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Cop’s conscience
Sensemaker audio

Cop’s conscience

Cop’s conscience

At the start of Cop, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley delivered a stark warning on the effects of a rise in global temperature. But did anyone listen?

Nimo Omer, narrating:

Hi, I’m Nimo, and this is the Sensemaker. 

One story, everyday, to make sense of the world.

Today, the woman who dared to ask: when will leaders lead on climate change? 


For those who have eyes to see, for those who have ears to listen and for those who have a heart to feel 1.5 is what we need to survive. Two degrees is a death sentence for the people of Antigua and Barbados, for the people of the Maldives to the people of Dominica and Fiji, for the people of Kenya and Mozambique, and yes for the people of Samoa and Barbados we do not want that dreaded death sentence.

UN Climate Change

Those are the stark words of the Prime Minister of Barbados – Mia Mottley. 

She was addressing world leaders at Cop26 – the United Nations conference tackling global warming.

Her speech encapsulated the desperation that many small countries feel.

It’s a desperation that stems from the reality that island states like hers haven’t got a fighting chance if bigger, wealthier countries don’t change their ways. Her frustration was palpable.  

These commitments made by some are based on technologies yet to be developed and this is at best reckless and at worst dangerous.

UN Climate Change

Her words cut through the noise and resonated with people. 

This is immoral and it is unjust. So I ask to you what must we say to our people living on the front line in the Caribbean, in Africa, in Latin America in the pacific when regrettably some of the needed faces at Glasgow are not present what excuse should we give for the failure. 

UN Climate Change

Clips of the address were shared tens of thousands times on social media and dozens of articles were written praising her incisiveness. It was an electrifying start to the conference. 

Fast forward two weeks later and the energy has shifted. Cop has ended and delegates are returning home, with some of them questioning whether any real progress has been made.

But to understand Mia Mottley’s plea, we have to take a step back and look at why small nations like Barbados are so vulnerable to climate change.  


55 year old Mia Mottley is the first female prime minister of Barbados.  

She went to school in New York and got a law degree from the London School of Economics. She comes from a family of politicians and barristers. So when Mia Mottley ran for office in 2018 it wasn’t a big surprise.

And she won by an almost unbelievable landslide:

After a historic win, Mia Mottley will be Barbados’s first female prime minister. She unseats Freundel Stuart of the Democratic Labour Party who governed for two consecutive terms and in a big setback for the outgoing prime minister, his party failed to win a single seat.

TeleSUR English

As one commentator put it, it looked like a parody of a rigged election. 

But it wasn’t. The opposition unreservedly congratulated Mottley, conceding that they had suffered an “overwhelming defeat.”

She’s used this unprecedented mandate to transform Barbados. From bold immigration bills to the legalisation of same-sex civil unions, Mia Mottley is reimagining the role Barbados could play in the region and in the world. 

But these big ambitions are hampered by the awareness of Barbados’s vulnerability to the effects of global warming.  

You see, even though climate change has moved its way up the political agenda in the last few years, for a lot of people it can still seem like a relatively abstract and distant problem.

But for places like Barbados it’s an existential issue. 


Barbados is a small island state with a population of just 288,000 people – less than Southampton’s.

In the popular imagination it’s a tourist destination for westerners with its endless blue skies and white sandy beaches.

But things are changing, climate change is producing tropical storms that are gaining in severity and frequency.  

We are getting our first look at the damage that Elsa has caused in Barbados, take a look, you can see down trees and damaged homes.

WESH 2 News

And the threat of these superstorms is made more acute by rising sea levels. The climate crisis is lapping at its shores so the government has no choice but to tackle it head on. 

The country currently has an ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions: it’s committed to being the first 100% green and fossil fuel free island state in the world by 2030, even though tropical island states collectively have contributed less than one percent to  emissions. 

But as impressive as this is, Barbados can’t survive by its own actions alone.

The pandemic has taught us that national solutions to global problems do not work.

UN Climate Change

The promises from other countries of achieving net-zero in decades to come…  

There was great interest when Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi took the stage. This is the statement that got everyone’s attention, “by 2070 India will achieve the target of net zero emissions.”

DW News

…. just aren’t good enough. 

By 2070 who knows how much of Barbados will be habitable?

Mia Mottley says that small states are seen as dispensable to the global community. What matters is the response of countries like India, China and the US.  


But it’s not all doom and gloom.  Mia Mottley has solutions. One of them is climate action financing.

Which is basically aid money given to poorer countries to help deal with climate change.

In 2009, wealthy nations made a $100 billion pledge to help poorer countries deal with climate change. The largest emitters of greenhouse gases have been wealthier countries in North America and Europe. And even today, they still have disproportionately high emissions. But, it’s smaller, poorer countries that have borne the brunt of climate change. 

For example, the US is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in flood protection for Miami. But just a short journey away in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a country that has astonishingly low emissions but where extreme weather is incredibly common, there simply aren’t the resources or infrastructure for comparable projects. 

Unsurprisingly, the 2009 pledge has not been met. It was suggested at Cop that it should be reached by 2023.

But Mia Mottley is saying that not only does this pledge need to be met (and sharpish), it needs to be more ambitious.

I say to you today in Glasgow that an annual increase in the SDRs of 500 billion dollars a year for 20 years put in a trust to finance the transition is the real gap, secretary general, that we need to close.

UN Climate Change

She is daring fellow leaders:  put your money where their mouth is. 

They need to follow through on the promises that they have already made and the new ones that they have committed to at Cop26. Because if they don’t the consequences will be devastating.  

This story was written by Nimo Omer and produced by Imy Harper.