Masthead image

Related Commentaries

The following commentaries share at least one of the same topic categories.

Return to commentary archive

Climate Change talks failing the Caribbean


Caribbean community (CARICOM) countries are facing threats to their very existence from climate change and sea level rise. A report at the 2010 Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico shows that incremental rises in the level of the sea would cause economic devastation in every CARICOM country over the next fifty years.
A rise in sea level of just one metre would result in the sea encroaching by around 100 metres in all coastal states in the region causing the greatest economic losses in absolute terms to the Bahamas, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. But proportionately smaller states such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica and St Lucia would suffer even more.
An audio-visual presentation shows that Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, would be flooded and the Norman Manley International Airport would be virtually unusable if the rise in the level of the sea reached 2 metres.
None of this should be unbelievable. The frequency and intensity of hurricanes and storms over the last 15 years have been more than sufficient evidence that climate change is real and that Caribbean countries are in the eye of the storm.
When the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season officially ended on November 30, the Caribbean had recorded 20 deaths from storms and over US$1 billion in damage in Haiti, Jamaica, St Lucia and to a lesser extent St Vincent and the Grenadines.
This latest report at the Cancun Conference conducted by researchers at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment predicts that damage in CARICOM’s 15-member countries could amount to between US$4bn and US$6bn a year and with infrastructure costs running to tens of billions in many countries.
Incidentally, the study does not consider the costs of coral loss, or the possibility of increased hurricanes or storms that are more likely to occur in the Caribbean in the short term.
For a region already under severe economic pressure with austerity programmes being enforced by organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and a refusal by some states (particularly Latin American ones) in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to acknowledge the importance of giving special and differential treatment to small and vulnerable countries for trade, aid and investment, CARICOM countries are set for a very rough ride in the future.
Just how rough the ride is going to be was evident at the Cancun Conference when an analysis by the G77 countries of developing nations revealed that the pledges made in Copenhagen last year have not been fulfilled.
Under the Copenhagen accord developed countries committed to provide "new and additional" resources to developing countries, in the short term, amounting to US $30bn from 2010-2012 to help them to adapt to climate change and to manage the growth in their emissions. But, the money, which is supposed to be "new and additional" to existing aid money, has been loans, and large amounts have been taken from existing aid budgets. The G77 showed that some countries, especially Japan and the European Union, have double-counted pledges and recycled money offered previously.
In any event, the bulk of the money has gone to China, India and Brazil leaving very little for developing countries and small states.
If anything, the Cancun Conference has been an occasion for great distrust of the industrialised nations which are the biggest polluters of the environment and the worst contributors to Climate Change and global warming.
Not surprisingly the representatives of 43 countries that comprise the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) have rejected proposals by rich countries that small island and coastal states could use adaptation money to build sea defences. AOSIS representatives have also bluntly stated that they cannot compromise on their position that the world must seek to hold temperatures to no more than a 1.5C rise rather than the 2C now proposed by Britain, Europe and the US (and incidentally accepted by over 100 countries at Copenhagen last year). But unless they organise greater support, 2C will be forced down their throats.
There is not enough information and education in CARICOM countries on the imminent dangers of Climate Change and sea level rise, and while there may be rudimentary plans and ideas about how each country in the region should be preparing for the disasters that look sure to occur on present trends, the financial resources to refine and implement them does not exist.
Caribbean people are living in ignorance of the real dangers of Climate Change, even though several reports have been produced and warnings sounded by the Climate Change specialists in the region particularly the Caribbean Climate Change Centre located in Belize.
The Centre has repeatedly warned that: “Higher temperatures, rises in sea level, and increased hurricane intensity threaten lives, property and livelihoods throughout the entire Caribbean. If no action is taken, increased hurricane damages, loss of tourism revenue, and infrastructure damages are projected to total $22 billion annually by 2050 and $46 billion by 2100”.
Little attention seems to have been paid by governments to the Centre’s warnings. Certainly, the reports of the Centre are not widely publicized and government officials responsible for the environment are not discussing the issue in the media. But, 2050 is not far away. At that time, children entering their early teens now will be facing this issue squarely, and they will have good reason to ask what the present generation of decision-makers were doing as the problem worsened.
As with almost every other aspect of their collective existence, individual CARICOM countries cannot tackle the problem of Climate Change alone. Even collectively they will have very little leverage in international negotiations such as the Climate Change Conference in Cancun. AOSIS – a much wider grouping is making little headway.
Therefore, there may be a need for a more radical approach. Elements of which could include an initiative for the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries to place this issue high on their agenda and to use their already existing institutional arrangements for negotiating first with the European Union (EU) and then with others such as the US, Japan and Canada, and eventually becoming the voice of all 79 states at future climate change conferences.
For the Caribbean, climate change is no longer an academic issue; it is a real and present danger deserving of urgent attention that may include “time-out” from the current international discussions until stronger negotiating machinery (such as the ACP) is put in place.

Top of commentary |  Return to commentary archive