Climate Change Comes to the Caribbean


A Haitian-American contributor to Foreign Policy In Focustrained in International StudiesNathalie Baptiste—analyzes the current situation of the Caribbean region and small island nations in the context of climate change and global warming, saying that “Climate change is already wreaking havoc on the Caribbean’s vital fishing, tourism, and agriculture industries,” which attests to the bleak future of the planet as a whole. She bases her arguments on the latest report released by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other sources. See excerpts with a link to the full article below:

The latest report released by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a dire picture: climate change is here to stay, and we’re not doing enough to prepare ourselves. Extreme weather events from hurricanes to floods and droughts will leave virtually no corner of our planet untouched. Climate chaos will undoubtedly inflict damage upon wealthier nations, but no one is more vulnerable than the world’s poor.

The Latin American and Caribbean region is home to dozens of low- and middle-income countries that are still struggling to develop. Many depend on the warm waters and mild weather of the Caribbean to sustain their crucial agriculture and tourism industries. Climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions of people across the region who rely on these sectors to survive. The small island nations of the Caribbean depend on the ocean as a source of food and income. Catching and eating fish have been traditions in the region for centuries, and fish remain a dietary staple. However, this heavy reliance on the ocean for sustenance may be upended by climate change. According to a recent report, the world’s oceans will see a 170-percent rise in acidity by the end of the century, which could prove devastating for global fish stocks that are already overexploited.

In the small country of Antigua and Barbuda, a severely impacted fish population would have dire consequences. Located in the western Caribbean, Antigua and Barbuda is the largest per capita consumer of fish in the entire world. Not only do Antiguans consume a lot of fish, their country’s location also makes it a prime exporter of fish products to profitable markets in Puerto Rico and the continental United States. The Antiguan export of fish commodities is currently valued at $1.5 million. For fishermen trying to make a living and the rural poor who rely on this industry for food, the future of fishing resources looks grim.

In other countries, the lucrative banana industry is under assault. [. . .] The changing climate promises even more destructive storms, putting the banana trade—and with it much of the Dominican economy—in mortal peril.

The region depends not only on the exports it sends out, but on the people it brings in. With sandy beaches, sapphire blue waters, exotic plants, and colorful marine life, many countries in the region rely on booming tourism sectors. Jamaica’s tourism industry, for example, earns the country approximately $2 billion annually, bringing in nearly 50 percent of its foreign exchange earnings and providing a quarter of all jobs on the island. Now, though, rising sea levels are expected to inundate the coastal areas popular with beachgoers. A World Bank Study found that a 1-meter rise in sea level could potentially destroy 60 percent of the coastal wetlands in the Caribbean and the developing world. [. . .]

Though tourists can cause extensive environmental damage, one country manages to boast a thriving, environmentally friendly tourism sector that has still proven lucrative. Costa Rica’s sustainable tourism industry, which has won countless awards, brought in nearly $2.2 billion in 2012 alone. [. . .]

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