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Earth Today | Climate change: A chance for reimagined development options

Published:Thursday | October 17, 2019 | 12:00 AM

CLIMATE CHANGE is a clear and present danger to Caribbean small island developing states (SIDS), but it also presents opportunities for reimagined sustainable development.

This is the word from Dr Michelle Mycoo, in her 2017 research paper ‘Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius: Vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies for Caribbean SIDS’.

“Global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and a commensurate increase in global greenhouse gas emissions pose an unprecedented danger to human settlements, livelihoods and the sustainable development of SIDS, yet these challenges present tremendous opportunities to rethink development pathways,” writes Mycoo.

According to the researcher, Caribbean SIDS have been leaders in the application of adaptation strategies in their response to climate change, which has manifested in ways, including not only temperature increases – the likes of which was felt in Jamaica this past summer – but also sea level rise and extreme weather events, notably hurricanes and droughts.

Devastating consequences if temperature rises

Still, Mycoo cautioned, “despite international cooperation and regional collaboration, if the global temperature rises beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set under the COP21 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the Caribbean Region will need to act speedily, though cautiously, to redress the devastating consequences”.

The 1.5 target was included as part of the historic Paris Agreement in 2015. Under that deal, world leaders pledged to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.

However, the world appears set on a path to exceed the two degrees target, thereby further compromising especially climate-vulnerable countries, such as those of the Caribbean with their small economies and having regard to their geographic location which puts many in the path of devastating hurricane events annually.

Mycoo, a lecturer at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, has suggested a slew of options for Caribbean islands to ready themselves for temperatures that exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius.

They include:

- that Caribbean islands return to the use of the vernacular design where buildings were more energy efficient and better adapted to enhance natural ventilation and cooling as oppose to the current use of air conditioning;

- that urban planners promote the use of green infrastructure in cities to lower urban heat island impacts; and

- that Tree Preservation Orders are stringently enforced even as more open space, including urban parks, are preserved.

Beyond that, she recommended the establishment of integrated coastal zone management units that would help to “frame national guidelines on coastal management and beach restoration within each island”.

“International development agencies can play an instrumental role in funding studies on coastal dynamics and data collection which are integral to the establishment and functioning of an Integrated Coastal Zone Management Unit,” Mycoo added.

The researcher said the Caribbean must be given credit for its innovation in climate change adaptation to date though “the new challenge will be how to scale up and accelerate implementation of these strategies if temperature warming exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

“Prioritising practical adaptation options is essential for Caribbean SIDS given limited human, technical and financial resource capacity. Governments of the region need to prepare to protect their societies, economies and environments from impending change associated with exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius target,” Mycoo added.