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Wanted in the Caribbean: Regional response to global climate change

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Will Caribbean leaders work together to respond to the global challenge of climate change? That’s the question that arises as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continues to release its latest global report on climate change, which is scheduled for completion in October. 


The IPCC’s periodic reports are intended to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change. The current report, its fifth, is known as AR5, and it outlines several severe direct impacts of climate change on human life and the ecological well-being of the entire planet.


Among the major predictions in the first volume of the report, released in September 2013, are:

• Further warming will continue if emissions of greenhouse gases continue
• The global surface-temperature increase by the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5 degrees C, and is likely to exceed two degrees C for many scenarios
• Increases in disparity will appear between wet and dry regions, as well as wet and dry seasons
• The oceans will continue to warm, with heat extending to the deep ocean, affecting circulation patterns
• Global mean sea level will continue to rise at a rate very likely to exceed the rate of the past four decades
• Changes in climate will cause an increased CO2 production rate, leading to increased ocean acidification
• Future surface temperatures will be largely determined by cumulative CO2, which means climate change will continue even if CO2 emissions are stopped

“While these direct impacts are grim, particularly for a region of small island developing states, it is the indirect impacts of climate change that are of even greater concern,” said Norman Gibson, scientific officer, Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Cardi). “For example, climate change can lead, indirectly, to increased poverty, decreased wellness, higher insecurity, greater migration and human conflict.” The Barbados-born Gibson, who works at the Cardi headquarters, at the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine campus, explained why the Caribbean region is particularly vulnerable to the social and economic fallout of climate change.


“Most of the economies in this region depend heavily upon tourism and agriculture, despite the fact that the services sector is responsible for much of the GDP output. Tourism and agriculture contribute immensely to employment and social stability. These sectors rely upon natural resources and are particularly susceptible to climate variability and change,” he said.
AR5 suggests that the Caribbean region’s vulnerability is likely to increase in the near-term, with significant negative effects on tourism and agriculture if appropriate mitigation and adaptation measures are not quickly adopted. Of course, the region is not alone in this regard. As World Bank group vice president and special envoy for climate change Rachel Kyte pointed out: “The latest IPCC report paints a picture of a complicated future where no one gets by unscathed, where existing vulnerabilities are exacerbated and where we need to prepare for the worst.”


These are some of the major effects outlined in IPCC AR5 Volume 2, released in March.

• If the rise in global temperature rise exceeds four degrees C, there will be major negative impacts on agricultural production worldwide, and extinction of a substantial proportion of the earth’s species.
• Ocean acidification is very likely to lead to reduced coral calcification, which is projected to have a negative impact on tourism and fishing industries.
• High ambient CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will affect human health by decreasing the nutritional quality of important food crops

• The increasing prices of food commodities on the global market due to local climate impacts are likely to decrease food security.

• Climate change will bear significant consequences for human migration flows, creating a combination of risks and benefits for migrants and nations.

“Decision-makers in our region must now work together to formulate a multi-stakeholder approach to the myriad issues raised by climate change,” Gibson said. “The burden of responsibility cannot rest solely on governments, but all sectors of society should respond to the call—academia, public- and private-sector entities, civil society, and regular citizens. Everyone is affected, and all should play a role in shaping our response.” 


While Caribbean countries need to work intra-regionally to develop a coherent Caribbean perspective, there is equally a requirement for the region as a whole to work in concert with major decisions being made on the international stage. Each region’s response can have a negative side effect on another, Gibson explained. For example, the mass migration of lionfish to Caribbean waters highlights how invasive marine species can be detrimental to foreign ecosystems. Also, the decision to develop biofuels as energy sources in one part of the world can increase food prices and affect land use practices elsewhere. “The Caribbean must take part more actively in policy formation processes at the international level because decisions are being made there which can have serious implications for our quality of life here,” Gibson said.



The Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to Climate Change, approved by the Caribbean Community in 2009, provides a road map for Caribbean action on climate change over the period 2011 to 2021. The framework underscores the importance of a common regional approach to address the threats and challenges of climate change. An implementation plan, which was subsequently developed to guide the delivery of the regional framework, calls for a change in mindset, institutional arrangements, operating systems, collaborative approaches, and integrated planning mechanisms in order to deliver the strategic elements and goals of the regional framework. But AR5 puts squarely into perspective the need for urgent and concerted action.



“Caribbean leaders have arrived at a crossroads,” Gibson said, “and it is time that the rhetoric is matched by investment in actual doing. Urgent and sustained measures must be taken now to tackle the crucial issues raised by AR5. It is clear that a regional dialogue with all stakeholders is required, and Caribbean leaders must seize this moment and make sure that this growing challenge is met with an appropriate response.”



Gerard Best is the New Media Editor for Guardian Media Limited. You can follow his tweets here.


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