Responding to climate change in the Caribbean

The Caribbean, which has made only a minor contribution to global climate change, will be on the front line of the risk and damage it will cause. With more hurricanes and more erratic rainfall patterns, rising temperatures and sea levels, and higher costs of imported fuels, the region’s economy and environment are certain to suffer. The damage has the potential to plunge the region into permanent recession, with changing rainfall patterns causing ruin for small farmers, frequent floods destroying some towns, and coral reefs disappearing. An international conference held in June in London considered what needs to be done, who needs to be doing it and who should be paying for it.

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Emily Morris
05 July 2011


Castries, St Lucia: the main urban centres of most Caribbean countries are coastal, with much infrastructure exposed to rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.

In his opening statement, Kenrick Leslie, Executive Director of the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, highlighted the threats but also pointed out that at the regional level, the Caribbean was leading the way in pressing for climate justice (working with other Small Island Developing States, or SIDS) and developing a strategy for responding to climate change. Heads of government from the Caribbean Community have endorsed a Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilience to Climate Change (2009–2015), which encourages member states to adapt to reduce vulnerability by regulating land use, conserving energy, investing to improve resilient infrastructure and expanding forest resources. The framework also includes plans for the Caribbean to play a part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by developing renewable energy, improving energy efficiency and conserving standing forests.

But more work is needed urgently. To determine where efforts must be focused, information on vulnerabilities and responses need to be gathered and shared. Climate change models are being refined and improved through collaboration between the countries of the region, and between regional bodies and extra-regional ones, to determine which areas will be hit hardest by rising sea levels, drought, storms and higher temperatures, and to estimate the probable cost of the damage. But more local studies and information sharing at community level are also essential — to determine how livelihoods will be affected, to prepare people for the changes ahead and to develop strategies for resilience.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica: Caribbean economies are highly dependent on tourism: and changes in the region's climate could have direct impacts on tourist infrastructure, and indirect impacts on patterns of visitor arrivals.

Rapid climate change will be devastating for people who depend on agriculture or fisheries unless they have access to technical and financial support. Many of the most efficient solutions can be found by sharing expertise in traditional methods that both reduce the use of expensive imported fuel and fertilisers, and that benefit the environment. Investment in infrastructure — to minimise damage to both rural and urban areas, and to develop alternative energy sources — will need funding. This calls for the development of new financing solutions, involving the small private sector, local governments, nongovernmental organisations, corporations and international official and private partners. The Caribbean needs not only to continue to play its part in international climate change negotiations but also to make sure that full advantage is taken of mechanisms for climate change mitigation, such as the clean development mechanism and reforestation programmes, to help to finance adaptation.

The message from the conference was that in the face of the enormous threats posed by climate change, the Caribbean region needs to urgently mobilise its own capacity — for intelligence, creativity, collaboration and commitment — as well as securing the financial and technical support needed for adaptation.

This guest post was written by Emily Morris, Research Director, Centre for Caribbean and Latin American Research and Consulatancy (CLARC) at London Metropolitan University.

The ‘Responding to Climate Change in the Caribbean’ conference was held at London University on 13–14 June. It was organised by the Institute for the Study of the Americas (ISA, University of London) Centre for Caribbean and Latin American Research & Consultancy (CLARC, at London Metropolitan University); International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED); and Caribbean Studies Association Environment and Sustainability Group. Sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), with additional support from the David Nicholls Memorial Trust; the British Caribbean Chamber of Commerce; the School of Advanced Study, University of London; and the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council.

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