Head of the Department of Physics on the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Tannecia Stephenson is a climate specialist who takes preserving the climate for future generations seriously.
In this regard, the 43-year-old scientist believes a joined-up approach where everybody is involved from the individual to government is key.
The Professor of Environmental Physics who specialises in climate variability and climate change holds a Phd in Physics from the UWI. She is also senior lecturer in the Physics Department.
Stephenson grew up in Portmore, St Catherine with her parents and four siblings in a typical nuclear family structure.
She attended St Aloysius Primary School before transitioning to the all-girl Alpha Academy. Before high school, Stephenson harboured thoughts of becoming a teacher but all that changed in third form at Alpha where she fell in love with physics, in particular the challenge that it presented. It did not matter that, having aced physics at O’levels, she failed in her first attempt at A’levels. Having overcome that challenge, Stephenson holds the view that one must not give in to failure.
In explaining her love for physics, the professor said: “I loved just how the principles (of physics) helped to explain the kinds of things we see in nature".
For example, why a boat stays afloat or how light behaves, Stephenson said, adding that she loved the physical aspect of physics and the problem-solving that came with it. As it relates to climate, she explained that understanding the climate lets us know how it impacts our daily lives.
In 1994, Stephenson became a member of the Climate Studies Group Mona (CSGM) that was established by Professor A Anthony Chen. The team of academics, students and climate professionals conduct high-level research to understand regional climate behavior. Their findings help regional governments to better position themselves to respond to, and mitigate the negative effects of climate change.
Stephenson said she takes particular satisfaction in producing for Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, the publication ‘The state of Caribbean Climate’. They also published, ‘The state of Jamaica Climate in 2015’.
“It has allowed us to pull all the science produced for Jamaica together which allows for a better understanding of weather patterns, the climate and what drives it as well as the projections,” Stephenson explained. She said a summary of the document was also produced for policymakers. She said the documents are a first stop for anyone seeking to have some kind of understanding on what climate means for Jamaica and also for the region.
And, she insists that climate change is everybody’s business with everyone having a part to play in securing the environment for future generations. She said the individual, communities, private sector and government must all work together.
“Partnerships are crucial. In responding to climate change, everyone needs to get on board and so, not only is there a role for government but there’s a role for individuals, there’s a role for business, for private sector engagement. There’s a role for communities in building resilience, in using community-based agriculture, in dealing with water harvesting,” Stephenson stated.
She noted that there are many activities to position communities to better respond to climate change. She cited that as the Climate Change Division develops plans and strategies that are adapted by the Government, there is recognition that the private sector partnership is crucial for Jamaica’s response to climate change.
“Within our private sector it’s that uptake of renewable energy technologies or improved energy technologies and that’s important in us reaching our mitigation goals. It also involves better positioning businesses to better use water,” she explained.
As it relates to water use, Stephenson underscored that this was of particular importance since one of the critical areas for our climate and for the Caribbean is water.
“Will we have enough water in the future?” she said. In answering her own question, Stephenson noted that research suggests that the summers will be a lot drier with less water being available on average each year as a result of less rainfall.
“If the vision is for a drier Caribbean, how are we positioning ourselves to deal with water?” she questioned further.
“We say all of that to say there is importance in all of us partnering to respond to climate change".
Stephenson appreciates that there is a climate change division as she said this speaks to the seriousness with which the issue is being taken by the government. She is also satisfied that there is movement within the various agencies and departments of government “to better position ourselves to deal with climate change”.
This she said manifests itself in the mitigation efforts being taken to reduce the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
"These two approaches are being pursued by the government. So you see policies emerging dealing with energy and the mix that renewable energy will take up in the energy mix for Jamaica or in how our country will adapt to climate change,” she said.