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Earth Today | Irma, Harvey spotlight climate financing needs of island states

Published:Wednesday | September 13, 2017 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Residents float down a flooded street in Havana atop a large piece of styrofoam, after the passing of Hurricane Irma in Cuba yesterday.
Eleanor B Jones

THE BLUDGEONING delivered by hurricanes Irma and Harvey has brought into sharp focus the financing needs of developing countries, and, in particular, those of small-island developing states (SIDS) for adaptation and loss and damage from climate impacts.

"We seem to be entering into a new climate regime and we have to quickly begin to reckon with it. It is the regime of the extreme extreme drought, extreme hurricane, extreme rainfall events. We are not used to dealing with this constant onslaught of extreme and so we need to think about it carefully," warns respected climate scientist Professor Michael Taylor.

"One of the things we have always been saying is that we may not see more hurricanes, but more intense hurricanes. This fits the kind of pattern we are anticipating from climate change. And as they form, they then quickly develop into category three or four [strengths], so by the time they interact with any land, they are at a very life-threatening stage," he added.

It signals, Taylor said, the need for a re-look at how SIDS, which are especially susceptible to such events and other threats, including sea level rise, will need to adapt and the funding it will require.

"The infrastructure will need to be designed to withstand the most intense category of hurricanes, and not only a one-off event, but a repeated onslaught. We really have, too, to look at this argument the Caribbean is making for loss and damage, because we are seeing the kind of total devastation taking place which is beyond the powers of any single government to put back together," the physicist noted.


Compensation for loss


Caribbean SIDS and others from the developing world have long lobbied for adaptation financing, and, in more recent times, compensation for loss and damage.

However, even as significant funds remain to be raised for adaptation, they have also some way to go in convincing their developed counterparts of loss and damage and how to make that happen.

Fortunately, there is in place the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which serves as "the main vehicle under the [United Nations Framework] Convention [on Climate Change] to promote the implementation of approaches to address loss and damage in a comprehensive, integrated and coherent manner".

Eleanor Jones, head of the consulting firm Environmental Solutions Limited, agreed with Taylor.

"Loss and damage financing is very important; and adaptation, there is no question about that. We have to really look at all aspects of adaptation and not just coastal protection, but all sectors of the society and see how we prepare," she said.

"For instance, if hospitals are damaged, what happens? If irrigation and food crops go, what happens? So we are talking food security, water security and health and not just about what is immediately obvious, like drains, etc. Even things like watershed protection are important," noted Jones, who represented the private sector on Jamaica's delegation to the international climate talks in Marrakech last year.

There is, too, something to be said of issues of equity and morality when it comes to the case for climate finance for loss and damage and adaptation, Taylor noted.

"There is also the side of equity because, in truth, as opposed to Florida where the people can evacuate inland, there is no place for the people of SIDS to evacuate to. You think of Barbuda, for example, which is small and flat. Where were the people to go, even if they had the means to go?" he said.

At the same time, it is necessary, Jones said, that islands like Jamaica look at their own internal systems to ensure they can efficiently absorb the funds once received.

"We have to position ourselves to access the money, but then we have to ensure that we have systems in place so that we spend the funds effectively," she cautioned.