Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Earth Today | ‘Region can sustain improvements’

Published:Thursday | July 9, 2020 | 12:00 AM
A helicopter flies over the village of High Rock after delivering emergency supplies in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian In High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Tuesday, September 10, 2019.

The Caribbean can, with effort and a show of commitment, build on the ‘green’ gains from COVID-19, including improved air and water quality seen in some parts of the world.

So says Professor Leonard Nurse of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill, a scientist who has served the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A starting point, Nurse says, is renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We can indeed sustain these benefits by consolidating the gains in areas such as these. We know, for example, that the transport and energy sectors are the greatest sources of air pollution globally, particularly in relation to fine and ultrafine particulates,” he said.

“Those contribute more than 80 per cent of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and non-CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. In the United States and China, they account for more than 85 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions ... . If we can get our hands on that sector and begin to get some throttling back of emissions, then certainly, I think we can sustain some of these benefits,” he said.

Nurse was speaking at the recent teleconference of The UWI Mona, which looked at the topic ‘COVID-19 and the Environment: For Better or for Worse’.

Specific actions, he said, include walking and cycling more.

“We don’t have to jump in our vehicles to buy a loaf of bread or to travel to buy a newspaper. We can encourage far more cycling and reduce pollution,” Nurse noted.

“Car-pooling, while it is becoming far more widespread in North America and Europe, has not really caught on here in the Caribbean region, but it is something we should look at because there is really no reason we can’t engage in car-pooling far more than we do,” he added.


These actions, Nurse said, would help to reduce emissions that fuel global warming and an overall changing climate. The risks associated with climate change include more extreme weather events such as extreme hurricanes, the likes of which have devastated sections of the Caribbean over recent years.

Beyond the individual actions, he said that actions could be taken at the national-policy level, including the introduction of clean-energy buses to public-transportation fleets.

Also available are alternative energy sources, including solar and wind energy, the use of which has yielded some good results in parts of the region.

“We have biomass available. We have solar, geothermal, wind and water. All of these should be familiar to us because we have successfully implemented a number of these programmes, based on these sources of energy, right here in the CARICOM region and in the wider Caribbean,” Nurse said.

“The Wigton Wind Farm in Jamaica is an outstanding example of a utility-grade wind farm. The solar water heating industry in Barbados is another such one. The use of solar voltaic panels, which is clearly catching on fairly widely – but not as quickly as I would like to see – in the region, is another,” he added.

“We have implemented these things successfully. We just simply need to consolidate them,” Nurse said further.

He has an ally in celebrated physicist Professor Anthony Chen, a Jamaican scientist who has won the Nobel Peace Prize, having himself served on the IPCC.

“We have the technology to replace fossil fuel as a source of energy by renewable energy, such as solar, wind, and hydro, but especially solar and wind. We already have wind at Wigton and solar at Content and Paradise,” Chen told The Gleaner in an interview last year.

“How do you deal with the technical problem of the sun not shining and the wind not blowing? You need to store energy in a form that is quickly and easily retrievable during these times, especially when the sun is down at nights. We have the technology to do this,” he added at the time.

According to Nurse, if the gains from COVID-19 are not to prove short lived – about which United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Inger Andersen has warned – Caribbean countries must be deliberate.

“The post-COVID response should not be anchored to a series of short-term fixes. We must recognise that we have the intellectual capacity to plan a more sustainable future, characterised by an enhanced quality of life for all, and based on economies that are less vulnerable to external shocks, whether related to pandemics, trade, or hydro-meteorological hazards,” he insisted.