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Global Warming Heating Up in the Caribbean?

Dr. Jason Polk (centre), along with fellow WKU faculty members Dr. Xingang Fan (left) and Dr. Josh Durkee (right) following a meeting at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belmopan, Belize.

Dr. Jason PolkAssociate Director of Science at Western Kentucky University’s the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute says, the increased spotlight placed on the Caribbean by recent high profile climate change reports should help leaders and citizens alike to warm up to the fact that climate change is not only coming, but may be here sooner than anticipated. Read his exclusive contribution to Caribbean Climate.

The topic of climate change is ever-present in the media in recent times, and continues to be a strong conversation piece throughout the world, particularly in the Caribbean region. The newest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (Working Group I contribution to AR5) points toward unprecedented and continued climate change, with clear evidence of human influences on changes in temperature from carbon emissions. Changes in sea level induced by melting ice sheets, induced by increasing temperatures from global warming, threaten popular coastlines. The ability of tourist destinations like Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, among others, to provide not only for their residents, but for the many thousands of visitors demanding water, energy, and other natural resources, is in jeopardy. As severe storms, drought, hurricanes, and other climate challenges rise to the forefront of issues being addressed by CARICOM countries, emerging data sheds new light on the future challenges in store for the islands and coastal nations throughout the region.

Some of the hottest average annual surface air temperatures in recorded history will be reached by 2047  if no action is taken.

In October 2013, a report released in the leading scientific publication Nature by Mora et al. from the University of Hawaii presents evidence of departures from historical temperatures that will occur around the world from a detailed analysis of almost 40 different climate models and measured ecosystem responses from historical data analysis. The novel aspect of this study is that it provides a time-frame and location for these temperature changes predicted to occur, and indicates that by 2047 some of the hottest average annual surface air temperatures in recorded history will be reached if no action is taken. The geographical focal point of these major and rapid temperature increases is the tropics, which is particularly troublesome for many developing countries in the Caribbean that directly fall within the danger zone, including those with sensitive ecosystems that cannot tolerate even small changes in climate if they occur at such a rapid pace.

  • The Caribbean is at high risk
  • Kingston, Jamaica to be among the first places on Earth (2023) to see a significant increase in temperature from the historical average
  • Haiti (2025), Dominican Republic (2026), Bahamas (2029), Guyana (2029), and Belize (2034) will follow

Based on the data presented in the report, the Caribbean tropics is at high risk, with Kingston, Jamaica to be one of the first places on Earth to see a significant increase in temperature from the historical average, which could occur as early as 2023. This means that every year after 2023 will produce higher average temperatures than any previous year on record in the past 150 years. This marks a real and serious threat to human society and ecosystems alike, and the news is similar for other Caribbean countries whose worse case temperature scenarios could also be reached within a few decades, including Haiti (2025), Dominican Republic (2026), Bahamas (2029), Guyana (2029), and Belize (2034).

The report cites greenhouse gas emissions as the primary driver of these increasing temperatures, and calls for immediate reduction of continued emissions for there to be a chance of possibly preventing negative consequences to human and ecological welfares. In addition to stresses these temperature increases will cause to agricultural, water, and energy resources, the report acknowledges the possibility of additional threats in the form of water-borne disease, food supply shortages, geopolitical conflicts, and heat-related illnesses.

Also read: “The latest IPCC Assessment Report should serve as a further wakeup call to our region,” ~5Cs

This new report echoes the recent IPCC AR5 preliminary assessment of the need to reduce human-induced greenhouse gas emissions immediately in order to mitigate continued global warming. Caribbean nations have just cause to be concerned with these new data, and to start taking action now in working to develop plans for mitigating possible temperature increases. In addition, leaders in the region will need to persist in calling for global support to help in addressing these issues and finding adaptation solutions for both the current impacts from climate change and preventative measures for future scenarios. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) actively promotes the call for keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5°C to prevent detrimental effects to the livelihood of Caribbean countries. In developing new tools, such as the Caribbean Community Online Risk and Adaptation Tool (CCORAL), they are making positive steps toward providing information and region-wide tools to address urgent and necessary adaptation and mitigation challenges.

Also Read: CCORAL Is Here! Endorsed by the IPCC Chair

As new data and reports such as the Mora et al. article continue to emerge, everyone in the Caribbean should be aware of the sharper focus on countries within the region. If the predicted temperature increases do not heat things up enough, the increased spotlight on cities like Kingston should help leaders and citizens alike to warm up to the fact that climate change is not only coming, but may be here sooner than anticipated. Action is needed now, and fortunately groups like the CCCCC have already begun to implement adaptation protocols and encourage conversations on the topic, but only time will tell just how “hot” this topic will become as temperatures continue to increase.

 Mora, C., A. G. Frazier, R. J. Longman, R. S. Dacks, M. M. Walton, E. J. Tong, J. J. Sanchez, L. R. Kaiser, Y. O. Stender, J. M. Anderson, C. M. Ambrosino I. Fernandez-Silva, L. M. Giuseffi, and T. W. Giambelluca. 2013. The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability. Nature 502: 183-188.

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