Sat | Oct 19, 2019

Earth Today | Caribbean running out of prep time for sweltering planet

Published:Thursday | October 10, 2019 | 12:15 AM
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The clock is ticking on Caribbean preparedness for climate change, with a recent study giving the region more than 10 years within which to ready itself for a world warmed to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“A 2030 attainment date for 1.5 degrees Celsius, as suggested by this and other similar studies, gives the Caribbean region less than 15 years to prepare for the consequences of a 1.5 degrees Celsius world and for the subsequent years when global temperatures move beyond this threshold,” writes the researchers, including Dr Tannecia Stephenson, a physicist and co-lead for the Climate Studies Group Mona, in the 2018 paper on the subject.

Stephenson is also head of the Department of Physics at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

Titled “Future Caribbean Climates in a World of Rising Temperatures: the 1.5 vs 2.0 Dilemma”, the paper’s other authors include Professor Michael Taylor, Dr Leonard Clarke, Jhordanne Jones, and Jayaka Campbell, also of the UWI, Jamaica; Abel Centella, Arnold Bezanilla and Alejandro Vichot of the Institute of Meteorology in Cuba; and John Charlery of the UWI, Barbados.

It presents the results of simulation models for the Caribbean as a whole and for five countries in particular, notably Cuba and Jamaica in the far north; Trinidad in the southeast; Belize in the west; and Barbados in the east.

“These territories represent both mainland (Belize) and island states of various sizes,” notes the study, which uses approximate future dates when the average temperature attains increments of 1.5 degrees Celsius, 2.0 degrees Celsius and 2.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times to arrive at the results.

What they found would seem to justify the mantra that was adopted by Caribbean small-island developing states, as they sought to influence the now historic 2015 Paris Agreement: ‘1.5 to Stay Alive’.

Research findings

The findings include that a global warming target of 1.5 degrees Celsius will result in significant climatic change in the Caribbean, though it fares better than in a world warmed beyond that threshold.

“Agreeing to 1.5 degrees Celsius as a global limit still represents a concession to some degree of changes in the climatic regime of the Caribbean and the associated impacts those climatic shifts will bring,” the researchers said.

“In a 1.5 degrees Celsius future in comparison to the present, the Caribbean will be warmer with longer warm spells and longer hot and dry spells and will experience moderate to extreme drought approximately 16 per cent of the time,” they added.

At the same time, the changes in extremes seen at 1.5 degrees Celsius “also suggest unfamiliar conditions compared to the present with which the Caribbean will have to contend”. They include up to 120 more warm spell days.

Significant differences

Further, the researchers – whose work was facilitated by a grant from the Caribbean Development Bank and funding from the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience funded by the Inter-American Development Bank – found significant differences for the Caribbean between a global warming target of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2.0 degrees Celsius. Those differences include a further 0.2 degrees Celsius to 1.0 degree Celsius warming and year-round warm spells, longer hot and dry spells and extreme occurrences of extreme drought conditions.

Ultimately, the researchers conclude: “The call to limit global warming at the end of the century to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures is, then, also a call for more time to adapt to the accompanying significant shifts in regional climate that are still likely at 1.5 degrees Celsius … and may finally, then, also be a call to a less risky regional climate state than that which further warming may yield.”