Climate change adaption - the pernicious impact of the US blockade

Campaign News | Friday, 31 May 2024

The rehabilitation and replanting of mangrove forests is critical to Cuba's coastal resilience project

The rehabilitation and replanting of mangrove forests is critical to Cuba's coastal resilience project

DR LAUREN COLLINS explains how the US sanctions hold back Cuba's efforts to confront climate change.

In his final week as President of the United States, Donald Trump placed Cuba on the US ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’ list: an arbitrary designation in the gift of the president. This came on top of 243 additional sanctions that the Trump administration had imposed on Cuba, further tightening the economic, commercial, and financial blockade which is designed to cause unnecessary hardship
to the Cuban population and to put an end to Cuban sovereignty and hence to its Revolution.

These sanctions also impact on Cuba’s efforts to adapt to climate change, which is already causing a rise in temperatures and sea levels, and more frequent hurricanes, floods, and drought on the island.

Climate finance

Climate plans and action are conditional on securing the necessary finance, but the US blockade has a direct impact on Cuba’s ability to adapt to climate change by blocking or obstructing access to it.

Climate finance can be local, national, or transnational, drawn from public, private and alternative sources, including national and development institutions and multilateral development banks. Various financial instruments are used: amongst them grants, low-cost project debt, project-level market rate debt, project-level equity, and general borrowing.

As of 2021, most climate finance (61 per cent) had been raised as debt, of which only 12 per cent was low-cost or concessional, and grant finance was a mere 6 per cent of the total. Three-quarters of global climate investments were for East Asia and the Pacific, Western Europe, and North America, revealing gross inequality marginalising Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean
Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Most developed countries channel their largest climate finance contributions through Multilateral Development Banks, such as the World Bank, African Development Bank and Asian Development Bank, in which they are shareholders with significant influence. Unsurprisingly, Multilateral Development Bank finance favours private sector ‘market solutions’, often with onerous conditions attached.

This data demonstrates that the problem of fair access to climate finance is not confined to Cuba – but Cuba faces extra challenges.

Cuba's challenges

The World Bank, of which the US is the largest shareholder, provided $38.6 billion in climate finance in fiscal year 2023. Cuba does not have access to this funding. Following its re-designation as a SSOT, no fewer than 45 international banks ceased all business with the country. Many other national banks did the same, as Cuba now falls foul of the risk assessment procedures applied by many banks.

The implications of this isolation from the banking system are profound. Any willing partners are confronted by the challenge of transferring money to Cuba, and all but the most determined and committed are likely to give up.

Cuba has calculated that it requires $13.8 billion to fund climate adaptations, 31 per cent to be sourced domestically and 61 per cent needing international contributions. However, current funding stands at $208 million. To address this large shortfall, Cuba developed a Climate Finance Access and Mobilisation Strategy (2022-2030). The aim is to identify effective and appropriate financing for climate action by attracting climate-friendly investment and promoting conditions conducive to mobilising and diversifying climate finance. It also aims to strengthen the governance and implementation of projects, to ensure maximum efficiency in the use of funds.

The strategy came about after many months of work by national experts and a consultation process involving those with experience of accessing funds for climate projects. As Cuba faces changing goalposts, planning and strategising is extremely difficult. Trump’s hardening of sanctions and President Biden’s reluctance to reverse them have reduced the scope and opportunities that the Climate Finance Access and Mobilisation Strategy envisioned.

Cuba has many friends throughout the world who recognise the country’s scientific excellence and want to work with it to exchange and co-produce new knowledge which benefits all. However, would-be research partners also face barriers. For example, working with Cuba can prevent future travel to the US where researchers may be engaged in other international collaborative projects. Universities may be risk-averse and be disinclined to support their staff in travelling to Cuba because of insurance guidelines, banking problems, lack of experience in overcoming such barriers, or unwillingness to challenge their own institution’s bureaucracy as it relates to these obstacles.

Following the Paris Agreement in 2015, the Multilateral Climate Funds, the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund were mandated to finance climate action. Although Cuba is not barred from accessing these grants, it does face other challenges in meeting funder requirements.

Applications for climate funding require sound evidence of starting conditions, for example the quality of air, measurements of water contamination, and collecting, collating, and analysing data. While Cuba carries out many assessments of the environment, and gathers large amounts of
data on health, it does so without the benefit of the most sophisticated technology. For example, the accuracy of measurement may not be acceptable to climate funding providers, and while Cuba collaborates with international partners who may be willing to provide or loan measuring equipment, the US forbids the entry into Cuba of anything that has components that have been manufactured in a US-owned company.

Similarly, the ability to gather and crunch serious amounts of data, which is held in different places all over the island, requires a huge effort to gather records (which are often hand-written) and enter them onto computer systems to make the necessary analyses. Obtaining the software and hardware to do the number-crunching can also be an issue. Such exercises do take place, but it is not always possible to do them in real time, so the data may not be as current as required for successful funding applications.

The effect of the blockade is felt in all efforts to address climate change. While Cuba has high levels of expertise in the field of solar energy, it lacks the hard currency to import materials to build solar panels and access to the appropriate packaging materials to avoid breakages during
transportation. Combating drought requires expensive irrigation systems, and moving coastal communities to safer ground requires costly construction materials. Creating the infrastructure for the collection, sorting and recycling of domestic and industrial waste, and building disposal facilities, is also prohibitively expensive.

Cuba’s successes

Despite these, and many other impacts of the blockade, Cuba has developed a comprehensive plan to confront climate change, known as Tarea Vida (Project Life). Approved in 2017, it is closely aligned to Cuba’s National Programme for Economic and Social Development and has short- (2020), medium- (2030), long- (2050) and very long-term (2100) objectives. All are regularly reviewed based on research and feedback from experts and public consultation. Key goals include the conservation and recovery of the island’s beaches, water conservation in response to increasing drought, adapting agricultural land use in response to sea level rises and drought, and reforestation to help protect soil. The plan also identifies the need for environmental education for sustainable development.

Following extensive research, specific coastal regions have been identified as priority areas due to the predicted impact of rising sea levels. In 2021, Cuba was successful in obtaining funding from the Green Climate Fund totalling $62 million to fund two projects:

Despite blockade restrictions, several countries including Switzerland, Canada, and Finland are supporting sustainable development and innovation projects in Cuba. The UK could be doing much more in this regard. The UK has blocking statutes which aim to protect legitimate trade with Cuba affected by the extraterritorial application of US law, and these could be used to encourage British companies, universities and other organisations to build mutually beneficial partnerships with Cuba to work towards a more resilient future.

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