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Caribbean climate in crisis

PICKING UP THE PIECES: Eight people lost their lives in the storms that battered St Vincent

AS HUNDREDS of people in Britain affected by floods seek help and shelter following the wettest winter on record, Caribbean islands hit by severe storms over Christmas are also still struggling to recover.

Although more than 4,000 miles apart, the natural disasters that hit the Eastern Caribbean (EC) and parts of the UK can both be linked to climate change and global warming fuelled by carbon emissions.

And scientists have warned that the planet will experience more frequent and severe hurricanes and tropical storms as a result.

Outside of traditional hurricane seasons, typically June to November, there have been increasing reports of intense rains, storm surges and coastal flooding.

Last December, Eastern Caribbean (EC) islands were hit by extraordinarily heavy rains which caused floods and landslides.  
In St Vincent & the Grenadines, severe weather claimed eight lives, families were forced out of their homes and water and electricity were cut off in many areas. In St Lucia, five people were killed in landslides and torrential rain caused extensive destruction in Dominica – one of the region’s most impoverished nations. The cost to the Caribbean is estimated to be in excess of EC$300million (£66m).

INFRASTRUCTURE

The events have raised concerns about long-term damage to infrastructure and could greatly affect the Caribbean tourism industry which is a major source of income.

“The urgency and seriousness of climate change calls for ambition in financing adaptation and mitigation”, said Dr Kenrick Leslie, executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

In an article written by Diane Abbott for a Caribbean publication, the Labour MP said: “In terms of limiting the carbon emissions that reputedly create climate change, the Caribbean is very much in the hands of the big polluters like America and China.

“The Caribbean produces only a fraction of the carbon emissions that produce climate change, but it is one of the main sufferers.”

She added: “What is needed is recognition by the international institutions that small island states have not caused the climate change problem and therefore cannot be expected to bear the brunt of the consequences.

“Pundits in the UK often talk about climate change as if the effects are generations away. But the truth is the consequences of climate change are happening here and now in the Caribbean to disastrous effect. World powers must act.”

In December International Development Minister Alan Duncan visited the region and pledged EC$1m (approx. £220,000) for medical supplies and sanitation equipment to St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia, to address immediate humanitarian needs.

A spokesperson for the Department of International Development (DFID) said: “DFID Caribbean’s climate change and disaster risk reduction programme is helping people in vulnerable, coastal communities prepare for and cope with the impact of natural disasters and climate change. DFID is giving practical support to protect homes from flooding, storms and rising sea levels. We are also providing support to strengthen the Caribbean’s position in global negotiations and its access to resources from global funds.”

Dr Ulric Trotz, the deputy director and science advisor of the CCCCC, said a lack of financial support was an important factor in why the Caribbean is struggling to deal with the effects of climate change.

Speaking to Caribbean media, Trotz said: “We can’t get away from the question of finance because we need to have finance. One of our problems is that we are poor, [but] we know what to do.”

Trotz explained the region needed better resources to strengthen coastal defences and make airports and seaports less vulnerable to climate risks. “We don’t have the resources,” he said. “Take a country like Holland, they are below sea level like Guyana, but they have invested in a one in a 1,000-year flood [plan] to protect Amsterdam and the coast from that type of event. We in the Caribbean don’t even have the resources to protect ourselves from a one in a 10-year [plan].”

CONCERNS

According to the CCCCC’s Delivering Transformational change 2011/21 report, members raised serious concerns about the severe threats posed by a changing climate to their development prospects.

The regional body has come to the conclusion that both mitigation and adaptation options will require a significant and sustained investment that the member states will be unable to raise on their own.

Their national and international position was laid out in the 2009 Liliendaal Declaration which the Caricom heads of government have supported and endorsed.

Details include long-term stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse gasses and the need for financial support to small island developing states. The declaration also highlighted the technology that will be required to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

The CCCCC also expressed its grave concern that the region’s efforts to promote sustainable development are under severe threat by the devastating effects of sea level rise – an observable indication of climate change.

Sea levels worldwide are rising by 3mm a year, but in the Caribbean it is rising between 5mm and 10mm.

In the years to come, sea level rise is projected to flood 100 per cent of port lands in Jamaica.

It is also thought that it will severely disrupt transportation networks, including the loss or damage of 21 Caricom member airports, a loss of 567 km of roads and cause damage or loss to at least 149 multi-million dollar tourism resorts.

INACTION

The annual cost of inaction on climate change in the Caribbean could total $10.7 billion (just over £6 billion) by 2025, according to an economic analysis of the associated costs.

Talking about what the next steps should be, Dr Trotz said: “We should be dealing with our present day exposure to climate risk, and there is a lot of action that we should be taking.”

Abbott believes that failure to tackle climate change will see the Caribbean facing more devastation.

She said: “Unseasonal rain storms that devastated St Vincent this Christmas are not the last we are going to see of the hurricanes, flooding and storm surges associated with climate change.”

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