We must build resilience to climate change impact now!

Monday, January 14, 2019

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News from scientists last week that the world's oceans are heating up at an accelerating pace is cause for even greater focus on the need for small island developing states to craft and implement resilience-building instruments.

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers punctured previous reports that suggested there was a pause in global warming in recent years.

According to a wire service report on the scientists' research, the latest technology shows no such hiatus ever existed, raising new concerns about the pace of climate change and its effect on the planet's main buffer — the oceans.

The news report quotes co-author of the study, Mr Zeke Hausfather, as saying: “Ocean heating is a very important indicator of climate change, and we have robust evidence that it is warming more rapidly than we thought.”

Experts explain that about 93 per cent of excess heat — trapped around the Earth by greenhouse gases that come from the burning of fossil fuels — accumulates in the world's oceans.

The latest report relied on four studies — published between 2014 and 2017 — that gave more precise estimates of past trends in ocean heat, allowing scientists to update past research and hone predictions for the future.

Those precise numbers were collated by the use of an ocean-monitoring fleet called Argo — nearly 4,000 floating robots that drift throughout the world's oceans, every few days diving to a depth of 2,000 metres and measuring the ocean's temperature, acidity, salinity, and other information.

Argo, the scientists say, “has provided consistent and widespread data on ocean heat content since the mid-2000s”.

The information shows warming in the oceans is on pace with measurements of rising air temperature.

According to the researchers, if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gases, the “models predict that the temperature of the top 2,000 metres of the world's oceans will rise 0.78 degrees Celsius by the end of the century”.

The upshot, the scientists tell us, is that thermal expansion will raise sea level 12 inches — higher than any sea level rise from melting glaciers and ice sheets.

Mr Hausfather is also reported as saying that “the global warming signal is a lot easier to detect if it is changing in the oceans than on the surface”.

Global warming's threat to marine life, which is a major source of food for the world, is of particular concern to us here in the Caribbean, where fishing and tourism are vital to our existence.

Add to that the effect that an increase in sea levels will have on our coastal communities, as well as the impact of extreme weather events on the region, and you get an idea of the urgency with which we must all act on building resilience to mitigate the damage associated with climate change.

Our hope is that the strategies formulated at last November's high-level conference, held in Washington, DC, on building resilience to disasters and climate change in the Caribbean will be fine-tuned and implemented as quickly as possible.

For, as was highlighted at the conference, natural disasters in the Caribbean set back the region US$130 billion in 2017. That is a hefty bill, the scale of which is even more pronounced when one considers that last year natural disasters, mostly influenced by climate change, cost the world US$160 billion.

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