On Wednesday 25thSeptember, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on Oceans and the Cryosphere (frozen regions); showing the negative and accelerating impacts of climate change. The report was an important moment which sounds the alarm for the Caribbean – we need to understand these risks as a region – and urgently act on them. The Caribbean contains 80% more sea than land and we are heavily connected to the ocean as part of our economy; rightly so, it is a huge growth opportunity when managed sustainably. Caribbean Development Bank has highlighted the ‘Blue Economy’ as a growth strategy for the region and yet what the IPCC report spells out, is that if we don’t act fast, those potential gains could be lost with severe consequences for the ecosystems that underpin them. So what are the 4 lessons we can learn from the IPCC report?
- The report highlights that since the 1970s, oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat and around 25 percent of the carbon emissions released by human activities, causing ocean temperatures to increase over time. If emissions continue in the current trajectory, 100-year storms could become a yearly event by 2050. That is in the not so distant future and in your children’s lifetimes. This is a huge risk for our region considering the recent Hurricane Dorian and severe damage it wrought for the Bahamas. In addition to this, 2015 was the first time we saw 3 Category 4 Hurricanes operating in the Pacific Basin at the same time – if this were to become commonplace, the devastation it could bring would lead to significant human, economic and environmental loss. We need to urgently re-assess our infrastructure, disaster risk reduction planning and resiliency in the face of these threats.
- The report also suggested that sea levels could rise by more than three feet. For places like Hellshire that have already been affected by sea level rise and coastal erosion along the Seven Mile beach in Negril, we have to question what does it mean? We could lose these assets people depend on for their livelihoods and tourism. We need to strengthen and protect ourselves from these risks and restore our oceans so that they are healthy enough to cope with harsh changes? We must work to protect the most vulnerable groups and species.
- Critical fisheries could be lost and more than 680 million people who live in coastal regions could be displaced by rising sea levels according to the IPCC predictions. These models are based in science and we cannot neglect this. Over three quarters of the Caribbean population and infrastructure are located within 5km of the coast. Our whole premise for urban planning needs reconfiguring to account for the changes that will come with sea level rise.
- We urgently need to evaluate our flood risk models, existing defences and quantify the costs required so we can seek the support we will need to find solutions. Whether they be hard engineering solutions or coastal ecosystem restoration and management of mangroves; we need green infrastructure in place to help buffer the harsh realities we may soon face.
It is key to recognise the report shows some of the challenges faced globally with Climate Change and Oceans is already taking place, is accelerating and therefore the time to act is now. We must move quickly to protect one of our greatest assets and ensure Ocean Health is a priority for the region.