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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

Reinsurers call for action at climate change summit

Politicians must act to cap global warming when they meet at a United Nations summit at the end of the year as the financial and humanitarian consequences of natural catastrophes become ever clearer, reinsurers meeting at an industry conference said.

The $600 billion reinsurance industry helps insurance companies pay damage claims from hurricanes, floods or earthquakes and can help people and companies get back on their feet after a disaster.

The UN’s climate boss warned this week that national promises to cut emissions so far would cap warming at an unacceptably high level, heightening concerns in the insurance industry about politicians’ lack of resolve.

“Definitely we expect political courage to move in a direction that shows responsibility towards future generations and a certain interest in defending the sustainability of this planet,” Swiss Re’s Chief Executive, Michel Lies, told a news conference.

Swiss Re data shows natural disasters caused an average $180 billion in economic damage per year over the last decade, of which 70 percent was uninsured.

Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s said big natural catastrophes can also lead to cuts in sovereign credit ratings — making it more expensive for governments to borrow money — with Latin America and the Caribbean most at risk.

These conclusions should help concentrate minds at the climate talks starting in Paris on Nov. 30, reinsurers said.

“What we can bring to the table is a credible price tag for the decisions that are taken or not taken, making sure everybody understands that in the short term you may not take a decision but you will definitely pay a price in the long term,” Lies said.

Weather researchers say global warming will result in more frequent and intense heatwaves, precipitation and storms. Warming needs to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels to avoid the most devastating consequences in the form of droughts and rising sea levels, scientists say.

“Even if this goal is not fully reached, every step in this direction is better than no result at all,” said Peter Hoeppe, head of Geo Risks Research at reinsurer Munich Re.

In the meantime, there must be increasing focus on preventive measures such as flood defences that can help dampen the rise in insurance premiums in the medium to long term, Hoeppe said.

Insurers and Group of Seven industrialized countries are working to expand the availability of insurance to an additional 400 million people in developing countries considered at high risk.

“Climate change is happening, no question,” said XL Group’s Chief Executive, Mike McGavick.

“Insurers and reinsurers have to be at the forefront of transferring that risk,” McGavick said.

Credit: St. Louis Post Dispatch

CERMES Student Shares Research Experience

We have supported extensive field laboratory work for a contingent of students, faculty and support staff  from the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), UWI Cave Hill over the past ten years. The field laboratories are held in Belize, one of the region’s most diverse ecological settings, and afford the students an opportunity to put into action the range of tools they are learning, and observe the relationships between scientific theory and the measurement of critical variables and parameters. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre looks forward to welcoming the 11th contingent of students in 2015!

Below is a summary of current CERMES MSc student Ryan Zuniga's reflection on his research experience. Ryan is now interning with the Centre.
Ryan Zuniga (left) interviewing two farmers

Ryan Zuniga (left) interviewing two farmers

After fulfilling the classroom requirements for my degree, I was anxious and excited to enter the world of
research. My topic; “Developing a Forest Fire Indicator for Southern Belize”, was selected after nine months of deliberation and several disregarded potential topics.

My research was to be carried out in conjunction with the Ya’axche Conservation Trust, an NGO that has been working in my study area (southern Belize) for several years. This NGO has been making numerous efforts to address several terrestrial environmental issues including poaching of endangered species found in their management area (Maya Golden Landscape), the sustainable use of forest resources by buffer communities and incidences of forest fires as a result of escaped agricultural fires known as milpa burning.

The data collection process commenced almost immediately after the proposal was approved. It was supported by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) who had an interest in the research topic, and therefore gave me the opportunity to conduct my research as an intern at the Centre. Dr. Ulric Trotz , Deputy Director and Science Advisor of the Centre, was the overhead supervisor, and Mr. Earl Green, Project Manager, was my immediate project supervisor at the Centre.

The data required to carry out the study consists of three main parameters, meteorological data (humidity, daily maximum temperatures and precipitation), records of fire incidences and climate projections and modelled data for southern Belize.

The data collection process was filled with many “give up” moments and just as many “I can do this for the rest of my life” moments. However, what stood out to me the most is the hospitality that was shown to me by the people during the interview process. My interviews were focused on the farmers of the Maya villages in Southern Belize, namely Medina, Golden stream, Tambran and Indian Creek. By societal modern standards these farmers can be described as poor, or living at one step away from poverty. However, the farmers will tell you that difficult times or “hard life” as they refer to it are few and far in between for them. While working with them I was more often than not greeted with a smile, and a cup of home grown coffee, that welcomed me into their humble homes. Generally consisting of hammocks, a few plastic chairs and a wooden table these homes were filled with laughter and happiness. This experience I’m sure will stay with me for the rest of my career.

In the end I was only able to gather a fraction of the data that I had proposed, so much for that ground breaking research! However I was able to adopt an index that is identical to what I had hoped to achieve. The index was implemented by The Nature Conservancy (TNC)  in Trinidad and Tobago and was shared with me by TNC’s Director of Fire Management. Ya’axche has already pledged to provide the communities with the necessary equipment needed for the index to be used properly and be effective in reducing the incidences of escaped fires.

 Peruse the October 2014 edition of the CERMES Connections here.

Credit: CERMES Connections

What’s the difference between Weather and Climate?

Credit: CCCCC

Credit: CCCCC

Our climate is changing, but do you know the difference between Climate and Weather?

Climate and weather have one difference. Weather measures the conditions of the atmosphere, through temperature, humidity, wind and precipitation, over a short period of time (day, week and month). Climate is the average weather for a particular region and time period, usually taken over 30 years. The climate system is very complex and studying it does not only mean looking at what is going on in the atmosphere but also in the ground, oceans, glaciers and so forth.

Climate change doesn’t mean variability will stop, in the same way that climate change won’t cause hurricanes to stop in the Caribbean. What is happening in Europe can be attributed to the natural variability effect; there’s late winter effect and early winter effect. So this must be seen in a global sense.

While Europe may be experiencing a late winter, others might be experiencing an early spring effect. Last year, in the United States, they had very early spring

~Dr Kenrick Leslie, CBE, Executive Director, Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre

Interview with the Jamaica Observer, June 2013

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Credit: CCCCC

Credit: CCCCC

 

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