The bludgeoning delivered by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey has brought into sharp focus the financing needs of developing countries and, in particular, those of small-island developing states (SIDS) for adaptation and loss and damage from climate impacts.
“We seem to be entering into a new climate regime and we have to quickly begin to reckon with it. It is the regime of the extreme drought, extreme hurricane, extreme rainfall events. We are not used to dealing with this constant onslaught of extreme, and so we need to think about it carefully,” warns respected climate scientist Professor Michael Taylor.
“One of the things we have always been saying is that we may not see more hurricanes, but more intense hurricanes. This fits the kind of pattern we are anticipating from climate change. And as they form, they then quickly develop into Category 3 or 4, so by the time they interact with any land, they are at a very life-threatening stage.”
It signals, Taylor said, the need for a re-look at how SIDS – which are especially susceptible to such events and other threats, including sea level rise – adapt and the funding they will require.
“The infrastructure will need to be designed to withstand the most intense category of hurricanes, and not only a one-off event, but a repeated onslaught. We really have, too, to look at this argument the Caribbean is making for loss and damage, because we are seeing the kind of total devastation taking place which is beyond the powers of any single government to put back together,” the climate scientist noted.
Caribbean SIDS and others from the developing world have long lobbied for adaptation financing, and, in more recent times, compensation for loss and damage.
Eleanor Jones, head of the consulting firm Environmental Solutions Limited, agreed with Taylor.
“Loss and damage financing is very important; and adaptation, there is no question about that. We have to really look at all aspects of adaptation and not just coastal protection, but all sectors of the society and see how we prepare,” she said.
“For instance, if hospitals are damaged, what happens? If irrigation and food crops go, what happens? So we are talking food security, water security and health and not just about what is immediately obvious, like drains, etc. Even things like watershed protection are important,” noted Jones, who represented the private sector on Jamaica’s delegation to the international climate talks in Marrakech last year.
There is also something to be said for issues of equity and morality when it comes to the case for climate finance for loss and damage and adaptation, Taylor noted.
“. . . . Because, in truth, as opposed to Florida where the people can evacuate inland, there is no place for the people of SIDS to evacuate to. You think of Barbuda, for example, which is small and flat. Where were the people to go, even if they had the means to go?” he said.
At the same time, Jones said it is necessary that islands like Jamaica look at their own internal systems to ensure they can efficiently absorb funds once received.
“We have to position ourselves to access the money, but then we have to ensure that we have systems in place so that we spend the funds effectively,” she cautioned.