By Sophie Hares
TEPIC, Mexico, Dec 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of Caribbean nations, many devastated by recent hurricanes, will work with companies, development banks and other organisations to curb damage from climate change and grow cleanly, under an action plan launched this week.
The countries aim to restructure up to $1 billion in debt to free up cash for coastal defences, switch from costly imported fuels to cheaper green energy, and buffer their communities and economies against the effects of global warming, including rising sea levels and heavier storms and floods.
Angus Friday, Grenada's ambassador to the United States, said the idea was to "inject a new DNA", breaking away from business-as-usual and bureaucratic measures so as to be able to act faster.
"Given the next hurricane season is just seven months around the corner, it's really important we move with the speed of climate change now," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Hurricanes Maria and Irma left a trail of destruction as they crashed through the Caribbean earlier this year, and many low-lying nations fear their infrastructure and economies will be devastated by more powerful storms and encroaching seas.
With many economies in the region plagued by high levels of debt, Caribbean nations have been pushing for rich countries to help bolster their defences and in turn, protect livelihoods.
Eleven nations, including Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica and the British Virgin Islands, signed up to the plan to create a "climate-smart zone", unveiled at the "One Planet" summit in Paris on Tuesday.
The plan's backers include the World Bank, the Nature Conservancy, the Green Climate Fund, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and British businessman Richard Branson, whose Caribbean island Necker was hit by Hurricane Irma.
Branson has pushed for a scheme to help vulnerable islands, centred on replacing outdated fossil-fuel power grids with renewable energy systems that can better withstand extreme weather and boost economic development.
The Caribbean region needs $8 billion to roll out national plans to tackle climate change under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Around $1.3 billion has been pledged to help islands rebuild in the wake of the recent hurricanes, while a further $2.8 billion has been committed through longer-term investment and debt restructuring plans.
The Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental charity, wants to work with lenders and governments to find ways to restructure $1 billion in sovereign debt and free up funds to invest in the "blue economy", a statement said.
That would include restoring and better managing coastal areas, and harnessing natural resources such as mangroves and coral reefs to protect vulnerable islands.
Using insurance to transfer disaster risk is another component of the climate-smart plan, backed by Swiss Re and the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) which paid out almost $30 million to countries hit by Irma.
"Ultimately, we will only win the battle on climate change when investments in climate action and broader resilience become the economically sensible decision to make every time," Allen Chastanet, prime minister of St. Lucia, said in a statement.
"It's not just about protecting against negative impacts – climate action needs to be about enhancing competitiveness, creating jobs, improving our economies."
(Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on zilient.org, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.