Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Peter Espeut | Climate change policy is broad

Published:Friday | October 23, 2020 | 12:07 AM

Until this year, 2005 was the most active hurricane season on record, during which 27 named storms formed, of which a record 15 became hurricanes. So far in this 2020 hurricane season – which is not yet over – 27 named storms have already formed, of which 10 have been hurricanes; we are now into the backup list for storm names, using the Greek alphabet for only second time in history.

This season is already breaking records. When Tropical Storm Delta formed on October 5, 2020 it beat the 2005 record for the formation of the 25th named storm by more than a month. On September 14, forecasters at the US National Hurricane Center were tracking five storms at once. On September 18, three different systems strengthened such that they received their storm names on that one day.

In the midst of the worst pandemic for a hundred years, we are probably in the most active hurricane season in recorded history.

Aside from climate change sceptics like Donald Trump, there is consensus that these hyperactive hurricane seasons are caused by human-induced climate change; that is to say, human activities (like greenhouse gas emissions which have been dramatically increasing since heavy industrialisation in the 1800s) are the direct cause of global warming, which causes more and stronger hurricanes.

Jamaica’s contribution to global warming is relatively small, but measurable. Our total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emissions in 2013 were 10.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e), or 0.02 per cent of global GHG emissions. Yet with severe hurricanes, increased rainfall intensity, and longer periods of drought, Jamaica has suffered disproportionately large economic losses as a result of human-induced climate change in recent years.

JAMAICA TO PLAY ITS PART

Clearly, we are too small to reverse the global trend, but at the very least we can reduce Jamaica’s contribution to the global problem. I have met our newly appointed Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change, Pearnel Charles Jr, and I know of his concern; yet I fear that fulfilling the party’s election promises in terms of “new houses built” might overshadow his good intentions in the area of environmental conservation and climate change.

Personal motor vehicles are a major cause of global warming; collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions, emitting around 10.9 kg (24 lb) of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas. Good climate policy should call for fewer cars on the road, and fewer roads, and heavy investment in fuel-efficient mass transit. Yet the populist policies of both PNP and JLP governments have been more cars for more people, and more roads and highways, which increases greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, and helps to cause more active hurricane seasons.

According to a 2015 study by the United Nations Environment Programme, “The number of motor vehicles in Jamaica more than doubled, from 171,000 to 502,265, between 1993 and 2010, prompting gasolene consumption to nearly double during those years. Transportation is the heaviest user of fuel at 45% of total consumption, according to data from 2008 and 2012. The rapid growth in motor vehicle fleets has also contributed to the obvious deterioration in air quality in urban areas, particularly in the Kingston Metropolitan Region.”

Clearly, to be effective, national climate change policy must include what happens in the public transportation sector, the electricity generation sector, the industrial and manufacturing sector, and the roads and works sector, among others.

Building four-lane highways from Kingston to Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio, will benefit car owners, but will increase harmful emissions. The billions we are spending on highways could build a light rail people-mover from Spanish Town to Portmore to Papine, and from Constant Spring to downtown Kingston (with a junction changeover in Half-Way Tree), which will move more people faster and cheaper, will cause less road congestion, and produce less global-warming gases.

A new railway from Negril to Port Antonio via Montego Bay, and from Montego Bay to Kingston through Williamsfield, will enhance tourism and agriculture, and have positive climate change effects.

Give us vision lest we perish.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com