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The Guardian view on Hurricane Beryl: the west can’t sit this out | Editorial
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The Guardian view on Hurricane Beryl: the west can’t sit this out | Editorial

The islands that have been hardest hit by Hurricane Beryl will take years to recover. Nine out of 10 homes on Union, which is part of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the eastern Caribbean, were damaged or destroyed on Monday. On Carriacou, which is part of Grenada, hardly any buildings were left unscathed. On Tuesday, the Grenadian prime minister, Dickon Mitchell, described the situation as “almost Armageddon-like”.

The course taken by Beryl meant that Jamaica, which is home to nearly 3 million people, did not receive its full force as had been feared. But houses and roads were flooded, and a woman was killed, taking the overall death toll to at least 10. Barbados and other islands were also damaged.

What makes this week’s events all the more alarming is that such a violent hurricane this early in the year is unprecedented. When it strengthened from a category 4 to a category 5 hurricane on Monday, meaning that winds exceeded 157mph, Beryl became the earliest Atlantic storm of that strength on record.

Caribbean leaders have not held back in pointing to climate change as the probable cause. Attribution studies, which use computer models to calculate the contribution made by global heating to specific weather events, have not yet been carried out, so it is not possible to be precise. But the greenhouse effect is heating the oceans as well as the air. And warmer seas provide additional energy to tropical storms, making them stronger. Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, said that he hoped the severity of this hurricane, so early in a season that runs from June until November, would alert rich countries to the danger that states like his are facing.

Along with Carla Barnett, the secretary general of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), and Lady Scotland, secretary general of the Commonwealth, Mr Gonsalves urged the countries that are major emitters of greenhouse gases, both now and historically, to honour their past pledges to these nations. The present, he said, is “a terrible time for small-island developing states”.

Mr Mitchell aims to recoup some of the costs of cleaning up Grenada through the country’s catastrophic risk insurance policy. But there is a danger that much of the effort that has gone into helping the islands to recover from the pandemic could now be undone. Developing countries have been promised $100bn in climate finance, but in 2019 small-island states had access to only $1.5bn of that. Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, has led moves to adjust the terms of international lending in poor countries’ favour. The Bridgetown Initiative would ensure debt relief for crisis-hit governments and lower the cost of borrowing; she has also proposed a new funding stream from a global tax on oil and gas profits.

The moral case is unarguable. Mr Gonsalves is right that the climate should have been more prominent in the UK’s election, and should feature more strongly in politics across the west. The clean-up from Beryl will cost tens of millions of dollars – and that is before rebuilding can begin. Caribbean leaders are right to challenge the world’s bankers with their calls for better terms. Hurricanes such as Beryl strengthen the case for debts to be written off. The countries that bear the least responsibility for global heating must be supported to protect themselves from its worst effects.

Source: theguardian.com