Young people from across the Caribbean are increasingly raising their voices about climate change and its impacts (current and projected) on the region. In recognition of this, Caribbean Climate features an exclusive contribution by 23 year old Dizzanne Billy, who is an active executive member of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network-Trinidad and Tobago, in which she reflects on the role of SIDS in the global climate change discourse. Dizzanne’s reflection comes just as Small islands prepare to sign a historic treaty in Samoa
I dare you.
Conduct a simple ‘Google Images’ search on climate change and what do you see before you? Indeed, visions of melting polar ice caps and stranded polar bears are the predominant insignia for the issue of climate change. Undoubtedly, these matters are cause for great concern and my purpose is not to diminish their salience in any way. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has repeatedly highlighted the urgency of findings which reveal that a large portion of the West Antarctic has disappeared and they have stressed the irreversible nature of this occurrence. Nevertheless, it is pivotal that the communication of climate change exude relevance for its target audience. Images of the polar melt are likely to be met with blank stares and shrugs in the Caribbean, where the closest thing to an ice cap is party ice – huge bags of ice used to chill drinks at parties. Yes, climate change is an overwhelming concept to comprehend, and yes, the multiplicity of its very nature can prove itself complex. However, it is an issue that affects countries everywhere in the world regardless of location or level of industrial activity. However, what we must notice is that in order to effectively get the message out there and attract the most influential people to the cause, it must be communicated in a way that leads the seriousness of the issue straight to their front door.
Due to climate change, the world has witnessed longer and colder winters in some parts, drought-like conditions in others, concentrated rainfall during what would normally be a dry season, and persistent episodes of dry environments during what would usually be a wet/rainy season. These conditions have set the stage for a plethora of what can aptly be described as climatic madness in some countries, specifically, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a term which encompasses those coastal countries that are grouped based on certain characteristics that they share. These include issues in achieving sustainable development, vulnerability to external shocks and natural disasters, and a highly embedded reliance on imports and degradation of their natural resources, which contributes to the delicacy of their environment.
The severity of the climate change situation for SIDS can be likened to dumping a large bowl of salt in their wounds as these nations are already playing the ‘catch-up’ game in the race toward development. For instance, water scarcity in Samoa is greatly a result of climate change as water catchments continue to dry up due to increasing temperatures and weather patterns that are progressively unstable. There is a growing belief that in semi-arid countries like Samoa, climate change and meteorological uncertainty has led to increased temperatures, less precipitation, reduced stream flows, increased evaporation from reservoirs, and major depletion of water supplies. Being an island where all watersheds are shared by villages, water governance is crucial but implementation is difficult due to lack of institutional capacity. These are generally the woes of Pacific SIDS and can be mirrored in SIDS of the Caribbean, Africa, the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and the South China Sea.
A crucial consideration is the nexus between climate change and food security. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in May 2014, issued a major report which emphasised the causes, effects, and resolutions of climate change, and its influence on food security was isolated as a topic for special concern. Essentially, the accessibility to food, steadiness of food supply, and sanitation of food all fall prey to the afflictions of climate change. To add insult to injury, SIDS are particularly vulnerable to climate change due to their stature and geographic characteristics. Sea-level rise can engulf coastal areas, where for instance in Trinidad and Tobago, most farmers choose to do their cultivation.
Will the day ever come when the climate change issues of SIDS are taken seriously on the international stage? Does the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities not apply to environmental issues faced by countries of this world? Indeed, developed countries continue to turn to industrialisation as the preferred measure of development, murder forests, and emit toxic chemicals and gases wantonly, but at what cost? Can a process which so drastically diminishes the quality of human life be called development at all?
That being said, I am aware that developing countries have a role to play in dealing with the environmental issues that plague us, but we need to have a platform for our issues to be raised and an audience that is serious about addressing them. That can begin with a simple Google Images search that returns results which reflect the universal impact of climate change. Climate change is, to a certain extent, considered a very real global threat. This global threat requires global action and no action is truly global without the inclusion of SIDS at every level of the discourse.