Mon | Dec 9, 2019

Earth Today | Caribbean economies at risk

Published:Thursday | October 17, 2019 | 10:03 AM
Tourism is among the sectors in the Caribbean that are most vulnerable to a changing climate.

FROM TOURISM to agriculture and fisheries, shipping and trade, Caribbean economies hang in the balance from seemingly unrelenting changes in climate – a reality made worse if the planet is allowed to warm beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Small island developing states (SIDS) are heavily dependent on climate-sensitive economic sectors, such as tourism, agriculture and fisheries, and if the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature warming was crossed, economic vulnerability will increase even more,” writes Dr Michelle Mycoo in her 2017 research paper, ‘Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius: Vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies for Caribbean SIDS’.

According to Mycoo, citing the 2008 work of researcher Ramon Bueno and others, “the economic impact of increased hurricane damage, loss of tourism revenue and infrastructure damage are projected to total US$22 billion annually by 2050 and US$46 billion by 2100”.

“But this estimate did not include a temperature change of 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels. Current economic models grossly underestimate climate change impacts (Stern 2016). Exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius target will greatly increase these estimations,” she noted.

The Intergovernmental Panel in Climate Change, regarded as the authority on the review of climate research globally, in its recently published work on global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, supports Mycoo’s conclusions.

A better condition

Their report has established that the world warmed to 1.5 degrees Celsius is in much better shape than if the warming is capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius, though it will require unprecedented scaled up and sustained adaptation and mitigation actions to make that a reality.

Mycoo, for her part, flagged key sectors, including tourism – which contributes some US$49 billion to the region’s economy and sustains more than a million jobs – as being especially vulnerable.

“Climate change is projected to exacerbate existing development challenges, such as fresh water supply and infrastructure resilience to storms, indicating the need for the tourism industry to adapt. Studies confirm, however, that sea level rise associated with climate change is eroding beaches and warmer temperatures are making the region less attractive to tourists because of heatwaves. Also, increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes and storms affects the image of the Caribbean as a safe destination,” she added.

“If 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature warming is crossed, the damage to tourism assets may be significant and tourists may visit other less vulnerable destinations. Tourism revenue for the Caribbean is projected to increase by over US$70 billion per year by 2024, but it is estimated that if current climate change trends continue, increased hurricane damage, loss of tourism revenue and infrastructure damage could total US$22 billion a year by 2050 and US$46 billion by 2100,” she added.

On shipping and trade, Mycoo said “port cities will suffer major damage if 1.5 degrees Celsius is passed”. The reality, she said, is such that “the mayors, urban planners and engineers of port cities in the region should be cognisant of the enormous costs and implications of sea level rise, hurricanes and coastal storms to port infrastructure”.

“Potential impacts to coastal infrastructure such as ports, harbours and marinas include increased dredging and higher maintenance costs. Port cities such as Port of Spain (Trinidad), Kingston (Jamaica), Georgetown (Guyana), Nassau (Bahamas) and Paramaribo (Suriname) are already affected by sea level rise as well as flooding, which may worsen with temperature trending higher,” Mycoo noted.

The realities, the researcher said, are such that it cannot be business as usual for adaptation planning in the region.

“The Caribbean is on the frontline of severe climate change impacts more than any other parts of the world because of its geographic location as most regional states are smaller islands where people live close to and depend on the sea for economic survival,” she noted.

“Some adaptation strategies are more urgent than others and should be made a top priority. However, adaptation action should be guided by each country’s unique characteristics and informed by citizen science or run the risk of maladaptation,” Mycoo added.