The Worsening Consequences of Climate Change


Sir Ronald Sanders recently presented on ‘Political and Economic Challenges Confronting the Caribbean’ at the Caribbean Actuarial Association’s 27th annual conference in Nassau, Bahamas on November 30, 2017. Here are excerpts from Caribbean 360.

The effects of climate change, particularly sea-level rise, is an overwhelming problem for the Caribbean that needs urgent attention. Delay in putting in place sustainable plans for resilient building, that could secure international financial support, will cost the region dearly. The problem has become multi-faceted and addressing it requires collaboration among structural and mechanical engineers, accountants, economists, environmentalists and designers of tourism plants. The trick is going to be how to merge resilient building, and defences against sea-surges and flooding with the aesthetics necessary to maintain the Caribbean as a sun, sea and sand destination.

2017 has witnessed back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes that cut a swathe through the Caribbean from which the affected islands will not fully recover for many years to come. As an example of this, in 1994 Antigua and Barbuda received the largest number of tourists in its previous history. Then, in 1995, Category-5 Hurricane Luis battered Antigua, leaving its tourism plant in tatters. The country did not achieve its 1994 figures until 2014, 20 years later.

Importantly, the 2017 hurricanes also caused thousands of people from Barbuda and Dominica, whose homes, schools, hospitals and businesses have been decimated, to seek refuge in other islands. These people are, in effect, ‘climate refugees’, ripped away from their history, their culture and their identity.

Their plight has been created by ferocious storms not caused by their own actions but by profligate carbon emissions (CO2) by rich nations. And despite the 2016 Paris Accord and the follow-up Bonn meeting last month, there is no sign that that these emissions will end. Indeed, even if the present level of CO2 emissions was to stop today, because of the heat that has already built-up in the atmosphere and the oceans, the seas would not stop rising until the Earth cools and that could take centuries.

The non-binding Paris agreement only expresses an objective to limit global warming to “well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels”. The goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, is merely “aspirational”. In fact, the climate change action plans submitted by 188 countries would lead to a temperature rise as high as 2.7 degrees Celsius. At 3 degrees, the size of islands will shrink, productive areas will be under water, people will have to move habitats inland and many will be forced to migrate, legally and illegally.

This poses a deadly threat not only to tourism, but also to human habitats. This could cause human dislocation and create refugees who flee their homelands for safe havens. Right now, the possibility of the climate refugees from Barbuda and Dominica returning to their homes in the short to medium term is remote. For both Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, the rebuilding prospect is daunting; they simply don’t have the money.

[. . .] There is also no possibility of these countries rapidly rebuilding by borrowing money on commercial terms. Even if they could borrow on the commercial market, their debt would be increased to unsustainable levels with little possibility of generating enough revenues to make repayments.
Worryingly, not only has the Caribbean seen the creation of the first set of ‘climate refugees’, but the damage done to property has been so extensive that unemployment and poverty have increased. And if this development is not bad enough, properties, including businesses, that were not insured or were under-insured will not be rebuilt. [. . .]

Caribbean countries have to demonstrate clearly that they are taking action to counter global warming and sea-level rise. Such action has to be at two levels: domestic resilient building and international advocacy.

Domestically, each Caribbean country must implement new and tough codes for future construction and adopt legislation to ensure compliance. Governments also now need to consider the building of walls and other defences to withstand sea surges, and reservoirs to cope with flooding. All of this requires careful thinking and preparation about how to make Caribbean countries safe from sea-level rise and still attractive for tourism. [. . .]

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[Photo by CATHERONE CHISNELL/AFP/Getty Images from]

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