Environment

The cost of inaction

Saturday, May 11, 2013    

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IF the Caribbean does nothing to mitigate the effects of climate change, the region could lose US$10.7 billion per year by 2025 in the categories of hurricane damage, loss of tourism revenue, and infrastructure damage. That's five per cent of current regional GDP.

By 2050, the figure could shoot to US$22 billion, and top US$40 billion by 2100 — 10 and 22 per cent of GDP, respectively.

"The net effect of costs on this scale is equivalent to causing a perpetual economic recession in each of the CARICOM Member States," said coordinator of the Build Better Jamaica project Heather Pinnock.

She was quoting from a 2012 report by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) at the recent

Architects Week workshop hosted by the Caribbean Architecture Student Association of the University of Technology and the Jamaica Institute of Architects.

Pinnock added that Jamaica is listed in a World Bank report as having the second-highest economic risk exposure to two or more climate change-related hazards, and that according to an IDB/ECLAC report, climate change-related disasters cost Jamaica US$14B per year between 1998 and 2008.

She pointed to the effects of climate change already being experienced in the region, which she said were cause for concern. Among them, she said, were increased coastal flooding and erosion, land loss and sea water intrusion, storm surges, inland flooding, coral bleaching and increased emergence of vector-borne diseases.

The 5C's document — prepared in response to a request from the CARICOM Heads of Government to produce an Implementation Plan to guide the delivery of the 'Regional Framework to Achieving Development Resilient to Climate Change — put the annual expected losses from some of these events, particularly wind, storm surges and inland flooding, at between one per cent and six per cent of national GDP.

Noting that while the region produces less than one per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions — the primary culprit in climate change -- Pinnock said it is one of the most vulnerable to the resulting effects of climate change. As such, she argued that new ideas are critical to developing a climate change-resilient region.

Making that case, she pointed to the following description from the Climate Studies Group at the University of the West Indies: Vulnerability + Innovation = Resilience.

She pointed to the Barbados Boardwalk, a breakwater 6-12ft deep on the island's south coast, designed to connect beaches, prevent erosion and protect the coast from winds in excess of 170 km per hour, as a commendable example of a resilience initiative that benefits not just the tourism industry, but the country as a whole.

Build Better Jamaica, Pinnock said, with its focus on the built environment in Jamaica and the Caribbean, aims to improve the assessment of climate change related risks as it relates to infrastructure, to increase knowledge about climate resilient and resource efficient construction concepts, designs and materials in the building sector, and to increase public awareness about resilience to climate change in general.

The project encompasses technical assessment, legal and economic reviews, including a review of building codes; GIS mapping, including climate change vulnerability mapping, and public awareness building. It is expected that it will lead to the design, construction and location of buildings more resilient to disasters and which do not compromise the natural environment.

Build Better Jamaica is a project of the Developing Design Concepts for Climate Change Resilient Buildings being led by professors Anthony Clayton and Tara Dasgupta through the Institute of Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI). The project is funded by the Inter-American Development Bank with counterpart support from UWI.

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