Jamaica highly vulnerable to climate change

TECHNICAL officer in the government's Climate Change Division, Dr Orville Grey, says that Jamaica and other small island developing states are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

“If we look at Jamaica and where we're located, hurricanes make us extremely vulnerable, and because of that, adaptation is an important aspect of our negotiations in dealing with climate change,” Grey told the Jamaica Observer at its weekly Monday Exchange with editors and reporters.

But the adaptation process is hampered by the fact that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports do not provide enough information to direct efforts by the governmental agencies to adapt to the changes.

“When we look in the IPCC reports they do not readily highlight the problems we have in the Caribbean,” he said.

Moreover, Grey said the impacts of climate change in the region will significantly affect some of the Caribbean's major sectors.

“If you look at what is happening with sea surface temperatures, you'll see that we are losing our corals through the warming of the oceans [coral bleaching]. With the projections, we're looking at almost total loss of our corals. For us in the Caribbean our reefs are important, not from the perspective of tourism, but from the perspective of livelihoods when you consider fisheries,” he said.

“Most of the fish we love to eat are in and around the coral reef. The projections, as they are now, indicate more than 50 per cent loss of our coral reefs in our region. Imagine the impact on GDP, as our reefs are a big driver to economy — not just fishing, but tourism,” Grey added.

With the potential loss of livelihoods, Grey said the impact could further increase Jamaica's poverty index as people will be “losing more”.

“Fishermen are going out and not being able to catch enough fish to earn an income to sustain themselves and their families. Look at the farming communities. Last year we had one of the worst droughts we've had in decades. The impact to the farming community was significant, and in November 18,000 farmers were affected. There are a significant number of persons employed in that sector that are being affected by the changes,” he said, reiterating that the increases in temperature will mean an increase in the intensity of storms heading Jamaica's way.

Nevertheless, the technical officer said adapting is difficult as the budget they're given doesn't have a clear demarcation to dealing with these events substantially. “With the future we're looking at, Jamaica is not a country that contributed significantly to the problem, but it is going to be one of those that's going to be adversely affected. It means, therefore, we have to secure assistance to cope from anywhere we can and go into international organisations that have funding available to help us do the work. We're not begging, but trying to secure a future for Jamaica,” Grey reasoned.

He said increasing Jamaica's resilience has to be a focus now, even though doing so has become even more difficult with the vast majority of the country's infrastructure on its coast and 60 per cent of the population are living within three to five kilometres of the coastline.

“There is farming on the coastline, tourism, two main international airports, ports, and refineries, which all stand to be impacted by significant sea level rise. Jamaica will not be building sea walls, because we can't afford it. We have to find other ways to deal with adapting to the impact of climate change and try to build resilience in all sectors, by building tree-lined cities, homes to manage weather, and homes that are cooler, because the temperature increase is getting worse,” Grey said, noting that a sensitisation campaign is being undertaken to make Jamaicans more aware of the issue.

— Kimberley Hibbert

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