The University of the West Indies Climate Studies Group at Mona (CSGM) says Caribbean islands need to pay attention to the second instalment of the United Nation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known as the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6).
The report, which was released in February, presents a dire warning of the significant implications of inaction for the globe and the region; noting that even temporarily exceeding global warming of 1.5°C that is anticipated in the next two decades will result in severe effects, some of which will be irreversible.
CSGM says while the report covers the global impacts, vulnerabilities, and risks of climate change, Chapter 15 was dedicated to addressing small islands in the Caribbean, Indian, and Pacific Ocean.
“It details that a sense of urgency is prevalent among small islands to combat climate change and adhere to the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” it said, noting that the chapter’s Executive Summary cautions that “Small islands present the most urgent need for investment in capacity building and adaptation strategies”.
CSGM said it has compiled ten urgent takeaways for the Caribbean following an analysis of the IPCC February report, noting for instance that as global warming continues to rise “small islands face an existential threat if global warming rises above 1.5°C.
“People, ecosystems, and economies in the Caribbean will be significantly impacted in many ways. Among these include loss of lives and livelihoods, decreased food and water security, loss of infrastructure and settlements, degradation of human health and well-being, and loss of cultural resources and heritage.”
It said urgent action is needed if 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels is surpassed between now and 2040, noting that although the Caribbean was at the forefront of negotiations to stay below 1.5°C global warming, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
“Urgent action is needed worldwide to reduce the possibility of global warming going beyond 1.5°C,” the CSMG said, adding that Caribbean islands already face many impacts as seen annually in hurricanes, storm surges, heatwaves, droughts, and floods.
“Extreme events such as hurricanes are expected to become more intense. More up-to-date baseline data and access to climate information are needed to be prepared and adapt to extreme events,” CSGM said, noting that small islands are experiencing human-induced climate change impacts and the risks will increase as warming continues.
Regarding coral bleaching and declines in coral abundance that have been observed in many small islands, CSMG said, that while some damage will be irreversible, coral reefs provide beach sand and are fish nurseries.
“Climate-sensitive economic sectors such as tourism and fisheries depend on coral reefs. Coast-focused tourism is already extremely impacted by more intense hurricanes due to coral reef damage and beach erosion. Aquaculture is being viewed as a longer-term means of diversifying incomes in the Caribbean.”
CSGM is also warning that security for human survival is threatened if drought and salinization of freshwater resources occur.
“Increasing droughts in the Caribbean can affect human health and crop production. Integrated watershed management and building reservoirs to store freshwater received in the rainy season are fundamental for water security. Improved access to climate information for crop production and new technologies for growing drought-resistant crops and crops adapted to flood conditions are important for farmers.”
In its analysis, the CSMG said that no single adaptation response is a complete solution to reducing risks to people and nature advising that the Caribbean should use a mix of adaptation responses such as protection, accommodation, advance and retreat.
It said ecosystem-based adaptation such as mangrove replanting and protection measures including seawalls are also used but can cause damage if poorly designed and built.
“Responses are more effective if combined, planned, aligned with sociocultural values and development priorities, and underpinned by inclusive community engagement processes. Feasibility studies are needed to determine how effective adaptation measures have been in responding to sea-level rise and flooding. The scale of needed action remains limited and requires more research.”
Regarding barriers to adaptation and enabling conditions that hinder responses, the CSMG said to make progress in adaptation, the Caribbean needs enablers such as better governance; political commitment; legal reforms; improving justice; equity; and gender considerations.
It is also calling for increased access to climate information; adequately downscaled climate data, and embedding indigenous knowledge and local knowledge adaptation responses.