The United Nations said on Dec. 23 that when Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley stood up in front of the UN General Assembly in September, she was not in a mood to pull punches.
In front of world leaders, the UN said Mottley decried the “faceless few”, pushing the world towards “a climate catastrophe and imperiling the future of Small-Island States (SIDS), like her own.”
“Our world knows not what it is gambling with; and, if we don’t control this fire, it will burn us all down,” said Mottley before the General Assembly in September.
Drawing on the lyrics of the legendary Jamaican reggae superstar Bob Marley, Mottley asked: “Who will get up and stand up for the rights of our people?”
The UN said the impassioned speech would grab headlines around the world, stating that, “for many, it was an introduction to Mottley.”
But the Barbados prime minister, this year’s UN Champion of the Earth for policy leadership, “has spent years campaigning against pollution, climate change and deforestation, turning Barbados into a frontrunner in the global environmental movement,” the UN said.
Under Mottley’s watch, it said Barbados has developed an ambitious plan to phase out fossil fuels by 2030.
“Her vision is for nearly every home on the island to have solar panels on the roof and an electric vehicle out front,” the UN said.
“At Ms. Mottley’s urging, Latin America and the Caribbean became the first region in the world to agree on the Action Plan for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, an effort to prevent and reverse the degradation of natural spaces worldwide,” it added.
Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), said Mottley has been “a champion for those who are most vulnerable to the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss, and pollution and waste.
“Her passionate advocacy and policy achievements are prime examples of how world leaders can take bold, urgent action on environmental issues,” Andersen added.
The UN noted that Mottley was elected prime minister in 2018, with more than 70 per cent of the popular vote, becoming Barbados’ first female leader since independence in 1966.
It said that Mottley, who has said she finds inspiration in the forests that cover nearly 20 per cent of Barbados, “has also overseen a national strategy to plant more than 1 million trees, with participation from the entire population.
“The plan aims to foster food security and build resilience to a changing climate,” the UN said. “It’s a push that couldn’t be timelier as a new UNEP report suggests the world is careening towards a temperature rise of 2.7°C, a number that could lead to catastrophic changes for the planet’s ecosystems.”
A UNEP report published in June 2021 found that for every dollar invested in ecosystem restoration, up to US$30 are yielded in economic benefits.
Ultimately, the UN said Mottley believes that tackling environmental decline is vital to spurring economic development and combating poverty.
She said that responding to climate-related disasters “affects your ability to finance your development on the (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals.”
“Other things that matter to people on a day-to-day basis, like education, like healthcare, like roads, all become affected because you have limited fiscal space to be able to do that which you otherwise would,” the Barbadian prime minister added.
The UN said Mottley has also been a vocal advocate for developing countries vulnerable to climate change, especially SIDS expected to be inundated by rising seas.
During a visit by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to Barbados in October, the UN noted that Mottley stressed the importance of making financing available for developing nations to adapt to climate change.
For developing countries, the UN said the cost of countering climate-related hazards like droughts, floods and rising seas stands at US$70 billion per year and could rise to as much as US$300 billion annually by 2030.
“We have to recognize that if we don’t pause at this stage and settle the financing framework, we’re going to have problems,” Mottley has said.
To help Barbados adapt to the climate crisis, the UN said Mottley has spearheaded a national resilience program, dubbed “Roofs to Reefs”.
The initiative will include the use of innovative financial tools to scale up public spending on everything from reinforcing homes to restoring coral reefs, which help protect coastlines from storms, the UN said.
It said “Roofs to Reefs” has been hailed as “a model for other countries under siege from climate change.”
The UN said Mottley is also the co-chair of the Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, “leading an international effort to combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – a major threat to the environment, human health and economic development.”
According to the UN, AMR is the ability of organisms to resist the action of pharmaceutical drugs used to treat illnesses in humans and animals.
“Misuse and overuse of antimicrobials, including antibiotics, can exacerbate climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste,” the UN warned.
As the world continues to recover from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, it said Mottley has stressed that a green recovery is “critical to the fiscal survival of her tourism-dependent country” and warned that continuing business as usual would accelerate the climate crisis.
“I think that the combination of the pandemic and the climate crisis has presented a perfect political moment for human beings to pause and really examine what it is we are doing,” Mottley said. “What I really, really want in this world is for us to be able to have a sense of responsibility towards our environment but also to the future generations.”
UNEP’s Champions of the Earth and the Young Champions of the Earth recognize individuals, groups and organizations whose actions have “a transformative impact on the environment.”
Presented annually, the Champions of the Earth award is the UN’s highest environmental honor.
The United Nations General Assembly has declared the years 2021 through 2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
Led by UNEP and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), together with the support of partners, the UN said the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is designed to “prevent, halt and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide.
“It aims at reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial, as well as aquatic ecosystems,” the UN said.
A global call to action, the UN said the UN Decade “draws together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.”