The eventualities of climate change could be devastating to Jamaica, with far-reaching effects on agriculture and critical infrastructure such as roads and housing, minister in charge of environmental matters Senator Matthew Samuda is warning.
Speaking at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, Samuda noted studies of rising sea levels which point to dire consequences if climate change issues are not taken seriously and adaptation and mitigation programmes are ignored by Jamaicans.
"Certainly, if we go beyond [global temperature rise of] 1.5 and three degrees and all of the global projections bear true — catastrophe. Whether the [sea] water would stop at Harbour Street or stop in Liguanea, if you ask 10 different persons you may get 10 different answers. What we do know is that there would be significant erosion of our coastline and that would affect hundreds of thousands, if not over a million of our citizens, very quickly," he asserted.
Furthermore, he argued, some events are not sudden, and climate change has already been setting in, and impacting the quality of life of Jamaicans.
"Slow and set events, for instance, affect farmers — deteriorating spoil quality because of heating, salt water intrusions, reducing pollination rates, and work being more difficult because the air is warmer. These things affect the agricultural outcomes now, so we are in a fight with the impact of climate change, certainly in that sector," he stated.
Samuda pointed out that fisherfolk are also suffering the negative effects of climate change.
"Yes, there have been negative practices [in fishing] and we haven't done ourselves good with how we manage the fisheries sector over the last 50 to 60 years, but to deny that rising sea levels is having an impact on our near shore fisheries would be ridiculous at this stage; we are already impacting two of our critical sectors to economic sustainability," Samuda argued.
He said issues such as salt water intrusion aren't often discussed, but many of the country's wells are in low-lying areas and are at risk from rising sea levels.
"We have seen in the past salt water intrusion in the north-east of the island; we've been having a hard time finding water sources for eastern Portland, extending into eastern St Thomas. Climate change isn't the only reason for those challenges but it is making some of the wells nearer to the coastline less accessible, and that's a real risk to our water network nationally because many of these wells which are factored into our water supply are in areas that would be very badly affected by salt water intrusion," he explained.
Road infrastructure and housing are likely to be affected if these projections of the worst effects of climate change materialise, Samuda stressed.
He pointed out that the Government is committed to investing in mitigation works, such as has been done on one of 28 kilometres — at US$10 million per kilometre — of exposed harbour on the waterfront in downtown Kingston.
This, he explained, is one means of de-risking investments, which the Government is encouraging in the area.
"So that shows you that the Government is committed to doing the investment that it has to protect lives and livelihoods," the senator said.
Samuda also noted the Jamaica systemic risk assessment, launched last year in partnership with the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and the University of Oxford, funded by the Green Climate Fund.
"This is the first tool of its kind in the world which analyses risk to infrastructure. This took thousands of data points across public and private institutions to look at the risk to hard infrastructure as well as things like the energy grid, and water systems to help the Government make appropriate investment decisions in infrastructure that dealt with the risks," he said. "It's also available to the private sector as they were equal and active participants to ensure that they invest."
Senior technical officer, adaptation, Climate Change Division Le-Anne Roper added that local research has equipped the Government to make downscale climate projections, for changes to temperature and rainfall patterns across parishes.
"One of the issues is Portland — we typically see Portland as the parish that gets the most rainfall, and in the climate change projections there has been a decline projected over the coming years, starting in this decade. We are already seeing that happening where Portland is having drought, that is something we would not have foreseen in the past. So, we do have this information and the intent is to be able to use it in planning and in systemic risk assessment," she advised.