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Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said Monday he would use his six month term as chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping to deal with the deleterious effects climate change is having on the socio-economic future of the 15-member bloc.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica are now emerging from the effects of a weather system that left a trail of death and destruction over the Christmas holidays.
Caribbean countries have also had to deal with the annual hurricane season and in many cases, like in Haiti, unseasonal rains that cause widespread devastation.
“The big issue…is global warming, climate change. We are having systems affecting us outside of the normal rainy season and the normal hurricane season,” he said making reference to the floods in April last year and the Christmas Eve rains that resulted in the deaths of nine people and hundreds of millions of dollars in damages here.
“There are lots of monies which countries talk about for adaptation and mitigation to climate change. But I haven’t seen the money yet and we have to use our diplomacy as a region and we have to be aggressive with our climate change center in Belize.
“In my term as chairman of CARICOM this is one of the issues which you will recall I said earlier on…I want dealt with during my term in a continued serious and structured way, (and it) has to deal with the deleterious effect of climate change and to get the requisite responses from the international community in relation to this matter”.
Gonsalves told a news conference that the region does not contribute “anything to these man made weather systems, these problems with putting so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“We are …on the front line,” he said, adding that “this is an issue which is big”.
Gonsalves said that efforts were now underway to stage an international donors’ conference to help the three affected islands recover and rebuild their battered infrastructures.
He said he had already received a letter from Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, who is also chairman of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), outlining plans for an international donors’ conference.
“There is a letter which Baldwin sent to me which I have reviewed and make one or two slight alterations and suggestions, but we have to prepare for a donors’ conference well, maybe in March may be in February… but we have to prepare for it well so that we can get the donors to make pledges,” he said, recalling a similar conference had taken place to help Grenada after it was battered by a recent hurricane.
“I know some of the donors came through and others did not, but at least we need to do that to lift the profile,” Gonsalves said.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister told reporters that an insurance scheme organized through the World Bank, to which all the Caribbean countries contribute, does not go far enough.
“To the extent that the monies you get from the Catastrophic Relief Insurance System is fairly minimal, but of course every little bit helps,” he said.
Gonsalves said he had already written to the leaders of several countries and was now waiting to see “what kind of grant assistance we can get because we really need grants preferably.
“The World Bank will give soft loan monies, the CDB (Caribbean Development Bank) will give soft loan monies, the European Union will give grants, Venezuela will give grants, (and) Taiwan will give grants”.
A two-week regional training workshop on climate change has started here with a warning that the Caribbean could suffer billions of dollars in losses over the next few years as a result of climate change.
“As a region, we have to assist each other in every conceivable way imaginable,” said Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Minister Robert Pickersgill at the start of the workshop that is being organised by the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) in partnership with several regional governments and the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
It is being held under the theme “The use of sector-specific biophysical models in impact and vulnerability assessment in the Caribbean”.
Pickersgill said that Caribbean countries needed to work together to boost technical expertise and infrastructure in order to address the effects of the challenge.
He said global climate change was one of the most important challenges to sustainable development in the Caribbean.
Citing a recent report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he noted that while the contribution of Caribbean countries to greenhouse gas emissions is insignificant, the projected impacts of global climate change on the Caribbean region are expected to be devastating.
Pickersgill said that according to experts, by the year 2050, the loss to the mainstay tourism industry in the Caribbean as a result of climate change-related impacts could be in the region of US$900 million.
In addition, climate change could cumulatively cost the region up to US$2 billion by 2053, with the fishing industry projected to lose some US$140 million as at 2015.
He said the weather activity in sections of the Eastern Caribbean over the Christmas holiday season was a prime example of this kind of devastation.
The low level trough resulted in floods and landslides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica. At least 15 people were killed and four others missing. The governments said they would need “hundreds of millions of dollars” to rebuild the battered infrastructures.
“For a country the size of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, this loss is significant and could result in their having to revise their GDP (gross domestic product) projections. (Therefore), while one cannot place a monetary value on the loss of lives, the consequences in terms of dollar value to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is also important,” Pickersgill said.
“It only takes one event to remind us of the need to become climate resilient in a region projected to be at the forefront of climate change impacts in the future,” Pickersgill said, adding that he hoped the regional training workshop would, in some meaningful way, advance the Caribbean’s technical capabilities to meet the future projections head-on and be successful.
He said the workshop has particular relevance to Jamaica as one of the SIDS that is most vulnerable to climate change.
The two-week programme forms part of the European Union (EU)-funded Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean Support Project, which is geared towards the creation and financing of policies that can reduce the effects of climate change as well as improved climate monitoring within the region.
The Global Climate Change Alliance project is to be implemented over 42 months and will benefit Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
CCCCC Programme Manager, Joseph McGann, said the project would include several activities including: enhancing national and regional institutional capacity in areas such as climate monitoring; data retrieval and the application of space-based tools for disaster risk reduction; development of climate scenarios and conducting climate impact studies using Ensemble modeling techniques; vulnerability assessments that can assist with the identification of local/national adaptation; and mitigation interventions.
The Caribbean has officially joined the global Earth Hour Community. Earth Hour is a symbolic 60 minute period during which participants turn off all non-essential lights to raise awareness about the effects of climate change. It will be celebrated this year on Saturday, 23rd March 2013 from 8:30PM to 9:30PM local time. Earth Hour is an annual event that began in Sydney, Australia in 2007 and has since spread across the entire globe. In 2012, official activities took place in more than 7000 cities and towns across 152 countries and territories. Sadly, the only Caribbean territories listed on the 2012 map of participants were Aruba and Belize.
The Caribbean region is comprised largely of Small Island developing states that are very vulnerable to the effects of climate change including extreme rainfall patterns, sea level rise, increased temperatures and intensified hurricane seasons. Caribbean nations are inherently climate sensitive with their lives and livelihoods inextricably connected to the physical environment. In spite of the solid work by Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5Cs) and the Climate Studies Group at The University of the West Indies among others, the vital information has not been converted to widespread public awareness. Although the action of turning off the lights for one hour is largely symbolic, Earth Hour provides an opportunity for communities across the region to focus on and begin to discuss Climate Change mitigation, adaptation and resilience strategies.
Earth Hour Caribbean was launched in March 2013 and is a project of Hill 60 Bump – A Caribbean Sustainability Network. It acts as a focal point for Earth Hour activities in the region including the sharing of events, activities, tips, news and climate change relevant information. Earth Hour Caribbean will also assist in the coordination of ‘I Will If You Will’ challenges and the appointment a regional ambassador to champion the cause. For 2013, the following Caribbean countries have been added to the official list of Earth Hour participants: Grenada, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Curacao, Suriname, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Earth Hour Caribbean aims to spread the movement to all Caribbean territories and is seeking interested parties in the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Cuba, Haiti, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda among others.
Text by Heather Pinnock