It presents an important opportunity for CARICOM and the wider Small Island Developing States (SIDs) to influence the global climate change agenda. "I'm delighted that we are launching this initiative - in partnership with the WHO and UNFCCC - to better equip small island states like ours with the knowledge, resources and technology to increase the resilience of their health systems, as part of larger efforts to adapt to climate change".
Baron Waqa, the incoming chair of the Pacific Islands Forum and president of Nauru, told the pope that their island nations "are at the forefront of the impacts of climate change".
They have also pioneered innovative approaches to improve the resilience of their health systems to climate change.
According to CARICOM, this comes against the backdrop of the unprecedented climate disaster events which struck the Caribbean in September 2017, the opportunity looms large to focus the world's attention on the peculiar vulnerabilities of Small Island and low-lying coastal countries. Their situation is highlighted in the UNFCCC, by Ministers of Health at the 2008 World Health Assembly, and in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Waqa praised the pope's leadership in promoting the recognition that those who least contribute to greenhouse gas emissions often bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, and for his insistence on the inclusion of everyone in discussions and solutions.
"Small Island Developing States are ready to take leadership towards green, resilient and health-promoting national development-but the support of the worldwide community is essential", said Dr Joy St John, the Assistant Director-General for Climate and Other Determinants of Health at WHO.
Health-related costs resulting from climate change are expected to hit between $2bn and $4bn a year by 2030, but not enough global finance goes to small island states.
Country ownership was a central principle of this initiative as Ministers of health from some of the most affected countries have already started to provide input through consultation with WHO's Director-General and at WHO Regional Committee meetings.
Since 2015, WHO has been working with the UNFCCC secretariat to develop detailed country profiles to assess risks, and provide tailored advice on how these countries can adapt to, and mitigate, the health effects of climate change.
"The vision is that, by 2030, all health systems in small island developing states will be able to withstand climate variability and change", noted Dr St John. "We need to work on it together but we need to act now".
Many national health actors, development and United Nations agencies are already making important contributions to protect health in small island developing states. There, governments were looking at how they could better meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to control global temperature increases by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.