FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique – French President Francois Hollande told Caribbean leaders on Saturday that a planned international green fund could help the vulnerable, tourism-dependent region mitigate the effects of climate change.
Hollande headlined the Caribbean Climate Summit, which drew about 40 leaders or top officials from regional nations including the Bahamas, Trinidad and Cuba, as well as experts talking about renewable energy, waste and water management.
The meeting came ahead of a global climate conference in Paris that activists hope will mark the first time that all countries take collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.
Hollande said the Paris session would highlight the importance of the U.N. climate fund, which is struggling to find donors.
"Thanks to this fund, we will be able to find solutions to the problem of global warming," he said.
Officials have said they hope to secure at least 50 percent of the $10 billion that governments have pledged for the fund before the Paris summit begins.
Hollande said climate change is a pressing issue that represents $600 million a year in costs to the Caribbean region alone, adding that he promises to reinforce and expand a local natural disaster fund.
"This is a human issue that has displaced millions of people and caused the disappearance of species every year," he said.
Roosevelt Skerrit, with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, and other regional officials warned that the Caribbean faces rising sea levels that will hit economies largely dependent on tourism.
"We are among the smallest (nations), but we are one of the most vulnerable," Skerrit said.
Before the session, Hollande visited the tomb of Aime Cesaire, a renowned poet and politician who supported increased autonomy for the French Caribbean and urged blacks to cultivate pride in their heritage. He died in April 2008.
Hollande arrived late Friday as part of a five-day tour through the French Caribbean before heading to Cuba and Haiti. He previously visited St. Barts and St. Martin and planned to meet with officials in Guadeloupe late Saturday and Sunday.
Pascal Saffache, a university professor of geography in Martinique, said Hollande's presence would help draw attention to climate change effects in a region vulnerable to hurricanes, rising sea levels and coastal erosion.
"The Caribbean is made up of tiny countries that people generally don't understand," he said. "The words from a president carry weight."