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INTERVIEW-Caribbean life “as we know it” at serious risk – expert

A man rides his tricycle taxi during a thunderstorm in Havana in this 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

“A lot of the damage now comes from extreme precipitation. So that translates into floods, landslides, loss of life, loss of livelihoods”

As if hurricanes were not menacing enough, small Caribbean islands risk losing their entire way of life unless they urgently strengthen defences against a raft of future disasters, according to a climate change official.

“You don’t even need to have a hurricane to get extensive damage .. a tropical storm or depression, it comes and sits over a particular island or territory and it deposits rain,” said Ulric Trotz, deputy director at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

“For us small island nations, basically everything comes to a stop. As a region, we are very exposed to climate risk .. and our projections show that this will be exacerbated,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Trotz – whose organisation coordinates the entire region’s response to climate change – said that along with the annual hurricane season, the Caribbean now faces extreme weather each year, from flooding to landslides.

Fishing and farming communities living in coastal areas and the tourism industry – vital for Caribbean economies – often bear the brunt of damage and loss of income.

Caribbean nations can now face as much rainfall as they would normally get over a period of months in the space of a few days, with drainage systems unable to cope, Trotz said.

“A lot of the damage now comes from extreme precipitation. So that translates into floods, landslides, loss of life, loss of livelihoods,” said Trotz, a science advisor.

“We have some serious concerns about the viability of Caribbean life as we know it.”

ECOSYSTEMS

One key way to make coastal areas more resilient to storm surges and rising sea levels, linked to global warming, is to protect marine, coral and mangrove ecosystems, Trotz said.

Reefs act like breakwaters reducing wave strength, while salt-tolerant mangroves can buffer against hurricane winds and storm surges and cut wave height.

“As far as the human body is concerned, the healthier the body is, the more resilient it will be in terms of dealing with some of the threats, diseases,” Trotz said.

“So the same principle applies here, that the healthier our ecosystems, the healthier our reefs, wetlands and mangroves are, the more they will be able to resist some of the impacts of climate change,” he said.

Across the Caribbean, scores of projects are underway to restore battered coral reefs, establish artificial reefs, replant damaged mangroves and place millions of acres of marine areas under protected areas by 2020.

Some Caribbean nations also face water shortages exacerbated by longer droughts linked to climate change, Trotz said.

In several islands of the Grenadines, a pilot seawater desalination project using solar power is underway.

In Guyana, to better cope with drought and changing rainy seasons, rice farmers are using water harvesting and drip irrigation systems, and are receiving short-term weather forecasts allowing them to better decide when to plant crops.

SLOW MONEY

But more defensive action is hampered by a lack of funds.

Despite the United Nations Green Climate Fund, set up in 2010 to help poor countries tackle climate change, red tape means many small island nations are unable to access funding.

“The bottom line is that we don’t have the resources,” Trotz said. “It’s not that we don’t have any idea about how we need to build resilience.”

It can take from nine months to up to eight years to get funds from donors, Trotz said.

“The longer you delay, a lot of the assumptions you have made in the first instance are no longer valid .. we have to find some way of shortening that whole process.”

Credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation News

Caribbean Climate Podcast: How can we reimagine climate finance? (audio)

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Caribbean Climate Podcast, a series of interviews with climate change experts and activists about key issues and solutions. In this special edition we talk with Dr Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, about his bold proposal to re-orient climate financing.

Enjoy The Full Podcast

Enjoy The Podcast in Segments

Question 1: You recently proposed comprehensive changes to the way we approach climate change mitigation and adaptation in terms of climate financing, policy and programmes. What motivated this proposal?
 
Question 2: You point to inherent and consequential differences in Mitigation and Adaptation outcomes as the key reason for reimagining climate change responses.  Why is this so important for the Caribbean, and the world in general?
 
Question 3: You point to energy as principal entry point for private sector investment, what primes this sector to spur the critical changes you call for?
 
Question 4: You call for private sector engagement both locally and globally given the considerable risks and high costs associated with Adaptation that is often prohibitive for the private sector in the developing world alone. Why would the private sector, say in the United Kingdom, be interested in providing funds for Adaptation in Belize? Is this the same scenario with mitigation?
 
Question 5: Given that distinct difference, how do we re-imagine the allocation of climate change resources such as the US100 billion per year Green Climate Fund?
 
Question 6: Your proposal could transform the climate change response landscape and potentially heighten private sector interest and investment in “Mitigation” without GCF’s resources crowding out private funding. But how do we deal with Adaptation funding more broadly?
 

5Cs’ Deputy Director and Science Advisor Dr Ulric Trotz reviews the latest IPCC Report

Dr. Trotz

Following the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report detailing impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability associated with climate change , Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the 5Cs Dr Ulric Trotz discussed the findings with leading Jamaican journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller on the flagship discussion programme “Beyond the Headlines” on Monday March 31, 2014 at 6:20 pm. Below is the audio clip and transcript of the interview.

Mrs. Dionne Jackson-Miller

And BBC’s Razia Iqbal and that was such an interesting point. Let me raise it with our guest. Let me start off with our guest Dr. Ulric Trotz who is Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, lots of alliteration going on there. Dr. Trotz thank you again, appreciate you joining us sir.

Dr. Trotz

Thank you too.

Mrs. Dionne Jackson-Miller

That is your policy-makers. Now have these reports, they’ve got wide publicity around the world, they’ve got extensive media coverage, the reports coming out from the Intergovernmental Panel. Based on what you are seeing, have they had the effect of changing what you have been seeing and hearing from our policy-makers here in the Caribbean?

Dr. Trotz

Well, that’s a battle that we are fighting. As you’ve heard in the last interview, climate change is more or less stated as something in the future. And when you look at the political life of our political directorate, it really doesn’t match with that long term sort of view. Five years, ten years with climate change, we are talk about 2050, end of the century. That’s the language we discuss climate change in. So, we have made some progress in the Caribbean. In Jamaica, for instance, your own country, you now have a Ministry with responsibility for climate change. In several countries in the Caribbean there is some political movement. The problem is how do we get the resources to do the things that we have to do if we are going to deal with climate impacts in the Caribbean.

Mrs. Dionne Jackson-Miller

Because I note, follow up on that, I know for instance that important work in the field had been done here in the Caribbean as well as elsewhere in the world. But the idea is, are the results of that research being translated into tangible action then into real action, into change, in terms of planning decisions, in terms of mitigating decisions and so on? Are we still fighting that fight?

Dr. Trotz

No, I don’t think so. We, at the Centre, made some tremendous progress regionally. In terms of looking at what is being done, learning from those lessons and trying to transfer this to the Caribbean. In terms of policy, we have just developed what we think is a very effective tool which will enable our policy-makers, particularly people in the Ministries of Finance and Planning to integrate climate risks into their planning horizon, so that climate risks are basically accounted for and this would be reflected in the final action that they agree on for implementation. But as I said earlier, that’s just the first step. The next step is getting the resources to carry out the implementation and this is where we as developing countries have a big fight on our hands. You could remember Sandy in New York, the floods in Britain. These things are happening in developed countries but they have the resources basically to deal with it. Holland, for instance, they have a one-in-a-thousand year defence mechanism for sea-level rise and floods. We in the Caribbean can hardly afford the resources to deal with a one-in-a-five year event much less a one-in-a-thousand year event.

Mrs. Dionne Jackson-Miller

Is it possible, you think, or perhaps, I should say, likely that that issue of getting funding especially from the international community may now get easier with this report that people are now calling the most serious? Yet, some of the points being made that we seeing climate change affecting food security, we seeing it affecting human security; that people in poor countries are going to be feeling the effects disproportionately, that no one is safe and that they will continue to see severe difficulties in this regard. The word “risk” used over and over and over in the report, do you think that the Caribbean countries may be able to use this and piggyback on this to say to the international agencies “we need more aid in this respect”?

Dr. Trotz

Well, we have been saying that for a long time. As a matter of fact, that has been one of the sorts of foundations of our interface with the developed world under the umbrella of the convention. That is, look, as a region, we didn’t really contribute significantly to this problem. The problem we have now is a result of your pattern in development. But being in the region that we are, exposed to weather and climate elements, being poor (poverty), we are very vulnerable to the impacts. So we feel that you have some responsibility to provide resources to help us to protect ourselves from the impacts. This has not happened. Right now we are hoping that the Global Climate Fund, the GCF, would be capitalized at the level that was promised in Cancun, which is hopefully at a level of 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, which will allow countries to have access to the sort of resources we need for adaptation and for mitigation. The other point is, you know the authors of the report made a very telling statement which I think we need to worry about. And that is that climate change; you know we’ve been talking about 2020, 2030, 2050, etc. But this statement was from the evidence we have right now. We’re not speaking about a hypothetical future. That climate change is here and we are seeing impacts for instance in the bleaching of our coral reefs, the melting of the permafrost up in the Arctic, and distressingly the decreasing yields for wheat and corn and maize, the two staples that  contribute to the whole question of hunger alleviation and food security. So, we in the Caribbean, our attitude at this point in time, is look, we are basically seeing changes in our weather, in our climate, the events in St. Vincent, Dominica and St. Lucia on Christmas Eve, very unusual, and it wasn’t a hurricane. It was just unusual rainfall which caused tremendous damage. And these extreme events, as we call them, are becoming much more frequent and much more devastating. So it’s a very worrisome scenario for us.

Mrs. Dionne Jackson-Miller

Alright, we’re gonna leave it there and I thank you so much. I really appreciate you joining us.

Dr. Trotz

Thanks. It was a pleasure.

Mrs. Dionne Jackson-Miller

Dr. Trotz talking to us there, Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre.

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