The Caribbean must awaken to sea-level rise dangers — South Florida can help

An Editorial from the Miami Herald 

In South Florida, thanks to the foresight of local leaders, sea-level rise and climate change are being tackled regionally — Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact a decade ago to share wisdom and best practices toward a common goal: Stop rising seas from invading and destroying our way of life.

But it seems that a major component is being overlooked. When we think regionally, we seldom think of the water-logged Caribbean islands just miles away from us, and that are the real front lines of this region’s climate-change manifestations.

Consider this: If the Bahamas, Jamaica, Aruba, the Virgin Islands are inundated by rising oceans, water heated by climate change, where will all those residents flee to seek shelter? South Florida, most likely.

Nov. 11 marks the launch of a smart major campaign by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which has adopted the idea — with added urgency — of helping create a climate change survival blueprint for the Caribbean.

The effort is being led by Inga Rhonda King, president of the council who hails from the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. She knows well knows the dramatic impact climate change can have of the Caribbean island chain. We praise her leadership on such an important issue. The council is declaring that the paramount mission now is to bring together government and business leaders, scientists and civil society activists to deliver solutions and build climate resilience to the Caribbean as a whole.

King says the Caribbean islands near Florida have yet to unite, organize and act as one in dealing with climate change. There is no pact in place for the string of islands, which rely heavily on tourism to survive.

“Either we sink together or build climate resilience. There is no other option,” King said. “The time to talk is over, the time to act is now.” She’s right.

King wants to ring the bell loudly with this campaign — and she has hard numbers to allude to the looming devastation. Last year, climate-related worldwide disasters caused $320 billion in damage, wiping out decades of development gains in some places. For the Caribbean, the island chains’ very existence is at stake.

Economically, it has long been a tourism magnet and source of revenue. What would become of the billion-dollar cruise line industry without the Caribbean islands as a destination if the landscape is overwhelmed by the invading oceans?

King told the Miami Herald Editorial Board that the Caribbean needs to catch up to neighbors like Florida — or else.

She detailed three main “must-dos” for the Caribbean to prepare for future under a foot of water:

1. Develop a clear and compelling long-term vision to be a climate-resilient region.

2. Acquire requisite support from the international community, in terms of both financial and technical resources, for what is in many respects a resource-constrained region.

3. Translate the regional and national vision into concrete programs that can deliver climate resilience using a whole-of-society approach.

“Everyone is a partner, and this is not a government alone initiative,” King said.

Even though King and the Caribbean nations have not asked, maybe South Florida can volunteer to help. The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact should consider inviting the Caribbean islands to join in the effort. After all, we all face being overwhelmed by the same Atlantic waters.

When that Compact was created, the first thing members did was work out a common set of numbers projecting how much sea-level rise to expect: 6 to 10 inches by 2030; up to 5 feet by 2100. They worked out a regional vulnerability assessment..

They established, and later updated, a Regional Climate Action plan, setting goals for agriculture, transportation, water, energy and more. All four counties’ affixed it to their comprehensive plans.

The Caribbean needs to create a similar action plan. For the islands of the region, the possibility of turning into the lost land of Atlantis is no myth.

“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.

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