Climate Change, a clear and present danger

volcano2CARICOM Secretariat – The global phenomenon called Climate Change has been described by experts and politicians alike as inarguably “the greatest environmental phenomenon of our time,” and as for its implications for the economic and social landscape, it is perceived as “the most demanding challenge facing the world today.”

In essence, it can be concluded that only the global financial crisis parallels the climate change phenomenon in terms of threats to the world’s stability. Recognizing this, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), at its 14th Conference of Parties (COP14) in Poznan, Poland deemed climate change as “not just an environmental issue but rather, one that has significant implications for sustainable development.”

The Caribbean in general and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in particular, owing to their limited size and proneness to natural hazards and external shocks, are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, despite the fact that they contribute very little to cause this catastrophe. This is underscored by the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which highlighted the SIDS’ particular vulnerability in the areas of agriculture, biodiversity, human settlements, tourism, insurance and financial services, water resources and human health.

The Hon Stephenson King, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia and lead CARICOM Head of Government for Sustainable Development has tersely worded the Caribbean’s reality as “any significant adverse effects on even one of the aforementioned sectors or resources, left unattended, will ultimately influence the extent to which we can successfully pursue the goal of sustainable development.”

CARICOM’S response

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), conscious of the need to act quickly and decisively, from as early as 1994, initiated several steps to dealing with the pressing issues of Climate Change, fully recognizing the need to emphasise mitigation and adaptation measures.

Arising from the Global Small Island Developing States Conference held in Barbados in 1994, was the unanimous resolve to give priority treatment to the issue of climate change based on its potential to disrupt severely, the development efforts of SIDS and the low lying coastal states.

Subsequently, in that same year, Caribbean governments solicited and received support from the Organisation of American States (OAS) to develop a regional project aimed at building capacity for adaptation to Climate Change.  Those efforts gave expression to a series of capacity building projects including the Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change (CPACC) project, funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF); the ensuing 2001-2004 Adapting to Climate Change in the Caribbean (ACCC) project, funded by Canadian Climate Change Development Fund and the 2004-2007 Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change project also funded by GEF.

According to Dr Ken Leslie,  Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), those projects enjoyed a significant measure of success and were, among other things, responsible for the establishment of a CARICOM wide network of monitoring stations; development of regional capacity for coral reef monitoring; vulnerability assessments; economic valuation of environmental services; the articulation of national climate change adaptation policies and implementation plans, and increased public awareness of climate change issues in the Region.

Notwithstanding the projects’ successes however, it was clear that a more permanent strategy was needed to respond more rapidly to the effects of Climate Change in the Caribbean.

The birth of the five C’s

Dr Ulric Trotz, then Project Manager for the MACC project noted that to facilitate the implementation of a programmatic strategy, “the Region would require to, as far as possible indigenise the institutional arrangements for the implementation of Climate Change activities and moreover, place these on a more sustainable footing.”

This realization germinated the idea of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre – a seed which bore fruit in 2004 when the CCCCC was officially opened with a clear mandate to coordinate the region’s response to Climate Change. The Centre, in tandem with the CARICOM Secretariat, took its mandate seriously and after five years, under the directorship of Dr Ken Leslie, has much to boast about regarding its work.

The battle for survival

Despite all the ground work done in the areas of mitigation and adaptation however, the Caribbean still faces a clear and present danger: In what seems like one of earth’s cruel ironies, the gases that make life possible on earth are the very ones which threaten to destroy our very existence as they continue to heat up the planet rapidly – the effects of what is described as global warming or the green house effect.

According to Mr Garfield Barnwell, CARICOM Secretariat’s Director of Sustainable Development, over the last 100 years, the average temperature of the air near the Earth’s surface has risen a little less than 1° Celsius, making the earth much warmer than it has been for at least a thousand years. The three hottest years he said, had occurred in the last eight years.

Although from a layman’s point of view, 1° Celsius does not seem all that much, Mr Barnwell said,  It is responsible for the conspicuous increase in storms, floods and raging forest fireswe have seen in the last ten years.

Mr Barnwell has jolted us to the gravity of the situation by explaining that the “the constant rise in sea level, the dangerous impact on human lives from the emission of greenhouse gases, the erosion of natural beaches, and landslides due to deforestation all contribute to natural disasters compounded by the consequential negative effects on agriculture and food production, poverty and human suffering.”

1.5 to stay alive

The key therefore is to stabilise the earth’s temperature thus stabilising global warming. The critical question is: How do we do that…?

Princeton University scientists had identified 15 technologies — from wind, solar and nuclear energy to conservation techniques — that could stop the escalation of global warming for 50 years.

According to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, it will cost between 0.2% and 3.0% of global GDP by 2030 to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Climate scientists, economists and policy researchers are in agreement that limiting long-term global warming is achievable at a “negligible” cost, and the responsibility for action lies in the hands of politicians.

It would appear therefore that what is needed here is the political will to accomplish what is perceived as ‘do-able.’ We walked on the moon therefore we should be able to solve this conundrum.

Road to Copenhagen

Faced with this severe threat to the Region’s survival and continued development, the Caribbean must now go to the upcoming 15th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2009 and place on the conference table a convincing case for, among other key issues, the reduction of GHG emissions to a minimum of 1.5?C as an effective means of stabilising global warming.

This Conference is of particular significance as it seeks to forge a new climate change agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which had set legally binding targets for emissions of six major greenhouse gases in industrialised countries during the first commitment period which would see a five percent reduction at the end of 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires. Copenhagen is expected to produce a strong and ambitious policy framework that sets a clear overall direction for future global climate change action and to generate significant financial and technological support to enable meaningful actions by developing countries. For CARICOM countries, this conference must settle the perplexing questions of what should be the global target for greenhouse gas emission reductions after 2012 and, who should bear the burden for these reductions.

Leading up to this landmark conference, there is also a vigorous debate among Heads of Government as to what should the negotiations package for the Caribbean include; what should be the priority issues and whose interests should be protected; and while there are divergent views on some issues, there is a general agreement on five key issues also implicit in the July 2009 Liliendaal Declaration on Climate Change and Development.

This Declaration, issued by the 30th Conference of the Heads of Government, committed CARICOM  Leaders to supporting the position of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) whose negotiations are based on five critical building blocks of Mitigation and Adaptation,  Transfer of technology, Financing, a Shared Vision on climate change and most importantly, provisions for “long term stabilisation of atmospheric Green House Gas concentrations at levels which would ensure that global average surface temperature increases would be limited to well below 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels; Co2 reductions of at least 45 percent by 2020 and reducing green house gas emissions by more than 95 percent of 1990 Co2 levels by 2050.”

Ambitious targets they are, yet, according to Leon Charles, Lead AOSIS Negotiator, they are critical to the survival and development of the Caribbean. Consequently, CARICOM has thrown its 15-member weight behind the negotiating team and has repeatedly called for one voice on the negotiations.

Prime Minister King told a Ministerial Meeting in Saint Lucia in September that  there would be no compromising; no give and take, no ‘horse-trading’ on the issue of reduction targets.

In giving weight to Prime Minister King’s statement, Chairman of CARICOM His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana recently reminded CARICOM Leaders to use the Liliendaal Declaration as a sound basis in guiding the negotiations, ensuring that the Caribbean speak with one voice, and CARICOM Secretary-General His Excellency Edwin Carrington cautioned the region to be “resolute and vigilant in their positions for a New Climate Change Agreement.” It is a clarion call to which all policy makers and all peoples of the Caribbean should respond positively.

Make no mistake, the Caribbean’s negotiators are tough on their stance and while they are willing to be flexible on several issues, some things are non-negotiable. The call for 1.5 to stay alive is one of those ‘non-negotiables.’ As they make the pilgrimage to Copenhagen to secure a sustainable and environmentally secure future for our Caribbean peoples, we wait for the deal – so critical to our livelihood and sustainable development – to be sealed.


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