Fri | Dec 3, 2021

Anthony Clayton | Jamaica in 2050 – Part 1: The turbulent years ahead

Published:Saturday | October 23, 2021 | 12:06 AM

This is the first in the series of eight articles looking at the ways that the world will change between now and 2050 and analysing the implications for Jamaica’s future.

The period to 2050 will be a time of exceptional turbulence. The world is being rapidly transformed by the scientific advance and technological innovation of the fourth industrial revolution, the transition to a more crowded world with a population that will be significantly older, more urban, and predominantly Asian and African, the shift in the geopolitical balance of power towards Asia, increasing inequalities of wealth, increasing pressure on water, energy, land and natural resources, and the massive disruption of climate change.

Jamaica’s Vision 2030 plan gives no guidance as to how Jamaica should navigate such wrenching changes or build a new strategy for prosperity in a very different world. The first step in building a national strategy for the difficult transition that lies ahead is to understand that the world is not on a predictable path. The future will be determined by a complex combination of interacting variables; demographic trends, scientific advance and technological innovation, an unprecedented environmental crisis and increasingly dangerous geopolitical tensions. Success is not guaranteed in navigating such complex challenges, but good governance and planning will give Jamaica the best chance of surviving the storm and emerging in a stronger position than before.

This series of eight articles will look at some of the profound changes that lie ahead and outline the strategies that will help to ensure Jamaica’s survival and future prosperity.

CLIMATE CHANGE

All of the trends listed above will involve enormous upheaval, but adapting to climate change will be the greatest challenge. The devastating climate events of the last few years suggest that we are now on the road to catastrophe. There is still time to turn back, but little sign that humanity is about to make the radical changes in policies, technologies and lifestyles that would be needed to move the world onto a safer path. The planet is close to 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer, and it does not look as though we will achieve the goal of keeping the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. China, which emits more greenhouse gas than all the developed countries of the world combined, has over a thousand coal-burning power stations and plans to build more, with multiple plants under construction at over 60 sites, while India, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam are also building more coal-burning stations. We have to leave almost all the remaining coal and most of the remaining oil in the ground in order to meet the 1.5 degrees target, but the rapid expansion of generating capacity in Asia makes that look unachievable.

We could reach 1.5 degrees of warming before 2050. The consequences are already here, the vast fires that caused devastation in Australia, the United States, Canada, the Amazon and Siberia in the last 20 months are only the beginning; by 2030 the fires will be bigger, more frequent, and cause over twice as much damage. On the current trajectory, average global temperatures will rise by 2.7 degrees by 2100, but a further increase in greenhouse gas emissions would mean that the world’s average temperature could rise by 4.9 degrees over the same period. This would be completely catastrophic for much of the world. The ice sheets will start disintegrating. By 2050, sea level rise could inundate nearly 20 per cent of Bangladesh, and further rises could flood nearly 80 per cent of the country. The loss of the Greenland sheet would raise sea levels by seven metres, drowning the world’s coastal cities and reaching far inland. Entire nations would disappear.

HIGHLY VULNERABLE

Caribbean island nations are highly vulnerable to climate change; the centres of population, hotels, businesses and transport infrastructure are mostly in coastal areas that could eventually be lost. Rising temperatures could make much of the Middle East and North Africa uninhabitable within a generation. Accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years; per capita availability of fresh water in the region is now 10 times less than the world average, and is expected to fall a further 50 per cent by 2050. The temperature in the Persian Gulf region could soon exceed the limit for human survival.

Some 21.5 million people were displaced by climate change-related disasters between 2010 and 2021; the World Bank has estimated that by 2050 there will be another 143 million climate migrants. Climate change is not a linear process, and the impacts will escalate dramatically as further thresholds are exceeded. By 2070, about 20 per cent of the planet’s surface could be uninhabitable, up from just one per cent today. This would include large parts of South and Central America, Africa, India, Indonesia, South East Asia and northern Australia. The combination of rising temperatures and sea levels, increasing water scarcity, crop failures and the loss of critical infrastructure in coastal areas will result in migration on a vast scale. Eventually, much of the tropical and subtropical regions would have to be abandoned, and humanity would have to move into the remaining temperate zones, in the largest forced migration in history. Countries that had been spared the worst effects of rising temperatures would try to close their borders to the millions being driven out of their own countries, and the risk of war, civil unrest and terrorism would rise sharply.

We are not yet at the point of no return. There is still time to avert the worst of these disasters, but this will require restructuring much of the world economy, with the largest and most extensive set of reforms in history. This would include rebuilding much of the world’s energy infrastructure, automating transport, redesigning cities and investing in new technologies for producing food and managing water.

Some of these reforms would not only help to solve the existential threat of climate change, they could also lead to an era of unprecedented prosperity. The countries that master the relevant technologies and strategies will be the ones that prosper in the years ahead.

- Anthony Clayton is professor of Caribbean Sustainable Development. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com