Editorial | Europe’s taste of Caribbean climate reality | Comment

Nearly two months later, hurricane season in the Atlantic has yet to bring a killer storm to ravage the Caribbean. And so far, the region has not suffered from the scorching summer temperatures and prolonged droughts that have occurred in recent decades, which in the age of climate change is the new normal.

That’s good. However, this is no cause for convenience. There are still more than three months until hurricane season. Moreover, global warming and its effects on the global climate have not receded. This is why vulnerable countries like Jamaica must become more aggressive in adapting to change and forming coalitions to hold industrial countries to their obligation – and their promises – to fund these efforts.

Indeed, the Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which account for no more than 2% of global carbon emissions, must accelerate the coordination of the region’s efforts to break the impasse in global financing of climate resilience. There is also an urgent need for CARICOM to deploy its strategy, as proposed by the Persaud Commission last year, to raise capital in markets across the region to invest in climate resilience projects.

If there are still climate change advocates, events in Europe this week have offered powerful and convincing arguments against their skepticism and in favor of global warming. An unprecedented heatwave across the continent has claimed around 1,500 lives in Portugal and Spain as temperatures, like elsewhere on the continent, hit record highs.

For example, in Great Britain, the average daytime temperature in summer is 21°C. At night, it drops to 12°C. However, on Tuesday the temperature soared to an all-time high of 40.3C, prompting the UK government to advise people to stay in the shade or at home. Rail services have also been suspended over fears the tracks could buckle, leading to derailments. In Portugal, the temperature reached 47°C, while in Italy it rose to 42°C. In Germany and Belgium too, temperatures exceeded 40 degrees.

HEAT WAVES

This week may have been warmer, but several European countries also experienced heat waves in May and June. Although the immediate cause of this week’s heatwaves was caused by high pressure in the atmosphere that moves and pushes warm air towards the ground, or similar systems pulling warm air from South Africa North, there is a twist to these phenomena. The world is warmer today – by 1.1°C – compared to the 1850s. So the starting points for today’s heat waves are higher, in line with higher average global temperatures . This is the result of pumping huge amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the last century and a half. Already, a warmer Earth has led to rising seas, unseasonal and prolonged droughts, unpredictable and more violent storms and worsening floods. For low-lying coastal areas and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as those in the Caribbean, further sea level rise – which is inevitable if the current global trajectory persists – would be devastating. The main cities of the region and most of its economic activity are located on low coasts.

The world has proposed major strategies to deal with the crisis: keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5°C by the end of the century and investing in climate change mitigation and adaptation projects climatic. The first requires pumping less CO2 into the atmosphere, the main contributor of which is the burning of fossil fuels. As a sector, transport is the biggest emitter, with 27% of global CO2 production. But factories and power generation turbines are also big emitters, which is part of the logic of producing more energy from renewable sources.

But transitioning from fossil fuels, building new resilient infrastructure and strengthening old ones are not cheap endeavours, especially for poor and vulnerable countries. Jamaica has, in the early 2000s, several experiences of hurricanes and floods causing severe damage to roads, bridges and other infrastructure. But Jamaica’s experience pales in comparison to the blows dealt to another CARICOM member, Dominica.

LOSSES

In 2011, this country suffered losses equivalent to 40% of its gross domestic product (GDP) due to tropical storm Ophelia. In 2015, Tropical Storm Erika cost 90% of its GDP. In 2017, Hurricane Maria left damage representing 220% of GDP. In other words, in six years, the storms wiped out the equivalent of 350% of Dominica’s GDP.

CARICOM members would expect, under these circumstances, to tap into the several mitigation and adaptation funds established under climate agreements, including the pledge made by developed countries in Paris in 2015 to providing $100 billion a year to less wealthy economies for mitigation and adaptation. The amount pledged was deemed by many to be insufficient for what needs to be done. The objective was not achieved. However, developed countries recommitted to the amount at COP26 last year, and leaders of the G7, the world’s richest nations, at their summit this month largely reaffirmed the commitment.

However, CARICOM leaders say existing schemes for accessing funds are not “tailored to the urgent climate resilience needs of CARICOM SIDS”. According to the community, they have “an immediate need for reform”, including the “simplification and streamlining of access criteria between donors and multilateral funds”. The region should urge other vulnerable developing countries, especially SIDS, to join this campaign.

The Caribbean Development Bank has developed a model to assess the general impact of disasters on countries like those in the Caribbean, the requirements, timing and cost of recovery, and potential financing arrangements, including bonds of resilience. We are usually slow to get things done. This matter is urgent. CARICOM should therefore accept what is ready.