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Countdown to COP 21: Caribbean under threat from new climate regime

Published:Thursday | October 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Professor Michael Taylor: Thirty to 98 per cent of days annually will be considered ‘hot’ by the 2090s and only two per cent ‘cool’ by the 2080s.

With the emergence of what he calls 'a new climate regime', physicist Dr Michael Taylor has painted a picture of a Jamaica and Caribbean region that supports the case for an ambitious deal at the international climate talks set for Paris in December.

"The number of warm days everywhere in the Caribbean is increasing. Over the last 50 years, we have been steadily having more warm days. And we are having more warm nights. This is the kind of new regime we are entering into," he told a workshop on the Third National Communication and Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held at the Mona Visitors' Lodge last Tuesday.

Taylor noted that what was also indicative of the new regime and would become entrenched is rainfall variability and a drying trend resulting in a reduction of seven to eight per cent in the length of the rainy season and an increase of six to eight per cent in the length of the dry season.

"When we look at the future climate for Jamaica, temperatures keep going up and, from the best case scenario to the worst case scenario, the present research suggests it's between one and 3.6 degrees Celsius by end of century. Thirty to 98 per cent of days annually will be considered 'hot' by the 2090s and only two per cent 'cool' by the 2080s," revealed Taylor, the head of the Climate Studies Group Mona.

At the same time, he said there would be even higher sea levels, alluding to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report (2007), which projects an increase of up to 59 centimetres by 2100.

Key things to know

The situation, the physicist said, is one where there are three key things to know - the first is that "our sensitivity is being exposed".

At the same time, Taylor added, "our vulnerability is being expanded" with the "vulnerability of sectors and areas of Caribbean life, which were veiled because of their secondary linkages also emerging and at a faster pace. New vulnerable groupings are also emerging as a result of an expanded exposure to the climate threat".

Those vulnerable groupings include flora and fauna, outdoor workers, asthma sufferers, the elderly and the young, as well as those physically challenged, in addition to cultural assets and small-business owners.

"And that will continue," he predicted.

Ultimately, Taylor said, "our viability is being endangered" and one needs look no further than the impact of the hurricane events of the last decade".

In 2004, for example, Hurricane Ivan cost some eight per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) while Hurricane Dean cost the island some 3.5 per cent of GDP in 2007.

"You can't have an impact of eight per cent in GDP and a recurring impact on your economy, and your capacity to continue developing as a nation not be impacted," Taylor cautioned.

The situation is one, he said, that warrants "urgent, decisive, inclusive and considerate" action at the national level.

The island's climate negotiators to the United Nations are intent on such action at the international level, as efforts to eke out a favourable deal in Paris get into high gear.

Among other things, Jamaica has joined the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in calling for a limit on global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and not the two degrees currently on the table.

Steep emission cuts

This negotiating position is one that would require steep greenhouse gas-emission cuts from developed as well as fast-developing countries. But Jamaica and AOSIS negotiators say this is critical for the "survival of small island states", according to a document circulated by the Climate Change Division (CCD), at a recent journalist workshop hosted by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Jamaica also wants universal participation in the climate deal, "along with robust means of ensuring transparency of action and support".

It wants, too, to ensure that a framework exists to deal with loss and damage.

"There are limits to the impacts that we can adapt to, so loss and damage must be included as a central element of the 2015 agreement - one that is distinct and separate from climate change as it represents irreversible and permanent damage", the document noted.