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Buenos Dias! Bonjour! Bon dia! Goedemorgen and good morning!
In any, and all, of these beautiful languages, it is a true honor to be able to greet you today here at the University of the Bahamas.
I am very thankful to Prime Minister Davis for his invitation to speak today, and for the amazing welcome that my team and I have experienced since landing.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Prime Minister Davis at a Local2030 Islands Network event during the UN General Assembly in September of 2022.
Local2030 members include island nations around the globe, as well as islands that are states or territories, such as Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
The Prime Minister and I spoke at length about the climate challenges facing the Bahamas and all other island-nations of the Caribbean.
That conversation, and similar conversations I enjoyed that day with Prime Minister Browne of Antigua & Barbuda and Prime Minister Wever-Croes of Aruba, made a tremendous impact on me and are in part why I stand before you today.
There is something about the very air we breathe here in the Caribbean that makes me feel like I’ve come home, each time I step off the plane.
And in a way, this really is my home. My parents, my ancestors, are from this part of the world. I as born not too far from here, in Havana.
And though I became a U.S. citizen as a young teenager, and am incredibly proud and grateful to be an American, a part of me always longs for the warm breezes, the bright colors, and the incomparable tastes and aromas of life in the West Indies.
I suppose it is no surprise that my wife Betty’s ancestry is also from a Caribbean island, Puerto Rico .As the poet Lola Rodríguez de Tió wrote: “Cuba y Puerto Rico, de un pájaro las dos alas”—Cuba and Puerto Rico, two wings on the same bird.
For 40 years, Betty and I have been partners, keeping our family, our small business, and each other flying through the good times and the bad.
And so I am especially glad that she could join me on this trip to meet all of you. It means a great deal to me to be here, among you all, today.
When my parents fled Cuba carrying a 9-month old child and very little else, they could never have guessed that their child would one day return to this region to address you all as the Secretary of the Navy of the United States.
I wish they were alive to see this day. And I know that in some ways, they are here. When I look out at all of you, I see my family. I see brothers and sisters. I see my parents.
Now, I’m not here to talk about myself—I am here to offer solidarity and partnership, and to listen.
I want to hear from you, about what is on your minds, in your hearts; I want to learn about how you see the world through your own eyes.
I am here to engage with you on an urgent priority to all of us: the climate crisis.
The consequences of our changing climate are an existential threat. The increasing severity of those consequences are already being acutely felt here in the Caribbean.
You are on the front lines of the climate crisis.
I commend the Bahamas for its leadership as current Chair of the Caribbean Community, a vital U.S. partner and a vital regional, multilateral voice on so many issues including climate change. CARICOM has been a global leader highlighting the dangers we face and the urgent need for collective action to address climate change.
Today, I want to speak to all the people from all the unique and diverse Caribbean nations—after all, climate change does not respect borders or multilateral groupings.
Hurricanes do not care what passport you carry, whether Bahamian, Jamaican, or American.
Islands around the world, including those that are part of the United States such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, share similar climate challenges.
We know that you have been through devastating hurricanes in the past decade—Joaquin in 2015, Matthew in 2016, Irma and Maria in 2017, and Dorian in 2019. And those are just the major named hurricanes.
We know that many other storms, minor storms that bring more rainfall than they did in the past, are now also more frequent, causing landslides and flooding that take a devastating human and economic toll...
... Never giving you a chance to fully recover, to come up for air before the next storm threatens once again.
We understand that you are seeing sea-level rise, coastal flooding, saltwater intrusion, and more extreme temperatures—you are seeing these effects, and they are severely impacting not just the environment but people’s daily lives and livelihoods, especially in the critical tourism industry.
We know that the brave people of the Caribbean have been knocked down time and again—not only by the effects of climate change, but by COVID, too, and the resulting economic crisis…
You’ve been knocked down, and each time, you have gotten back up. Each time, you have endured, you have persisted, you have picked up the pieces and begun to rebuild your lives.
The people of the Caribbean are as resilient, as determined, as they come. Your ancestors—my ancestors—set an example that we cannot help but try to emulate.
The lyrics of the CARICOM Anthem say it so beautifully: From many distant lands, our fore fathers came. Some seeking adventure, some bound in chains. Through battles waged and fought, through victory and pain, by test of their courage, our freedom was gained.
Today, we as humanity face a different battle, which will require current generations’ commitment as well as courage — the existential threat of climate change.
And the United States stands with you in combatting this threat.
That is why, last June, Vice President Harris announced PACC 2030, the U.S.-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis.
The two main strategic goals of PACC 2030 are to strengthen energy security and to promote climate adaptation and resilience.
PACC 2030 is, among countless other initiatives, supporting the development of geothermal projects in Dominica and St. Kitts; promoting electric vehicle deployment and capacity building for power systems management in Barbados, Jamaica, and Suriname; improving microgrid and electricity-sector frameworks in St. Lucia; and, through USAID, helping Barbados set up the Blue-Green Investment Corporation, the first “green bank” in the Caribbean.
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry was here in Nassau just two weeks ago. I am encouraged by the leadership of the Government of the Bahamas and fully support collective efforts for CARICOM to play a strong role in addressing climate here in this region, and in raising global ambitions.
I will see Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry in a few hours at an islands-focused event at the Our Oceans Conference in Panama and will let him know that this morning, here, amongst friends, I echoed his message that we are all in this together, including the Department of the Navy.
As the Secretary of the Navy, I can tell you that I have made climate one of my top priorities since the first day I came into office.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps team has been working on climate and energy security for a long time. And we are accelerating and broadening those efforts.
And we know that urgency is in order. Time is not on our side. We are in the critical decade to make meaningful progress so that we can avoid the worst climate scenarios. We must act now.
We view the climate crisis much the same way as “damage control efforts” on a stricken ship. This is an “All Hands on Deck” moment.
Fortunately, we have momentum and a strong foundation to build upon. We have a plan.
The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps team released Climate Action 2030, a broad, multi-pronged approach to limiting our emissions.
Our plan commits us to improving the efficiency of our ships, so we use fewer fossil fuels. It commits us to electrifying our vehicles. It commits us to greatly reducing the energy we consume on our installations.
In fact, we already have one base that is “net zero energy” meaning that it produces as much as energy as it consumes, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars each month in utility costs.
We have backed our targets with investments, weaving in resilience investments in energy infrastructure, water resilience, and nature-based solutions.
Our approach yields results. We have renewable energy at bases all over the world, as well as 18 highly reliable and resilient microgrids.
We continue to aggressively transition to renewable energy with a pipeline of projects including a 42-Megawatt installation in our island state of Hawaii, at our facilities at Pearl Harbor.
We are upgrading water and electrical infrastructure right here in the Bahamas at our Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC).
We are bringing on more renewables which means fewer fossil fuels and lower emissions. Over the last decade we have added more than 1 gigawatt of renewable energy to the grid.
And we are harnessing the power of nature to draw carbon out of the air and to build coastal resilience for our bases and neighboring communities.
We are funding efforts to help restore coral reefs and are eager to pursue further efforts on coral reef research, regrowth and even creation.
Finally, Climate Action 2030 makes explicit what we already know – that no one can fight climate change alone.
The plan calls for partnerships. We want to share and trade information, resources, and expertise with governments and NGOs around the world.
Everywhere from Vietnam to Ghana to right here in the Caribbean, we are collaborating on projects, enabling best practices to cross-pollinate. Climate Action 2030 will help ensure that great ideas, like climate change itself, have no borders.
In fact, this strategy, and the commitment it represents, demonstrates very clearly that there is not a trade-off between addressing climate security and our core mission of being the most capable and ready Navy-Marine Corps team.
The exact opposite is true.
Embracing climate-focused technologies and adopting a climate-informed posture strengthens our capability to stand by our partners and allies.
It strengthens our maritime dominance.
It strengthens our people.
It strengthens our partnerships.
Renewable energy generation and microgrids make our facilities more resilient in the face of natural disasters and other power disruptions.
Energy efficiency saves money, leaving us more resources to strengthen our fleet and deepen our partnerships.
A climate-focused commitment empowers us to adopt more-advanced technology, enabling a virtuous cycle of energy efficiency, cost savings, maritime dominance, and climate security.
This virtuous cycle has already begun. Hybrid propulsion systems for our ships, for instance, give them greater range between refueling, allowing them to spend more time on their missions.
That these systems reduce emissions is an enormous bonus.
Similarly, pre-positioned, forward-deployed renewable energy sources dramatically increase the range of unmanned assets that monitor threats at sea.
Put simply, the technologies built to combat the climate crisis are an asset to the operational capabilities of the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps team.
The Navy-Marine Corps team is also working as part of a broad U.S. government coalition to address climate change at home and here in the Caribbean.
We recognize that the resilience of our friends and neighbors in this region is of critical importance to our own security, and we want to help.
That’s why key elements of our involvement in the Caribbean are training exercises as well as medical and engineering expert exchanges to empower strong and collaborative regional responses to emergencies.
Our public health professionals are working with nations such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica to build greater resilience and local capabilities to prevent, identify, and safely respond to vector-borne diseases which are becoming less predictable and more prevalent as the climate changes.
And Jamaica Defense Force Health Services personnel will be participating in an upcoming field exercise with our public health professionals to train participating nations to build their capacity to respond to disease outbreaks.
The USNS Comfort, our one-thousand bed medical ship, is a common sight here in the Caribbean, and plays a vital role in the wake of climate-charged disasters.
In its latest iteration of Operation Continuing Promise, the ship’s crew treated 13,000 patients, participated in more than 25 subject-matter-expert exchanges, and conducted five humanitarian-assistance-and-disaster-relief workshops, across five Caribbean nations.
And moving forward, as we build more new Expeditionary Medical Ships we will also make them available and more accessible to you thanks to their shallow drafts.
Our Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, or NAVFAC, has planned, designed, and carried out dozens of projects in the Caribbean from humanitarian assistance to military construction projects in the region.
In fact, since 2008 our engineers have executed nearly one hundred million dollars of construction projects in the region, to include things like: airfield improvements and an emergency operations center in the Bahamas; upgrading a pier in Barbados;
an operations center and other disaster relief infrastructure in Dominica; emergency response facilities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines; expanding the hangar and warehouse at the airfield on Exuma Island, which is an essential disaster response hub; disaster relief warehouses, an operations center and medical clinic in Jamaica; pier repair and a protective breakwater in St. Lucia; emergency warehouses, operations center, and medical clinics in Haiti.
And we are scoping a future project with the Royal Bahamas Defense Forces at Coral Harbour.
This April, our Chief of Naval Research will host the 9th Specialized Inter-American Conference for Science, Technology, and Innovation in Orlando, Florida.
The conference will focus on using science and technology to address climate change and marine pollution, renewal and hybrid energies applied to the naval field, and integrating unmanned systems.
Representatives from Central American and Caribbean nations to include El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and the Dominican Republic will discuss developing an Inter-American common operational picture and using that shared understanding to combat climate change and marine pollution.
Advanced Technology is a critical component of our work. As small island nations with large exclusive economic zones, you best understand how critical it is to monitor and control your waters.
We are continuously improving our Maritime Domain Awareness capability and capacity so we can be of assistance in optimally managing your maritime resources, including the ability to track and respond to illicit activity in your territorial waters.
We should collectively explore how best to use autonomous technology in this endeavor moving forward.
As the climate crisis impacts fish stocks and droughts contribute to greater freshwater water scarcity, it is essential that others do not unlawfully exploit your sovereign resources.
We want everyone feeding the best information into a shared maritime understanding, and we want everyone using that information to protect their interests.
Climate change is one of the, if not the, most complex issues we have ever faced—as individuals, as nations, and as a species.
And that is why my team and I are so fortunate to be here in Nassau exchanging ideas with all of you.
We need all the brains, the talent, the passion we can possibly get to join together in addressing it.
Caribbean nations have been innovating techniques for growing your economies and protecting your environments for decades. Blue economy opportunities throughout the Caribbean Sea; the development of smart agriculture in Anguilla; sustainable fisheries in St. Lucia; bonds based on marine conservation in Belize and Bermuda and agritourism in the Bahamas and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
These are just a few examples of tremendous initiatives to combat the effects of climate change and build resilience.
We need even more. All the universities in the Caribbean have enormous talent and intellectual resources that we can learn from as we pursue these efforts together.
Indeed, we seek to expand our work with a diverse set of experts residing across the region. Together we need to raise up and heed the voices of Caribbean scholars and researchers on the front lines of climate change.
That is one reason I am very encouraged by the October 2022 Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation and Exchange between the University of Hawaii and the University of the Bahamas.
This MOU facilitates research and training for the development of professionals and highly skilled technicians in the area of disaster risk reduction.
In the words of Prime Minister Davis, this partnership advances “joint scientific research between the two institutions to promote sustainable solutions to help our island states better adapt to the impending crisis we both face.”
We are also excited about another new partnership we just entered into with Stanford University’s brand new School of Sustainability. Stanford is joining forces with the Naval Postgraduate School to address the increasing challenges of global climate change, with a particular focus on oceans issues, as well as the whole range of climate solutions and technologies.
As one who cares deeply about our institutions of higher education, let me just pause and reiterate how grateful I am to be able to share these opportunities with you here today.
To the university students in the audience today: I have great faith in your ability to find creative solutions to our climate challenges.
There is no more worthy enterprise.
These are all worthwhile initiatives and I look forward to doing everything in my power as Secretary of the Navy to further enhance our partnership and cooperation.
Yet, at the end of the day, I do not think about combatting climate change through the scope of my role as Secretary of the Navy, nor only as an American citizen.
I think of them as a new grandfather.
I know that my parents sacrificed much so I could have the life I have led.
When I hold my granddaughter, I understand the enormous responsibility I have. I know I must make sacrifices for her, just as my parents and ancestors sacrificed for me.
I must work relentlessly to ensure the world we leave my granddaughter and your grandchildren is one of infinite possibilities, flourishing life, and enduring hope in the future of humankind.
We stand with you in working tirelessly towards making that world a reality.
We fight alongside you to protect your people, your land, and your way of life.
We understand that you are fighting for your very existence. I hope you understand that you have a partner in us. Today as people united, determined and steadfast we stand. We look to a brand new horizon, the future now firmly in our hands.
It is a privilege to be on this journey together. We will prevail.
Thank you all for your time, your attention, and your efforts to make your home and our world a better place. May God bless each of you.
I look forward to your questions.
Carlos Del Toro
01 March 2023
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