The Climate Crisis as a Development Crisis

Tuesday, October 24, 2023
The climate crisis poses a direct threat to development. In The Bahamas, for example, the impacts of climate change account for as much as half the national debt, according to Prime Minister Philip Davis. “Any discussion of sustainable development must be had in the context of our climate reality,” he said.


Speaking at the Fourth Inter-American Meeting of Ministers and High-Level Authorities on Sustainable Development, held October 3-4 in the Bahamian capital of Nassau, Davis said his country continues to feel “the collective trauma and economic fallout” of Hurricane Dorian, which hit four years ago. It was the most destructive of a succession of tropical storms and hurricanes to make landfall in the Bahamian archipelago over the past decade.

“How do we define sustainable development in this era of monster storms?” Davis asked. “How do we manage competing priorities when so much of our focus must be placed on surviving the next natural disaster?”

Countries need climate finance so they can shore up their coastlines, infrastructure, and economies and still have room to tackle other development challenges, Davis said. He said that “investing in climate resilience is the answer to making progress on a range of our most pressing development goals, such as renewable energy, food and water security, and protecting and empowering our most vulnerable populations.”

Representatives of more than 20 member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) participated in the ministerial meeting. They reaffirmed their commitment to sustainable development and climate action goals and approved a strategic plan to address some of the region’s most pressing climate challenges in the coming years. 

The Bahamas suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

In his remarks at the opening of the meeting, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro stressed the need for comprehensive, concrete, and urgent measures across sectors to confront the effects of climate change.

“If we do not act now,” he said, “we will continue to be exposed to the loss of human life, climate migration, threatened livelihoods, food crises, and impact on fundamental rights.”

The countries of the Americas are implementing many good practices to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects, and such actions must be promoted at both the national and regional level, Almagro said. The impacts of such actions have a wide reach, he pointed out, because the region’s rivers, wetlands, aquifers, and other major ecosystems help to preserve life on the entire planet.

“The natural resources of the Americas are essential for the sustainable development of humanity,” he said.

Participants in the meeting also heard a “call to action” on behalf of local young people. Tamia Francois reminded the delegations that she and other Caribbean youth “will inherit the decisions that you make in this room for years to come.” Young people “demand a secure future,” she said.

“There is no future if the climate crisis is not addressed,” Francois said. “And we cannot address sustainable development until the greatest threat to sustainable development is taken seriously—that is, the issue of climate change.”


A Regional Perspective


Sue Biniaz, U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate, and Wendy Jeannette Acevedo, Ambassador of El Salvador to the OAS, confer during the ministerial meeting. Credit: Anthon Thompson

The Declaration of Nassau for Sustainable Development in the Americas, adopted at the meeting, calls for “a hemispheric approach to climate action to achieve long-term sustainable development.” It lays out commitments in a range of areas, including protection of the oceans and other bodies of water; actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; implementation of nature-based solutions or ecosystem-based approaches to support climate mitigation and adaptation; protection of human rights defenders who work on environmental matters; measures to reduce pollution; and enhanced financing for climate action, to name just a few.

The Declaration of Nassau also expresses the countries’ resolve to align their national policies and action plans with the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, among other international agreements, and to continue implementing commitments for climate action made through the Summits of the Americas. 

The ministerial meeting also adopted the Inter-American Climate Change Action Plan 2023-2030, a strategic framework designed to “promote sustainable development while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to climate change impacts, and transitioning to a low-greenhouse gas, climate-resilient economy.”

The Climate Change Action Plan focuses on four key pillars, related to the energy transition, integrated water resources management, disaster risk management and resilience, and climate change. It underscores the role of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) in advancing initiatives to accelerate clean, sustainable, renewable, and just energy transitions in the Americas.

Among the actions laid out in the section on climate change is the proposed establishment of a Regional Hub on Climate Finance, to provide technical assistance to developing member states. “The Hub will focus on capacity development for climate finance, assisting states in devising effective financing strategies, and supporting the design of bankable projects to leverage and attract funding from multiple sources,” the Climate Change Action Plan says.

In remarks at the ministerial meeting, Michael Halkitis, Minister of Economic Affairs of The Bahamas and Chair of the Inter-American Committee on Sustainable Development, said the agreements adopted in Nassau “expand the OAS mandate for climate action.”

“We must all do our part to curb the climate crisis,” he said.

Cover Image: In the Bahamian capital of Nassau, Prime Minister Philip Davis called for investing in climate resilience as a way to make progress on development goals. Credit: Anthon Thompson.