U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro on Wednesday reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Caribbean nations in their fight against what he called the “existential threat” of climate change.
“The United States stands by you, with you, combatting this threat,” Del Toro said during a meeting with officials, students, and professors at Nassau’s University of the Bahamas. “Time is not on our side. We are in a critical decade to make meaningful progress so we can avoid the worst climate scenarios. We must act now. We view the climate crisis the same way we view damage control on a sinking ship: All hands on deck.”
The second Hispanic to head of the U.S. Department of the Navy, Del Toro said he traveled to the Bahamas to listen to the region’s climate emergency “challenges and stories,” acknowledging that “the increasing severity of those consequences are already being felt in the Caribbean and also in the United States” as he pointed to the dozen devastating storms that have pummeled the region in the last decade.
‘No one can fight climate change alone’
In the Caribbean, climate change has caused sea levels to rise, islands to be devastated by flooding and extreme temperatures while the salinization of farmland endangers ecosystems and makes it harder for residents to make a living in an area mainly sustained by tourism.
The Navy secretary said the U.S. is cooperating on several projects with universities and governments in the region, including a multimillion-dollar fund for disaster relief infrastructure, as well as aid to cope with health emergencies and epidemic outbreaks.
Del Toro added that work is also under way on energy-efficiency programs to lower carbon emissions at U.S. bases and on ships, and financing scientific research on soil and marine life, especially on the Caribbean’s coral reefs.
“No one can fight climate change alone,” he said. “We want to share and trade information, resources and expertise with allies, governments, and NGOs. Everywhere from Vietnam, Ghana, or right here in the Caribbean, we are collaborating on projects and enabling best practices.”
The Cuban-born Del Toro, who said the Navy launched the 2030 Climate Action Plan last May, said he still feels a part of the Caribbean community and has made the “threat of climate change a priority,” since taking office 18 months ago.
“To remain the world’s dominant maritime force, the Department of the Navy must adapt to climate change: We must build resilience and reduce the threat,” he said.
‘We want to help’
Del Toro also highlighted the Biden administration’s support for efforts to reduce the effects of climate change, reflected in the U.S.-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis 2030 (PACC 2030), introduced by Vice President Kamala Harris in June.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry also recently visited the Bahamas, and Del Toro said he would convey details of this meeting to Kerry at the Our Oceans Conference in Panama, March 2-3.
Secretary Del Toro said that in April, the United States, Caribbean and Central American countries would participate in the Ninth Inter-American Specialized Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation to be held in Orlando, Florida. The event will focus on the use of scientific innovation to address climate change and marine pollution.
“We recognize that the resilience of our friends and neighbors in this region is of critical importance to our own security,” asserted Del Toro. “And like I have said, and I will continue to say, we want to help.”