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Earth Today | Prioritisation of climate change non-negotiable for Caribbean islands’Non-negotiable

Prioritisation of climate change a must for Caribbean islands, says local scientist

Published:Thursday | January 24, 2019 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
People recover broken parts of the dock after the passing of Hurricane Irma, in St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda on Sept. 6, 2017. Heavy rain and 185-mph winds lashed the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico's northeast coast as Irma, the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured, roared through Caribbean islands. (AP Photo/Johnny Jno-Baptiste)
This Sept 6, 2017 photo shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in St Martin. Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees. (Jonathan Falwell via AP)


THE TIME for procrastination on accelerated climate change adaptation and mitigation actions is past, evidenced by the recently published eye-opening special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming and the devastating 2017 hurricane season.

This is according to Professor Michael Taylor, a physicist and one of the 91 authors (from 40 countries) of the report that was produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We still have a little bit of a mode of feeling like it is optional to deal with climate change; like it is serious, yes, but we can put off some of the issues to do with it. And this affects the way we treat with things like adaptation and mitigation,” noted the scientist, who is also dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The University of the West Indies, Mona.

Taylor was speaking to The Gleaner on Tuesday, in the wake of a presentation he made on the subject at a three-day stakeholder engagement workshop hosted in Kingston by the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the Inter-American Development Bank on the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience.

“So adaptation, yes – but when we have the time, when we have the funds, when we are not dealing with other pressing issues. We have a similar hands-off attitude to mitigation,” he added.


Given the findings from the report, together with the billions of dollars in damage and lives lost that resulted from the 2017 hurricane season, however, Taylor said that is no longer a sufficient response.

“The report makes a definitive scientific case that a 1.5 world is different from a two degrees world. 1.5 is a matter of necessity as two represents unprecedented climate for the Caribbean,” Taylor said.

“At 1.5 versus two, there is a reduction in areas affected by flood hazard. Global means sea level rise will be around 0.1 metre less by the end of the century and 10 million fewer people exposed to risk of rising seas. The probability of a sea-ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer is substantially lower,” he added.

What is more, Taylor noted that a world at 1.5 versus two degrees of warming is one where, among other things, there is 50 per cent less global population exposed to increased water shortages and “less heat-related morbidity and mortality, particularly in urban areas because of urban heat islands”.


He said that it is, therefore, critical for the Caribbean, which is among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts, to move swiftly to ramp up adaptation and mitigation actions.

“The mitigation demand is great for 1.5 and includes the Caribbean. Carbon dioxide emissions must reach ‘net zero’ around 2050 (and) reducing emissions must start now,” he said.

To get there, Taylor maintained that deep emission cuts are required in all sectors, even as progress in renewables is replicated in other sectors, together with a range of technologies, changes in behaviour and increased investment in low-carbon options.

He said that this is given urgency by the fact that while the world at 1.5 is better than at two degrees, the report makes it clear that a “1.5 world is different from a one-degree world and it is not a ‘safe’ world”.

At 1.5 compared to now, (there is) increased risks for tourism dependent on the seasonality of sun and beach; and long-lasting or irreversible impacts, such as the loss of some ecosystems. Coral reefs, for example, are projected to decline by a further 70 to 90 per cent at 1.5 degrees Celsius,” he noted.

“There is also large projected impacts on economic growth with the largest impacts expected in the tropics. 1.5 is not a safe climate as it puts us on the edge of unfamiliarity,” he added.