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Preparing the country’s readiness and resilience in a time of climate change

A researcher checking out coral bleaching off the coast of Sint Maarten. (Nature Foundation File Photo)

Our country is surrounded by the deep blue Atlantic Ocean on one side the Caribbean Sea on the other.  Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as ours are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.  Global climate change is expected to increase natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and drought.

In addition, to climate change, population growth and urban development are increasing the vulnerability of SIDS to natural disasters, particularly in urban and coastal areas.  Country Sint Maarten has seen and experienced in the past damages caused by storm systems and inclement weather to those aforementioned areas.

At the end of January it was announced in a discussion at the Dutch Second Chamber of Parliament that Curacao and Sint Maarten have not yet formally indicated whether they want to participate in the Kingdom Law proposal to ratify the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.  Aruba has responded that it would like to be a part of the Kingdom Law.

Climate Change is a Kingdom issue and should be addressed at that level, and Sint Maarten should be at the forefront in making sure that it receives the desired and serious attention it deserves.

The topic of climate change was also a discussion point at the recently concluded 15th Overseas Countries and Territories-European Union (OCT-EU) conference in Aruba which was attended by Sint Maarten’s Prime Minister William Marlin.

The effects of global climate change continue on a daily basis.  Each year the global community of nations are informed throughout the year about the impact human activities are having on our world.  One of the most recent developments is at the North Pole which saw for the month of January sea ice volume melting to a record low, according to the United Nations World Meteorological Agency (WMO).

Sea ice extent was the lowest on the 38-year-old satellite record for the month of January, both at the Arctic and Antarctic, according to data cited WMO from both the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and Germany’s Sea ice Portal operated by the Alfred-Wegener-Institut.

“The recovery period for Arctic sea ice is normally in the winter, when it gains both in volume and extent. The recovery this winter has been fragile, at best, and there were some days in January when temperatures were actually above melting point,” said recently David Carlson, Director of the World Climate Research Programme.

He added: “This will have serious implications for Arctic sea ice extent in summer as well as for the global climate system. What happens at the Poles does not stay at the Poles.”

In addition, the ice levels at the Antarctic are also at record lows, even thinner than expected for the summer season there.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement would be beneficial for country Sint Maarten with possible access to the Green Climate Fund, which is a mechanism established to assist SIDS and other countries in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Sint Maarten needs a “Climate Change Adapt-Mitigate” Plan of Action as our own very survival as a country depends on it.  Investments made in time will allow us to mitigate the changes for generations to continue to develop a vibrant and prosperous country for decades to come.  Let’s work towards preparing our country’s readiness and resilience in a time of climate change.

Credit: SOUALIGA Newsday

Is the Caribbean a paradise for renewable energy?

The Caribbean nations have all the incentives and resources to convert to 100% renewable energy. But is it happening?

Beach in Barbados

With plentiful natural resources and expensive fossil fuels, Caribbean countries have a strong incentive to be at the forefront of renewable energy development. Photograph: David Noton Photography/Alamy

What motivated Derek to get into solar power? Was it a desire to be green or combat climate change? “Climate change? I don’t even know what that is,” he says. “I just didn’t want to depend on the power company.” Electricity is expensive in Barbados. Derek bought a solar kit including one panel for $100 (£64).

Derek is a mechanic by trade and is using his system to charge car batteries. He has found a way to integrate his solar system into his business. This is entrepreneurship in its truest sense. A viable business venture for Derek and a chance for wider environmental benefits for the country are the win-wins, but neither of these was the prime driver for Derek. He was essentially a tinkerer with an idea and wanted to try it out in the hope of paying less for power.

Derek's shop

Derek’s shop Photograph: David Ince

If Derek can make it to such a level of self-sufficiency starting from small beginnings, does this mean that individuals and businesses with greater means have gone even further? Well, more Dereks are gradually popping up throughout the Caribbean, but generally the answer is no.

The Caribbean appears to be the ideal location for renewable energy development. Petroleum resources are scarce and renewable resources such as solar, wind and geothermal are plentiful. Energy prices are high as there is no opportunity for economy of scale benefits that large land masses enjoy. Added to that, climate change impacts pose a major threat to the region’s small-island economies that are largely dependent on tourism and agriculture.

Despite this, most Caribbean nations still use imported diesel or oil to generate 90-100% of their energy. So what has been the barrier to using renewables? Many people have pointed to the cost factor. Small economies mean that in most cases countries have difficulty in financing renewable energy projects that require high upfront capital. Also, regulations have been slow in setting clear rules for grid interconnection. These factors have led some international investors and developers to be cautious about entering the Caribbean market.

We can learn from Derek’s example and build on local talent. Indigenous grassroots knowledge paired with the experience and access to capital of larger local and international companies would be a winning combination.

The advantage of building on local interest and indigenous talent can be seen in Jamaica. The late Raymond Wright was trained as a petroleum geologist and was head of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) in the 1970s. His interest in wind energy was piqued while searching for areas with suitable geological characteristics for petroleum development. It soon became evident that Jamaica had a significant wind resource. Over time Wright shifted the focus of his energy development to renewables and PCJ took on a leading role in the establishment of the Wigton Wind Farm, which now generates about 0.1 % of Jamaica’s energy.

Jamaica is keen to build on Wright’s legacy. Expansion of the wind farm is under way and Jamaica plans to increase renewable energy use further, with a goal to reach 20% by 2030, as part of its Vision 2030 policy. There are plans for 20 MW of PV solar to be installed to compliment the wind farm. In addition, Jamaica is offering benefits for any company or individual selling electricity to the grid from a renewable source.

Back in Derek’s home island of Barbados, there is a story of another pioneer, the late Professor Oliver Headley. An organic chemist by training, he became a leading international voice for solar energy development. He got into developing renewable energy in the 1960s after a PhD student colleague challenged him to put the sun that was beating down on them daily to productive use. His pioneering efforts helped propel Barbados to a leader in solar water heater use in the western hemisphere.

There are three solar water heater companies in Barbados and more than half of households have heaters installed, which can be written off against income tax. This policy has been in place since 1974. The story goes that the then prime minister installed a solar water heater on his house and was so impressed with the results that he put the economic incentives in place.

Barbados is keen to expand the success of solar water heaters to solar photovoltaic with the introduction of the “renewable energy rider”. This allows people installing solar photovoltaics to sell their power back to the grid at 1.6 times the usual charge. As a result of this incentive, there are now more than 300 house-top PV systems in the island, and that is expanding. There is every possibility now that we will see more Dereks by 2020 and beyond, Barbados has set itself an ambitious goal of 29% of energy to be produced from renewable sources by 2029.

Wind farm in Curacao

Wind farm in Curacao Photograph: David Ince

A few other Caribbean countries have seen success with renewable energy. The Dutch Caribbean has led the way in terms of wind energy, with Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba all having significant generation capacity. The political connection to the Netherlands has helped with technical expertise and there has been economic support from the Dutch government. Jamaica has been able to build on the know-how of Dutch Caribbean countries in their own wind development.

Nevis, St Lucia and Dominica have all sought to develop geothermal energy projects, which is another source of renewable energy that has potential in the Caribbean. The Organisation of American States and the World Bank have provided capacity and financing support.

It is encouraging to see developments such as these. The groundwork has been laid through efforts of pioneers such as Wright and Headley and there are more grassroots leaders like Derek emerging.

But the efforts of individual champions cannot be successful without policies, legislation and economic incentives, which governments are slowly but surely putting in place. Having these policies on the books without recognising and supporting local businesses or providing an environment through which champions can come to the fore is likely to impede the progress of this spectacularly beautiful but vulnerable region in developing a flourishing green economy.

Some names have been changed.

Join the conversation with the hashtag#EnergyAccess.

Credit: The Guardian

Designation as “special areas” in the Caribbean

The Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) has the greatest concentration of plant and animal species in the Atlantic Ocean Basin.  Yet these precious, and often irreplaceable, natural resources are disappearing at an astounding rate. The vast majority of all species are threatened by habitat loss or modification in addition to unsustainable practices such as over-fishing, unplanned coastal development and pollution. These same habitats are often the main source of food and income for many coastal communities.

The Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) of the Cartagena Convention, is a regional agreement for biodiversity management and conservation in the Wider Caribbean Region, in existence since 1990. It is managed by the United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) and it became international law in 2000.  It aims to protect critical marine and coastal ecosystems while promoting regional co-operation and sustainable development.

To date, sixteen countries from the region have ratified the Protocol: The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France (through its Departments of Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Saint-Barthélémy and Saint-Martin), Grenada, Guyana, The Netherlands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint-Eustatius and Sint Maarten), Panama, Saint-Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, and Venezuela.

Since 2012 SPAW has created a regional network of protected areas (PAs) or key conservation sites listed by the member governments under the Protocol. Under this network these sites benefit from a cooperation programme supported by SPAW, which includes: increased recognition and awareness as places of importance locally, regionally and globally; increased local and national pride resulting in national responsibility to support management; higher visibility with the possible result of increases in employment opportunities and income due to increased tourism marketing of the area; grants and technical assistance provided through SPAW; opportunities for enhancing capacity, management, protection and sustainability; and, opportunities for support  of species conservation, pollution control and sustainable finance.

Countries which are party to the Protocol are invited to apply for their protected areas to be so listed using online forms.  To be selected, sites must satisfy a rigorous set of ecological as well as cultural and socio-economic criteria.  Applications are reviewed by the UN SPAW secretariat as well as by external experts prior to their approval by the Protocol’s scientific committee and it’s biennial Conference of Parties (COP). On 9th December 2014, in Cartagena, Colombia, the Protocol’s Eighth COP approved thirteen new protected areas:

  • The Regional Natural Park of wetlands between the Rivers León and Suriquí, Colombia
  • The Saba National Marine Park, the Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • The Saint Eustatius National Marine Park, the Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • The Man O War Shoal Marine Park (Sin t Maarten), the Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • The Reserve “Etang des Salines”, Martinique, France
  • The Reserve “Versants Nord de la Montagne Pelée, Martinique, France
  • The Port Honduras Marine Reserve, Belize
  • La Caleta Submarine Park, Dominican Republic
  • National Park Jaragua, Dominican Republic
  • Reserve “Los Haitises”, Dominican Republic
  • National Park “Sierra de Bahoruco”, Dominican Republic
  • Tobago Cays Marine Park, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • “Molinière Beauséjour” Marine Protected Area, Grenada

These protected areas vary greatly in description and characteristics.  However they all meet the criteria for listing under SPAW.  These include ecological value, and cultural and socio-economic benefits.  A quick look at two of the areas listed illustrates this.

The Saint Eustatius National Marine Park, established in 1996 in the Eastern Caribbean, is only 27.5 square kilometres in area and extends around the entire island of Saint Eustatius, from the high water line to 30 metre depth contour. It protects a variety of habitats, including pristine coral reefs and 18th century shipwrecks. It includes two no-take zones (reserves) as well as general use zones and designated anchoring zones for large commercial ships.  There is high biodiversity in its coral reefs and a wide variety of tropical reef creatures resides in and around these reefs as well, including the commercially important lobster and conch, key predators such as sharks and the endangered Sea Horses.  Three species of sea turtles (all of them are endangered or critically endangered species) nest regularly on the island’s Zeelandia Beach – the leatherback, the greenand the hawksbill. Dolphins and large whales regularly visit and can often be heard as they migrate through the Marine Park between January and April.   A number of birds live almost exclusively in the open ocean environment, using St Eustatius as a breeding ground or migratory stop over, such as the Audubon’s Shearwater Puffins and Red Billed Tropicbirds.

St Eustatius is also site of Statia Terminals, an oil transhipment facility, including one of the deepest mooring stations for super tankers in the world, located immediately south of the northern marine reserve on the West coast and which has been in operation since 1982 and expanded in 1993. It employs 10 per cent of the island’s population.  During the 18th century, this was one of the busiest ports in the world, hence the presence of shipwrecks within the marine park up to today.

In contrast, the Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR), established in 2000, in Belize is 405 square kilometres in area and has three adjacent and nearby human settlements: Monkey River, Punta Negra and Punta Gorda.  It is unique along the coast of Central America in lagoon system size and the number of in-shore mangrove islands. It is in relatively pristine condition and includes coastal and tidal wetlands, marine lagoons, and mangrove islands with associated shallow banks and fringing coral reefs. Almost all of the coastal and island vegetation, including mangroves, is intact.  Maintaining coastal ecosystem functions and natural resource values, including water quality and nursery habitats of the area, is important in order to protect biodiversity and traditional fishers’ livelihoods.  It is a major breeding and nursery area for juveniles of many species. Threats are expected to increase as the area is attracting more visitors for fly-fishing and sailing.

The SPAW Protocol and the listing of Marine Protected Areas is driven by the need to first recognize sites of great regional and international ecological and socio-economic value and then put measures in place to protect and conserve these areas.  The Caribbean’s rich and beautiful natural heritage deserves our best efforts while also protecting the sustainable livelihoods of coastal communities.

To find out more about the SPAW Protocol and the work of the Caribbean Environment Programme see: www.cep.unep.org and www.car-spaw-rac.org

For further information: 
 Alejandro Laguna - Comunication and Information Officer
 United Nations Environment Programme, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean
 Clayton, Ciudad del Saber - Alberto Tejada, Building 103; Ancon - Panama City, Panama.
 Phone.: 305 3100
 alex.laguna@unep.org

Credit: UNEP Environment for Development

Caribbean Energy Security Summit Commits to Energy Transition

Twenty-six countries, together with seven regional and international organizations, have released a joint statement in support of the transformation of the energy systems of Caribbean countries. The signatories of the statement, signed during the Caribbean Energy Security Summit, commit to pursuing comprehensive approaches to an energy transition toward “clean sustainable energy for all” and reforms that support the creation of favourable policy and regulatory environments for sustainable energy.

The Summit, which was co-hosted by the US Department of State, the Council of the Americas and the Atlantic Council, brought together finance and private sector leaders from the US and the Caribbean, and representatives of the international community. The event showcased the initiatives under the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI) in the areas of improved governance, access to finance and donor coordination, and featured discussions by partner countries on comprehensive energy diversification strategies.

During the event, the US Government announced enhanced support for technical assistance and capacity-building programs in the Caribbean, through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) initiative, among others, with the aim of promoting a cleaner and more secure energy future in the region. Caribbean leaders agreed to pursue comprehensive energy diversification programs and facilitate the deployment of clean energy.

Furthermore, presentations and updates were provided by, inter alia: Caribbean leaders on energy sector goals; the World Bank on a proposed Caribbean Energy Investment Network for improved coordination and communication among partners; and the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) on a new focus on clean energy project development in the Caribbean, which includes US$43 million in financing for a 34 MW wind energy project in Jamaica.

Highlighting the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) in supporting the transition to sustainable energy in the Caribbean, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said the past five years had seen an “unprecedented push” in the Caribbean toward the development of the region’s renewable energy sources, noting this was “doubly impressive” “in a time of low oil prices.”

The Summit, which took place on 26 January 2015, in Washington, DC, US, is part of CESI, launched by US Vice President Joseph Biden in June 2014. The regional and international organizations signing the statement were the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, the Caribbean Development Bank, the EU, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the OAS and the World Bank.

The joint statement was also signed by the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Colombia, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Credit: SIDS Policy & Practice IISD

Caribbean experts call for stronger cooperation on oil spills and nutrient management

Participants from the seventh steering committee meeting of the RAC-REMPEITC in Curacao

Participants from the seventh steering committee meeting of the RAC-REMPEITC in Curacao

Over 80 percent of the Caribbean Sea is polluted from land-based sources and activities such as deforestation, untreated waste-water, oil spills, agricultural runoff, farm waste and litter. This affects livelihoods, health, economies and ecosystems.

To address these problems, pollution experts from across the Caribbean met recently at two meetings.

  1. The seventh steering committee meeting for the Regional Activity Centre — Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Centre for the Wider Caribbean (RAC-REMPEITC). That May 20-12 meeting in Curacao focused on an oil spill protocol for the region.
  2. The second meeting was of the scientific, technical and advisory committee (STAC), to the protocol concerning pollution from land-based sources and activities (LBS STAC 2).The June 1-14 meeting in Nicaragua, which was hosted by UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme (UNEP CEP), was being staged for the second year.

Key recommendations included:

  • UNEP CEP and the government of Curacao agreed to the continued hosting of the regional activity centre in Curacao that supports the protocol concerning cooperation in combating oil spills in the wider Caribbean region (oil spills protocol).
  • UNEP CEP and partners to promote the integration of oil spill disaster planning into national disaster planning processes by working with regional disaster agencies such as Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA)
  • UNEP CEP to work with oil spill regional centre to provide technical support to countries affected by oil pollution including dispersants and rehabilitating areas contaminated with oil.
  • UNEP CEP to develop stronger partnerships with the GPNM (global partnership on nutrient management) to improve nutrient management within the wider Caribbean region.
  • UNEP CEP and partner agencies to develop activities which will enhance the implementation of the LBS Protocol with specific reference to ship generated waste, air pollution and pre-treatment of industrial effluent found in domestic waste-water.

Christopher Corbin, programme officer for the assessment and management of environmental pollution at UNEP CEP, noted that these meetings were critical to evaluate the status of pollution in the region and to identify future priorities.

Nelson Andrade Colmenares, the regional coordinator for UNEP’s Caribbean Environment Programme, stressed that “currently 50 percent of coral reefs are in decline within the region.” However, he added that “with continued stakeholder engagement, cooperation and action this trend can be reversed allowing the region to prosper for generations to come.”

The recommendations from the technical meetings will be presented to the thirteenth meeting of the contracting parties to the convention for the protection and development of the wider Caribbean region, which will be held in Cartagena, Colombia.

In this International Year of Small Island Developing States, ocean, seas and biodiversity have been listed as priority areas. Management of pollution can be addressed by education, stakeholder engagement and a commitment to tackling these issues and it is anticipated that these regional and global efforts will result in action.

Credit: Caribbean News Now!

Several Caribbean Small Island States to Create Biosphere Reserves

Country Representatives

Country Representatives

Several Caribbean nations committed to  a three-year action plan that aims to create at least one biosphere reserve in each island at the UNESCO Inter-Ministerial Conference on “Biosphere Reserves in the Caribbean Small Island States – Tools for sustainable development and growth” in St. Kitts and Nevis on March 27.

At the conference organised by the  Government of St. Kitts and Nevis and the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Maarten, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago  signed the declaration that will allow them to use the reserves as tools for innovative projects to add value to local socio-economic activities.

Of the 610 biosphere reserves worldwide (117 countries), only four are in the Caribbean: St Kitts, Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Read the full declaration here and the St Kitts Action Plan

**Sources: UNESCO and Jamaican Observer
Learn more about how we’re working to make the Caribbean more climate resilient by perusing The Implementation Plan for “Delivering transformational change 2011-21″.

Tackling the Caribbean’s Climate-driven Water Resource Problems…

Dr. Jason PolkAssociate Director of Science at the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, says climate-driven water resource problems in the Caribbean could give rise to another intractable problem, community resistance to increased costs and regulations, if a concerted effort to educate the public  about the challenges and possible solutions is delayed. Read  his exclusive contribution to Caribbean Climate.

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 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.

The Caribbean is changing every day. The people are changing, as is the geography. Perhaps most importantly, the Caribbean’s climate is changing, like it always has for thousands of years, yet never under the scrutiny with which it is examined today. Geographically, the Caribbean is diverse in its makeup. Isolated islands and small coastal nations that seem lonely and individually reliant upon their ability to persevere against the onset of environmental challenges. These countries comprise a group that shares a long and rich history, and are collectively facing challenges in addressing the risks and impacts from global climate change. Of these, one of the most pressing is the potential impact on the region’s water resources.

Water. Simple, natural, and plentiful. Mention the Caribbean and one immediately thinks of the sea, warm beaches, hurricanes, and shipwrecks. While these images certainly are a reality, behind them exists a region in trouble due to a changing global climate and the demand for fresh water. So, a question to be answered is from where does one obtain water on a Caribbean island? From the rivers? From the ground? Maybe from the ocean? These are all questions needing both to be asked and answered by people of the Caribbean and those looking in from outside. In answering these questions, one may be better able to understand the complex and pressing challenges that climate change has on water resources in the region.

Over the past few decades, new information and events have spurned a closer examination of the future temperature and rainfall patterns of the Caribbean. Results from the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and other regional climate studies indicate the Caribbean region will undergo significant changes, including the following:

  • variability in seasonal rainfall distribution, including decreasing average rainfall amounts of up to 20% or more and subsequent droughts in some areas, while increased seasonal rainfall and flooding events may occur elsewhere
  • changes in hurricane intensity and unpredictability, with the likelihood of more severe storms, including higher winds
  • an increase in average temperatures across the region
  • sea level rise of several millimeters or more, causing coastal inundation and changes in geography and topography
Credit: CGIAR

Credit: CGIAR

With these changes, there will be impacts on the fresh water resources of every nation in the region. Water stress will be one of the greatest challenges, as reduced precipitation and increasing temperatures will cause a lack of water availability in countries like the Bahamas, Grenada, and Jamaica, who already suffer from water scarcity. Several countries, such as Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, are among the most water-stressed nations in the world, meaning that they require more water than is available to the population on an annual basis. Part of this is due to the seasonal availability of rainfall, which is slowly changing due to climate variability.

The cause and effect relationship between precipitation and water scarcity is one of the simpler connections to be made from predicted climate change patterns; however, many others will arise and vary with regional geography, and potential water resource impacts include:

  • challenges to access due to changing conditions in surface streams, springs, and groundwater supplies during drought conditions
  • water quality issues that arise from flooding and population growth as communities and city centers grow in the face of declining agriculture
  • increased flooding from severe storms and hurricanes
  • salt water intrusion into coastal groundwater aquifers
  • increasing water scarcity due to infrastructural challenges and limited capacity to adapt quickly enough to changing climatic conditions

For example, take Barbados, which relies primarily on groundwater from a karst aquifer. Karst is a landscape typified by caves and springs, wherein the rock dissolves away and water is stored in the remaining voids. This type of landscape is commonly found throughout the Caribbean region, and its water resources are highly vulnerable to impacts like pollution, drought, and sea-level rise. Inundation by salt-water can permanently ruin a karst aquifer’s freshwater supply, as the saline water will displace the freshwater, decreasing both its quantity and quality. In places like Barbados and Curacao, desalination plants are necessary to make up the difference in water demand and supply. However, these can be expensive to build and maintain, creating additional environmental consequences in the form of briny discharge and fossil fuel consumption. Curacao is among the region’s oldest user of desalination, having utilized the technology for many decades in the region; yet, today the demands for fresh water still exceed the supply capacity and larger plants are necessary to meet the island’s needs.

Cave KarstThere will continue to be an increasing demand on water resources throughout the region from tourism growth as countries look toward economic gain to finance the mitigation of changing environmental conditions. Water utilities will need to be expanded, coastal development will require additional engineering solutions, and the cost of addressing the human health aspects of waterborne diseases may increase. Without a concerted effort to inform the public of the issues and possible solutions related to climate-driven water resource problems, a bigger challenge may be community resistance to increased costs and regulations. Even those people who opt for cheaper solutions, such as rainwater collection or local wells, may be forced to rely less on these as viable options if rainfall amounts decrease or salt water intrudes, and may demand access to public utilities as an alternative.

Water resource management policies and mitigation plans are often driven by political, economic, and developmental priorities, rather than science- or education- driven solutions, including technological and sustainable ways to adapt to climate change. In the Caribbean region, there exist several possible solutions already in use to varying degrees, including:

  • rainwater collection from roofs using barrels and cisterns
  • desalination plants that are solar powered and able to produce minimal byproducts
  • purchasing and shipping in water from nearby locations (like the water barges used between Andros and Nassau, Bahamas)
  • public education and outreach about conservation efforts

Tap waterA comprehensive assessment of water resource demands, infrastructure, and policies across the region is needed in order to address the critical areas requiring attention. Leaders have resources available to them to assist in information gathering and decision-making, such as those provided by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and other groups. Several courses of action are possible to mitigate water resource challenges caused by climate change. Yet, the first step is to become educated about climate change science and both local and regional water resource issues. Community members can play a role at all levels, from individual conservation efforts to leading regional programs for entire communities. Most importantly, call for action to help build resiliency through education and training. To effect large-scale changes, nations must develop sustainable policies at a regional level to work together to address climate change impacts on water resources.

The reality is climate change impacts do not discriminate among nations, people, governments, economic levels, or geographies, nor do they wait for communities to prepare before occurring. Addressing climate change in the region requires that leaders and community members think locally and act globally. Get to know about climate change science. Get to know a neighbor. Get to know the geography of the Caribbean. Become a part of the conversation in your communities and in the region.

** Dr. Polk is an Assistant Professor of Geography and Geology at the University of Western Kentucky.

Peruse our vault of works (internal and external) on climate change and the Caribbean’s water sector here, by entering the keywords ‘water and climate change’. You’ll find guides on adaptation measures to address the absence of freshwater and coastal vulnerability, pilots, including the Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment System in Bequia, and  national water sector strategies for Jamaica and Belize, and much more.

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