Climate change alarm

Climate change alarm

Experts say writing on the wall for Caribbean

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

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WITH experts agreeing that the writing is on the wall for the Caribbean due to the rapid changes in climatic conditions, Professor Michael Taylor, director of the Climate Studies Group at The University of the West Indies (The UWI), says climate change should be tackled with the same aggression being applied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at yesterday's virtual launch of the State of the Caribbean Climate (SOCC) Report, Professor Taylor, who is also dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at the university, said “one cannot dispute that the last four years have highlighted some stark Caribbean climate realities”.

“The simple truth [is] climate is rendering our development pillars unreliable; it is also true that the future climate is going to make our development goals unattainable,” he said in an overview of the report. “We have signed on to sustainable development goals, and climate is challenging our ability to meet those goals and in the timeline we want. We must account for climate to make our development agendas achievable.”

Pointing to what he said was the need for data specific to the Caribbean, and life in the Caribbean to assist in this respect, Professor Taylor said the information contained in the document — the work of 31 authors from three Caribbean institutions — is intended to serve as a first point of reference of climate information for the Caribbean and is a “make-the-case document”.

“Our climate demands change. As a Caribbean region we know enough now, and we can't sit by,” he pointed out.

According to the university's vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, “there can be no greater challenge facing this region than the issue of climate change”, which he said represents an existential threat to the region's survival.

“An existential threat takes top priority given that we can experience, on a day-to-day basis, the crippling impact of the consequences of climate change within our region at the level of our principal economic sectors, as well as to communities and to employment, to entrepreneurship, and all of the related aspects of development,” he noted.

He said that UWI was pleased to be part of the partnership to “provide this science to inform policy and planning”.

In his remarks, president of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) William Warren Smith said “we do not need to be reminded of the significance of climate change for our region”.

“We have watched, unfolding before our eyes, predictions that climate events would become more variable, more intense, and more damaging for the predominantly small island states of the Caribbean. In the past three years I joined three Caribbean missions and witnessed, first-hand, the damage and destruction caused by Hurricane Maria on Dominica and Hurricane Dorian on The Bahamas. These front-row views of the catastrophic impact of hurricanes reinforced my own conviction that climate change must remain at the top of CDB's assistance agenda, and underscored the urgency of Caribbean governments building resilience to climate change,” the CDB head said.

He noted that the report holds special significance for the CDB, as it contains a wealth of very current climate data to inform evidence-based planning, designing and implementation of appropriate adaptation measures.

Meanwhile, Dr Luis Maia, head of cooperation of the delegation of the European Union to Barbados, noting that the Caribbean is disproportionately affected by natural disasters, with this year already registering more tropical cyclones than ever recorded, said he was particularly concerned by a finding of the report that indicates an alarming warming trend will continue across the Caribbean.

“We are aware that there is no Plan B, there is no alternative to acting now; time for discussion and debate is long past as this report shows; the data speaks for itself and it speaks a language we should all understand,” he said, noting that the EU remained strongly committed to fighting climate change.

Yesterday, Professor Dale Webber, pro vice-chancellor and principal of The UWI, said the data was an important aspect of the Caribbean's strides in this area.

“Now that we have data, thanks to this project and many others, we need to work to ensure that extreme weather events that have simulated and stimulated other issues do not cause greater problems. We need to halt and perhaps reverse the deterioration that has occurred in the physical environment, but our research being multidisciplinary affords the opportunity for us to work with partners to get to the right solution,” he pointed out.

He highlighted that drought and rainfall are very important issues.

“The regional climate model data that comes from this report suggests there is going to be a 25 to 35 per cent less rainfall by the end of the century. Are we planning for that? Are we ready for that?” Professor Webber questioned.

He further called for rainfall collection and rainwater harvesting projects to be implemented on a wide scale, as they have been in the past, as a matter of urgency.

“We need to also look at deforestation, the change in forest coverage, and what that means for our people. We need to look at urban and rural planning. We need to be able to ensure that every building we erect and every road we put down, must be made with climate change in mind,” he stated.

Jamaica, over the past few weeks, has suffered billions of dollars in damage to roads and infrastructure as a result of rains from various weather systems, which resulted in flooding, landslides, and death in instances.

Yesterday, Professor Webber said, while The UWI's role in climate education as a school is important, its role in providing answers and data to inform the decision-making process is even more important.


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