Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Earth Today | Climate change a threat to Caribbean blue economy

Published:Thursday | August 12, 2021 | 12:09 AM

THE CONTINUED warming of the planet could derail plans for the development of a Caribbean blue economy, long championed by various stakeholders and which represents more than 17 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product.

“The Caribbean is increasingly looking to the ocean and the blue economy for future economic development. The Caribbean waters and its biodiversity currently support many livelihoods, including fisheries, and tourism; is important for recreation; has potential for renewable energy generation; provides protection against storms; and are part of the allure of the Caribbean,” said Professor Michael Taylor, dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The University of the West Indies.

“But the marine environment is already under threat due to global warming, and that threat will only increase. Global warming is directly challenging the developmental potential of the blue economy,” he added.

Taylor’s comments were in direct response to the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.

That report reveals, among other things, that worldwide there has been an increase in ocean acidification and in the frequency and intensity of marine heatwaves in some areas of the Atlantic.

interventions needed now

Further, the report has indicated that marine heatwaves and ocean acidification will increase further with a 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming and with larger increases at two degrees Celsius and higher, which is said to be likely to happen within another 20 years.

Given this reality, Taylor, a physicist and lead author on the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, said that prompt interventions are needed.

“It will not be one climate threat or the other. It will be concurrent multiple threats. Hot and dry conditions will have significant implications for the agriculture and water sectors; more intense hurricanes and sea level rise will severely impact infrastructure and coastal living; while ocean acidification and marine heatwaves will impact coastal livelihoods. Can the Caribbean say that regional planning for climate change factors in the complexity that compound events will bring?” he queried.

“The world, and the Caribbean, have a say in how bad climate change eventually becomes and also how bad the impacts will eventually be. The Caribbean has to intensify efforts to get limits on global warming. But even then, the world has already committed itself to some level of increase and impact. This means adaptation planning takes on even greater importance for the Caribbean as well as issues such as ‘loss and damage’,” Taylor added.

The World Bank, in its 2016 report titled Toward a Blue Economy: A Promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean, itself noted the challenge, among other things, of ocean acidification.

“The oceans are in trouble due to a range of man-made factors, including overfishing, pollution, climate change-induced ocean acidification, among other factors,” it said.

“In June 2015, the G7 Science Academies issued a statement of scientific consensus, informing that human activities are leading to changes in the oceans’ ecosystems that will significantly impact societies and well-being. This will undoubtedly have a direct impact on current and future economic growth of ocean-facing countries and small island developing states around the world,” the report added.

Still, the report noted that given that the “potential for economic advancement is significant – notably for coastal and island developing countries, and particularly across the Caribbean”, it is necessary to adopt an integrative approach to making the transition to a blue economy.

That approach, it recommended, should include “investing in restoration and maintenance of marine ecosystem function and integrity, with a focus on protecting critical ecosystems and ecosystem processes”.