Natural disasters: The new normal?

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 20, 2019

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CALLS are being renewed for more decisive and strategic actions to be implemented to mitigate the onslaught of climate change in the region and establish resilience against natural disasters, which are being touted as the new normal.

Dr Tyrone Hall, climate policy and communications post-doctoral researcher at York University, told the Jamaica Observer that natural disasters common to the region will become more frequent and intense. Subsequently, the region must move beyond a policy level response.

“We are responding substantially at a policy level to deal with the likely economy-wide challenges more frequent and intense extreme weather events will cause. The best available science points in one direction — current and anticipated climate impacts will be more intensified. People are contending with the impacts in very real ways. The loss of identity-defining and community-building experiences such as going to Hellshire Beach, the dwindling of our fish stock and general deficiencies in yields.

“You take something as critical as the Jamaican national dish and you think for a second about the precarity of North Sea cod, which is central to our beloved ackee and saltfish, and you begin to see the tangible social and affective ways this emergency is impacting us and globally we have not started to address it as comprehensively as we ought to. It is more than another policy issue,” Dr Hall said.

In addition to Dr Hall, Major Damain Bromley, Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) commander who led the 120 troops deployed to The Bahamas to help in the disaster relief efforts, following the onslaught of Hurricane Dorian, also urged civil society to be more concerned.

“What was outstanding was the level of devastation caused by a category 5 hurricane. We should take it seriously. Take global warming seriously, climate change. Since we (region) had two in 2017 (Irma and Maria) and again in 2019 we can start preparing ourselves for another such hurricane in short order. We should not take it lightly, we should continue to prepare and get all the other agencies involved in our overall preparedness for disaster response. We have to treat it seriously and be prepared,” said Bromley during an interview with the Sunday Observer following the JDF DART return from The Bahamas earlier this month.

Further, Dr Hall contends that Jamaica's current long-term and global leader on climate finance is worth celebrating.

“We have a disaster risk financial strategy that paves the way for unlocking private sector financing for climate action, clarifies priority sectors for emission reduction and boosts institutional climate-finance readiness to manage a bevy of financial instruments. As the prime minister shared in a joint op-ed with his Fijian counterpart, Jamaica's best in class natural disaster risk financing strategy also features a public financial management policy framework for natural disaster risk financing that, among other things, optimises the cost effectiveness of disaster response,” Dr Hall said.

But, while these actions are consistent with fiscal discipline and good management, annual setbacks with natural disasters, undermine the region's development gains. Therefore, the effort must be steered in the direction of garnering population-wide support and enforcing measures that ensure climate proofing of critical infrastructure.

“We have an extraordinarily narrow window of opportunity to act decisively. Climate proofing generally means updating building codes to reflect new standards but in instances it means relocation, technological application to improve energy efficiency or making infrastructure greener. While our carbon footprint is small and the urgency of global action is often framed in terms of 2030 and 2050 emission reduction targets, climate adaptation is equally if not even more urgent and necessary for us. We are living with climate impacts and addressing them is really an opportunity for economic reform, societal improvement and overall advancement. We have nothing to lose by acting,” Dr Hall said.

Moreover, beyond policy issues, Dr Hall urged people to live more sustainable.

“What do you choose to eat? Where are its sources? How is it produced? What is the carbon intensity of my diet? My commute, my fashion choices? All these things contribute,” Dr Hall said. “By carbon intensity I mean the level of emissions produced for each unit of what you eat, distance you travel, article of clothes you wear. When you think about it carefully, it isn't just a question of plant based versus meat diets, it is really a question of balance.”

He added: “You are living on quinoa imported from the Andes and I am having the occasional locally grown steak. The climate friendliness of my consumption is relatively better. Quinoa is largely produced from a specific part of the world — Peru, South America. Considering transportation, packaging and other things, that is likely more carbon intensive. Plus excessive foreign demand for quinoa is devastating whole local communities and causing food security problems. All these are societal impacts that play a role in climate change.”


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