shows us that we still have a long way to go in our  overall planning and development if we are going to mitigate against the wider effects of climate change.

The initial job of Government was to legally establish the Trust Fund and now the job of yours, the first Board, is to make it operational. I can’t emphasise that enough. Government will of course continue to be your partner in this great cause, not by interfering in the conduct of your business. The Government has its own oversight through the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour and the Financial Secretary of the Government of the Virgin Islands sitting on the Board. But the Government in terms of the elected officials have to stay arm’s length from how the fund is actually administered. Of course Government policies will have to guide development in the country, the Board must not get beyond itself and try to dictate to Government what needs to be done in terms of development, but the Board has a fiduciary responsibility to say that this money under our care will be used in this way based, of course, on the wider policies of the Government of the day.

Your work ahead is great, but it is noble and will be rewarded most greatlywhen the Trust Fund awards its first set of grants,whether it is in 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now, you and your children can walk around the Virgin Islands and enjoy the benefits of sea defences that saved our shores from sea level rise, coastal restoration projects that revived our reefs from climate change induced bleaching, drainage solutions and salt pond restoration projects that protected our communities from flooding or solar panels and wind turbines.

I could make a suggestion to you right away; with all the work that we have done on the beach at Brandywine Bay, the destruction of the pond over the years now puts the beach that close to destroying all of the hard work that we have done. So I can see a project sitting there waiting for the restoration of the pond in that area if we are going to realise the benefits of the developments that we envisioned for Brandywine Bay.

We have to protect our communities from flooding; solar panels are important; wind turbines spotting house roofs on hillsides representing clean energy; all of those issues that we expect that you will help to fund over time. The work of theTrust and the monies that I expect the Trust will have at its disposal will depend and begin when you have established the work that needs to be established.

I want to once again, on behalf of the Government of the Virgin Islands, to say thank you to all of you who have taken the opportunity, have taken the initiative to serve in this capacity, and on behalf of the Premier to wish you well in your endeavours.

God bless you and God continue to bless these Virgin Islands. I thank you very much.