On the occasion of the signature of a €30 million COVID loan repurposing for vaccine purchases, 20 July 2021
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Mr. President, esteemed Caribbean Development Bank colleagues, members of the Press, it is a great pleasure and honour for me to be here today to talk about our longstanding cooperation with Caribbean Development Bank, particularly on this important occasion as we leverage our partnership to help prevent the spread of COVID in the region.
President Leon, you have already been in your position for a few months, but let me please take this opportunity to congratulate you on behalf of everybody at the EIB on your appointment. This is a critical time for the region, and your leadership bodes well for the role that Caribbean Development Bank will play in alleviating the impacts of the economic crisis we are facing.
The EIB’s cooperation with CDB started over 40 years ago, and since then we have together mobilised hundreds of millions of dollars for climate action investments. This is incredibly relevant to the Caribbean region, which is at the forefront of climate change and is already experiencing the devastating impact of increased hurricane intensity.
We need to act now, and we need to act decisively. The EIB has committed to increase its level of support to climate action and environmental sustainability to exceed 50% of its lending by 2025 and beyond, and thus help to leverage €1 trillion of investment over the critical decade ahead. Since the end of last year, we have ensured that all lending activities are aligned to the goals and principles of the Paris Agreement.
We congratulate Caribbean Development Bank on its leadership in climate finance. I believe that CDB is one of the first international financial institutions that fully integrated climate vulnerability risk assessments into its project appraisal process. CDB has been a pioneer in climate change mitigation, using European Union grants to de-risk the critical drilling phase of geothermal projects, and financing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects across the region, thereby saving citizens money, reducing fuel import bills, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Besides climate change mitigation, we need to think about resilience and adaptation. For us, climate adaptation is about preparing for an uncertain future. The projects the EIB and CDB are financing together are about making sure that when extreme events occur, like flooding, storms and droughts, people are protected and can continue living their lives in safety. These projects take time to prepare and implement, but when EIB and CDB are involved, we ensure the highest standards in due diligence, compliance, good governance, transparency and accountability. This approach ensures value for money for the citizens that benefit from the projects we finance.
Considering the challenges posed by climate change, we need to do more, and we need to do it faster. We need additional initiatives and projects in order to address the investment gap the region is facing. Public funding and traditional instruments such as grants will not be able to solve all the challenges the Caribbean faces. We must therefore find intelligent ways to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of available public resources, namely by crowding in private investors.
The EIB group, as the EU Bank, can help identify the areas where financial instruments can complement the use of grants, and help implement such instruments for the benefit of the Caribbean. One flagship example is the EU’s Caribbean Investment Facility, which has made over 150 million dollars available in grants to complement loan financing by development finance institutions such as CDB. In the future, the EU will work with guarantees to support private sector lending, an area where the EIB has unparalleled experience with our activities in the European Union. We gladly offer to share this experience, whenever it may be useful.
Apart from the challenges posed by climate change, the world is also fighting a pandemic. It has been many decades since the world has faced such a huge global challenge, which has affected so many people’s lives and livelihoods. Our thoughts are with those that have lost loved ones, and those that have lost their jobs and incomes because of this terrible pandemic. So cruel that this virus is, each time we think we are making progress in fighting it, we are surprised by a new, more contagious variant, and a third, fourth or fifth wave of infections.
At the European Investment Bank, we have mobilised over €5 billion of financing in more than 100 countries around the world to respond to the COVID pandemic. This partnership with Caribbean Development is part of that. A partnership will help protect vulnerable groups against the impact of the pandemic, reduce the spread of the virus, and make sure Caribbean economies can welcome back tourists and make the region a destination of choice even while the pandemic still affects us.
Today we are honoured to sign an agreement that makes €30 million, or around $35 million, of concessional financing available for Caribbean countries. This financing will lighten the financial burden of pandemic-related healthcare expenditure. It will cover healthcare costs such as medical equipment, hospital beds, ventilators, medicines, new and adapted hospital facilities, medical research, and testing. Critically, it will also cover the costs of vaccines and vaccination campaigns.
Regarding vaccines, our colleagues at the European Commission have ensured that all Caribbean countries have been able to access the global vaccine procurement mechanism known as COVAX. This global facility allows equitable and affordable access to vaccines to all countries around the world, and avoids that only rich countries can get priority or exclusive access. An €8 million grant to the Caribbean Public Health Agency made this possible. EU leaders also recently pledged to donate at least 100 million vaccine doses before the end of the year to countries around the world.
These vaccinations are so important. After more than a year of crisis, this is the best way that the combined leading scientific and health experts have found to reduce the spread of the virus. The best way to protect the vulnerable, protect young people from the risk of long-term health problems, and chart a path back to relative normality for our economies. From a moral and financial standpoint, we simply cannot afford to hope that the problem will solve itself or go away. Which is why we are here today.
The EIB financed one of the vaccine makers, BioNTech, whose breakthrough science is now available worldwide in the Pfizer vaccine. We recognise and are grateful to the scientific community around the world that has developed and tested these vaccines so effectively. We would also like to praise and extend our deep thanks to all the doctors, nurses, hospital staff and government workers that have put themselves at risk during this pandemic to help protect us all.
Nobody expects that we will exit this pandemic quickly or smoothly. The latest news from around the world concerning the Delta variant is troubling indeed. However, by combining our strengths we can find a way through these difficult times. Today, we are combining the strengths of the Caribbean Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, and this latest financing is another link in the partnership that we have developed together.
Before I close, I would like to mention the following. Speaking with my staff, a recurring theme is the high esteem that they have for their counterparts at the Caribbean Development Bank, and their appreciation for the close and open cooperation we have achieved over the years. I too would like to express my high esteem and appreciation for our partnership, and the work that you are doing. May our partnership continue for many more decades into the future.
We look forward to the day that we can meet in person and celebrate this partnership, when this pandemic is finally behind us.