Editorial

Climate change: Prevention better, less costly than cure

Tuesday, February 11, 2014    

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Anyone who has been observing weather patterns worldwide over the past few years will notice the increasing effects of climate change.

Unusually cold weather in the United States south in recent weeks, as well as the unseasonal rains that devastated a number of Eastern Caribbean islands over the last Christmas holidays, have been just two of the latest examples of what is going wrong.

Now, we are seeing worrisome flooding in the south of England which, we are told, was triggered by a global weather system resulting in persistent rainfall over Indonesia and the tropical West Pacific. The upshot has been a series of severe Atlantic storms that have not only flooded thousands of homes in Britain but, according to the Met Office in England, has been responsible for "the exceptionally cold weather in North America".

Weather experts say, as well, that this is "the wettest winter" in England since 1766, and the series of Atlantic storms that are at the root of this disaster are set to continue for several weeks.

We have argued in this space before that the natural disaster experienced by our sister nations in the Eastern Caribbean should give Caricom cause to take a serious look at how we build. We raised the issue because of the Caribbean's vulnerability to the effects of climate change which, we expect, will result in more violent weather conditions each year.

Last month, we reported the World Bank as warning that climate change is the most significant challenge to achieving sustainable development and threatens to drag millions of people into grinding poverty. The World Bank argued that for developing countries, including those in the Caribbean, the annual cost of infrastructure that is resilient to climate change is approximately US$1.2 trillion to US$1.5 trillion, resulting in a yearly US$700 billion gap in financing.

According to the bank, meeting the climate and development challenge will require the combined efforts of development banks, financial institutions, export credit agencies, institutional investors, and public budgets.

That is no easy task, especially when placed against the inability — some would argue stubbornness — of the developed nations to reduce carbon emissions. And while we acknowledge that developed countries have promised to assist developing states in the area of adaptation to climate change, Caribbean countries, we hold, should not get comfortable with that promised assistance.

It is against that background that we again urge regional governments to give special and urgent attention to infrastructure development that will mitigate the effects of adverse weather systems. For, as we all know in this region, it's not a matter of if the storms will come, it's a matter of when.

Of course, the issue of cost will arise in any attempt to improve infrastructure, especially in states with struggling economies. However, the cost in human life and infrastructure damage is way above what will be required for prevention.

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