Cape Verde is at the forefront of the climate crisis – Antonio Guterres

The answer dates back to 2015, when the national government detailed a strategic plan to make the blue economy central to the island nation’s future and set in motion a series of investments that have since been made.

But watching the 11 boats participating in the Ocean Race, their 10-story-tall masts dotting the skies of San Vicente Island tonight, Mr. Guterres could see the most visible results of that bet tonight.

Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General called the blue economy “a key opportunity to promote sustainable development in the archipelago” and said the UN looked forward to working with its government and people to “make this ambition a reality”.

Cape Verde Prime Minister José Ulisses Correia e Silva said his country wants to be “better known and count more” on the international stage, and that the ocean is the sector they want to make their voices heard.

“It makes sense to position ourselves in this particular area and do it with urgency. It makes sense that this message comes from here,” he said.

As part of this effort for the past five years, the country has held an annual “Ocean Week,” and next Monday, Cape Verde is partnering with Ocean Race to host a summit that will highlight selected speakers from around the world. Secretary General.

Prime Minister of Cape Verde during a press conference with Antonio Guterres

An existential threat

Cape Verde’s commitment may not be enough. As Mr Guterres warned, the country is “on the front lines of an existential crisis” – climate change.

“Sea level rise and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems pose existential threats to the archipelago,” he said. “I am deeply disappointed that world leaders have not given the necessary measures and investment to this life-or-death emergency. »

Some of these results can already be felt in the harbor, which hosts one of the best races on the entire west coast of Africa, a quality that made it a magnet for traders and pirates centuries ago and today hosts the most important sailing race around. the world.

In recent years, fishermen in Cape Verde have noted a decline in catches of Atlantic mackerel, one of the most popular fish among local residents. In 2022, the canning industry reported a decline in tuna catches and a lack of Atlantic mackerel, a feedstock for the industry.

According to preliminary results of a UN-led assessment, which is expected to be presented and discussed with key national stakeholders early this year, by 2100 the biomass of large pelagic fish – those living in the pelagic zone in ocean or lake waters, nor close to the bottom or shore close – for example, albacore, a type of tuna, can be reduced by 45%. The decline will be even greater in the neighboring Senegal-Mauritania basin.

Such changes can seriously affect the economy of the islands. In 2018, the fishing sector provided employment to 6,283 people and formed the basis of feeding 588,000 people. These products also accounted for almost 80% of the country’s exports.

“Climate change is a clear threat to the future of fisheries, but also to all biodiversity,” the Secretary-General said while attending a series of lectures promoted by the Prime Minister in the evening. , at the Cape Verde National. Center for Arts, Crafts and Design.

“The fact is that there is a very clear connection between the fishing industry and climate protection. “Experience shows that when a certain region is protected, it has a multiplier effect in other areas and everyone benefits from it,” the general secretary added.

The Secretary-General participates in a debate with the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva

The Secretary-General participates in a debate with the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva

Build defenses against climate change

The two were sitting in front of the National Center’s outbuilding, whose facade was decorated with metal circles taken from brightly painted oil drum lids.

The installation declares the country’s commitment to sustainability as well as its large diaspora of over a million people; These barrels are often used by migrants to send gifts to their families from abroad.

“Climate challenges are getting stronger and more frequent, but we have always faced challenges and always found a way to overcome them,” the Prime Minister said.

According to Mr. Correia e Silva, the loss of marine species could affect Cape Verde in another way.

The archipelago is considered one of the world’s top 10 marine biodiversity hotspots, and the 24 species of whales and dolphins recorded in these waters over the decades – almost 30% of all cetacean species – attract many visitors, making tourism a mainstay of the country. economy.

In 2022 alone, after several years dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the islands received around 700,000 tourists, increasing the sector’s contribution to around 25% of GDP.

Secretary-General and Prime Minister of Cape Verde Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva meets Ocean Race spectators

Secretary-General and Prime Minister of Cape Verde Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva meets Ocean Race spectators

Justice for Cape Verde

Cape Verde has started to fight against these changes.

The secretary-general said the country had “demonstrated climate leadership in word and deed” and highlighted “efforts to convert debt into climate projects, including the blue economy”.

Currently, up to 20% of Cape Verde’s energy production comes from renewable sources – one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa – and the goal is to increase the use of renewable energy by 50% by 2030.

The prime minister said his country had to “reconcile the needs of the economy, the environment, the communities” because it needed “resources that produce wealth for the country”.

Mr. Correia e Silva gave an example of possible answers. In the community of San Pedro on the island of Sao Vicente, part of the population has switched from fishing in recent years to offering a local service that offers tourists the opportunity to swim safely with turtles.

He then highlighted a number of initiatives aimed at combating plastic pollution and promoting a circular economy. He also mentioned that the country had approved a “demanding” new fisheries law and was working to expand the size of the protected area from six to 30%.

“We want to go further, but we need the resources to do that,” he said.

“We demand justice for those like Cape Verde who did little to cause this crisis but paid a heavy price,” agreed the Secretary-General.

As the conversation ended, a few blocks from the harbor, the crews of the Ocean Race were taking a break. In a few days they will begin the second leg of the race, which will take them from Cape Verde across the equator and along the coast of South America to Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa.

Hours before the sailors met Mr. Guterres, who explained how his son crossed the Atlantic with three friends a few years ago.

The story prompted one of the skippers, Kevin Schofield, to ask him: “Could he do something like that? »

“Maybe one day,” he joked. “When I retire. »

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