Climate change is happening world wide – no region on earth has escaped it. But its effects on the Caribbean are already serious and it has the potential to become more severe than in many other parts of the world. In low-lying areas, more intense storms, floods, droughts, rising sea levels, high temperatures, and ocean acidification are already posing severe threats to people and the marine and coastal ecosystems that support our lifestyles and livelihoods.
Caribbean states are especially vulnerable to these impacts because of:
OUR WAY OF LIFE
Caribbean people’s lives and cultures are centered around the sea – we depend more on our coastal and marine environment than do many other regions on Earth.
WHERE WE LIVE
Most Caribbean people’s home and key institutions, from hospitals to hotels, are located on the coastal fringe. Most people are highly exposed to risks from natural hazards, such as hurricanes, which have severe immediate impacts and take a long time to recover from, especially when storms strike in quick succession.
WE ARE ISLAND SYSTEMS
Island landmasses are relatively small, which often means there is little distance between inland, coastal and marine environments. Our island systems need an integrated management approach.
OUR DEPENDENCE ON OUR COASTS AND SEAS
The Caribbean is particularly dependent on tourism, which like fishing, depends on the complex web of life in our marine and coastal ecosystems –from mangroves to beaches and reefs, to seas and oceans. Other major economic activities such as farming are typically located in low-lying areas.
OUR COASTAL ECONOMY
Caribbean states rely heavily on trade and passenger transport routes (air and sea) that are typically around the coast.
Given the fact that the Caribbean is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, it is essential that everyone knows – even those of us in Antigua – what impacts are already being felt in the region and what could happen in the future. We also need to know what needs to be done to either reduce the impact, adapt to change, or be better able to recover from the toughest shocks of climate change.
While some efforts are already underway to help build a more resilient environment and society, according to the 2017 Caribbean Marine Climate change Report Card; much more work is needed to prepare the Caribbean for climate change.
There is a cost of not adapting to climate change; a cost that is expected to grow over time as damage rises substantially.
WHAT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE
Here’s what can be done in Antigua and other small island states to fight against climate change:
· Use climate change and risk information to help plan development of our coasts and seas. For example, examine our vulnerability to extreme sea level and storm surges, as well as increased hurricane intensity across the region. Knowing more about changing extreme events, sea level rise and precipitation patterns across the region would help provide credible state-scale information for improving building standards for infrastructure, particularly transport networks (e.g. roads and drainage).
· Prepare more extensive risk management and disaster preparation plans for hurricanes, storms, droughts and floods.
· Manage responses to climate change to focus more on reducing local human stressors, including solutions to reduce degradation of water quality.
· More research on the present and projected impacts of ocean acidification. This would help planners develop adaptive strategies depending on each island’s environmental, socioeconomic, and political settings.
· With a broader marine monitoring network, the Caribbean could develop an effective early warning indicator for biodiversity impacts such as bleaching events on the Mesoamerican reef system, or to help with long term marine planning.
· Develop a regional network of marine protected areas designed to future-proof marine biodiversity against climate change.
· Work to stabilize our shorelines and preserve natural barriers such as mangroves, salt marshes, and coral reefs.
As a Caribbean state that is already feeling the impacts of climate change, the mindset should not be “let’s wait and see how worse it gets.” Instead, we should seek to educate ourselves on the effects of climate change – how it impacts our economy, and our way of life – and begin to put measures in place to cushion the blow of an already hard-hitting phenomenon.
As mentioned earlier, the cost of doing nothing, could very well cost us everything. •