The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC)and Western Kentucky University (WKU) signed a cooperative agreement on April 27 in Belmopan, Belize, that brings to fruition many years of collaboration. The institutions have been working toward the broader goals of addressing climate change in the Caribbean region and also the impacts in Kentucky and elsewhere in the world. This agreement represents the next step in fully realizing the potential of the collaboration between WKU and the CCCCC to address the growing focus on global climate change challenges.
This event follows the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) last month with the University of Akureyri and the Iceland Arctic Cooperation Network to further cooperation on climate change and establishment of the North Atlantic Climate Change Collaboration (NAC3) project. (Additional information about that project is available atwww.wku.edu/iceland). As part of the NAC3 project, this agreement aims to focus on collaborative research, education and outreach, academic exchange, and building resilience in the areas of climate change, climate literacy, health and wellness, ocean dynamics, sustainability, informal public education, economic development, technology exchange, and water resources, among others.
Faculty and students at WKU have been involved in projects in the Caribbean region, particularly Belize, with an emphasis on climate change, paleoclimate reconstruction, water resources, karst and cave research, environmental education, sustainability, and other related activities for more than a decade. These activities include work in locations such as Barbados, Jamaica, Bonaire and Curacao. Locations in Belize specifically include Gales Point, the Cayo district, the Stann Creek District, the Vaca Plateau, Maya Mountains, and others. Much of this has been in conjunction with the guidance and partnership of the CCCCC as the impetus for climate change related activities continues to grow. Most recently, the CCCCC and WKU have partnered on various research and outreach projects including those related to high-resolution downscale climate modeling for the region, teaching material for secondary schools and outreach information for the region’s Climate Change Online Risk and Adaptation TooL (CCORAL).
“The signing of this MOA is of great value to both institutions,” CCCCC Executive Director Dr. Ken Leslie said. “The Centre is limited in its research capacity and WKU will help us to bridge that gap. International collaborations such as this strengthen our visibility internationally as an authority on climate change issues in the Caribbean. This collaboration also provides a useful platform for the deepening WKU’s climate change work in the context of small island developing states.”
President Gary Ransdell led the WKU group to Belize for the signing ceremony and other meetings. Additional members of the WKU team visiting Belize included Scholar in Residence Dr. Bernie Strenecky and faculty members Dr. Jason Polk and Dr. Leslie North of the Department of Geography and Geology. Dr. Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director and Scientific Advisor of the CCCCC, also participated in the signing ceremony. In addition, Dr. Barb Doty, a family physician from Alaska, joined the team to present her current work on the basics of climate change impacts on rural health and community-based medicinal care and to participate in the meetings. Dr. Doty is also a collaborator in the NAC3 project and brings great expertise in her field, having just returned from presenting on this topic in Croatia at the World Organization of National Colleges, Academies and Academic Associations of General Practitioners/Family Physicians (WONCA) rural health conference. Dr. Doty has practiced the full spectrum of family medicine for more than 25 years in Alaska. Most recently she has partnered with WKU in delivering lectures on climate change and health.
“This agreement with the CCCCC consortium of the dozens of Caribbean nations gives us access to significant teaching and research opportunities in a complex range of environmental dynamics related to climate change,” Dr. Ransdell said. “It positions our faculty and students to help our friends in the Caribbean seek solutions and remediation to issues like rising sea levels, which affect their access to fresh water. It also will help us and them better understand how the melting glaciers in the Arctic impact the Gulf Stream, which could impact the climate in the Caribbean, with our new friends in Iceland and in the U.S. This is timely and relevant international reach for WKU.”
The group’s next steps are to work on several projects, some of which include downscale climate modeling and outreach and educational activities, as well as participate in a joint research workshop being held in Iceland in June. Additionally, they are working with other entities, including the University of Belize and Friends for Conservation and Development, to conduct research on water and land use and develop a study abroad course in Belize that will focus on climate, water and sustainability and include students from WKU, the Caribbean region and Iceland.
Following Monday’s signing ceremony in Belmopan, members of WKU and CCCCC met with Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega and Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of Natural Resources Sharon Ramclam to discuss the relevance of the agreement and priorities of climate change work in the region. The group also met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington to set the stage for future international work on climate change and to learn more about the global dynamics influencing the region.
On Monday night, President Ransdell and Dr. Polk appeared on a Belizean national TV program with Dr. Leslie and Dr. Trotz of the CCCCCC to discuss the project and share the collaboration’s importance with the region. Dr. Doty is also scheduled to do a segment on climate change and health with the local media later in the week.
On Tuesday, the group held planning meetings at the Centre and met with the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan to further diplomatic relations and discuss cooperation with Iceland and Belize toward the goals of the MOA and national climate focus. Meetings followed this with members of the Faculty of Science and Technology, led by Dr. Pio Saquia, from the University of Belize, to discuss collaborative projects and teaching and student exchange. The WKU group also met with National Coordinator for Climate Change Ann Gordon to discuss collaborative projects, climate change policy, and capacity building opportunities.
In the afternoon, the group planted a “Tree of Change” at the University of Belize campus, future home of the CCCCC’s new facility, to signify the importance of cooperation and communication on climate change. The tree planted was a mahogany tree, which is the national tree of Belize and has importance related to the country’s history. The WKU team dedicated a plaque describing the “Tree of Change” program, which started as a The $100 Solution project on the June 2014 voyage to Iceland as part of a service-learning course, wherein the students planted a climate “Tree of Change” at the University of Akureyri. To reciprocate the latter symbol of climate change cooperation, two sister apple trees were planted on WKU’s campus in October 2014 and now the tree at the CCCCC extends that program to provide another meeting point for future discussions about climate change.
The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre coordinates the Caribbean region’s response to climate change. Officially opened in August 2005, the Centre is the key node for information on climate change issues and on the region’s response to managing and adapting to climate change in the Caribbean. The Centre is a repository and clearing house for regional climate change information and data and provides climate change-related policy advice and guidelines to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Member States through the CARICOM Secretariat. In this role, the Centre is recognized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and other international agencies as the focal point for climate change issues in the Caribbean. It has also been recognized by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) as a Centre of Excellence, one of an elite few. This reputation is a major honor for the Centre, and it should be a great source of pride for the people of the Caribbean as well.
Climate change continues to be a major focal point around the world, with new information and questions arising each day. In the Caribbean, the effects of climate change could impact sea level rise, water availability, disease spread, agriculture, and other necessary activities related to the environment, economy, and public well-being. The implications extend all over the globe and recent research indicates that the Arctic, Caribbean, and North America are all susceptible to what will be short- and long-term effects from climate change, including impacts on the Gulf Stream and related oceanic and atmospheric processes.
“The global nature of these impacts, particularly in vulnerable regions, requires working together at an international level to address unresolved questions,” Dr. Polk said. “Strengthening the relationships between our institutions through this MOA provides a foundation from which to build new ideas and engage students and the public in actions to both learn about and build resilience against climate change impacts.”
Credit: WKU News