The 2017 hurricane season is slowly winding down in the Caribbean and the prediction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that ‘the season has the potential to be extremely active’ has been realized.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have left millions of dollars in devastation along with unprecedented loss of life. Complete recovery in the impacted islands is expected to take years to return to normalcy. The magnitude of these hurricanes brought to the fore the debate about climate change and global warming and their impact on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as Barbados.
Whatever your private philosophy on global warming, climate change is now an economic development issue for our country and we must address it. Barbados depends on tourism heavily; it is one of our major income earners and a source of employment for a significant portion of our population. We welcome approximately one million visitors each year, and it accounts for 12 per cent of GDP.
Our major attractions are still the sun, sea, and sand. The rising sea levels due to climate change are eroding the beaches. Indeed, a World Bank study showed that a one metre rise in sea level could annihilate 60 per cent of our beaches. This is a serious concern as it directly affects our product.
Moreover, even when Barbados is not impacted directly by any of the hurricanes, we were still affected. Case in point, at least one cruise ship has dropped Barbados from its itinerary for the 2017-2018 tourist season citing damage to harbours in other islands.
This is an issue that we will have to contend with now and many years into the future, and while we saw it coming a long way off, we have arguably not made enough preparations to deal with our new realities. It is, however, doubtful that we can continue in this vein as the social, environmental, and economic impact of climate change on our tourism product is anticipated to be of considerable magnitude in the long-term.
Given our small geographic area, relative isolation from other islands, and exposure to the elements, the difficulties that all SIDS face in effectively coping with climate change impacts are exacerbated. This results in our infrastructures being overly susceptible to environmental catastrophes with commensurate economic fallout from disasters such as these. I
In September 2010, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was already of the view that “Adaptation to climate change remains the key priority for SIDS. At the same time, activities which reduce fossil fuel dependency and increase electricity services are vital for SIDS to meet their sustainable development objectives, especially on energy security.”
Barbados has traditionally been a leader in the advancement and implementation of ideas for the development of small open economies even though recently we have been slipping and are now rated poorly by various agencies. We can regain our place in the sun with proactive measures for climate change mitigation.
Now there is more urgency in the paradigm shift, as we need to develop innovative ways to reduce annual expenditure on oil and petroleum products, as well as ways to avoid over reliance on the volatile tourist industry. It is time to develop an anticipatory approach.
With a mandate to care for our environment, encourage innovation in the area of renewable energy, and create jobs, the United Progressive Party (UPP) is committed to taking an integrated approach to nurturing a green economy. Barbados can move to 100 per cent renewable energy by the year 2030. Our vision for a sustainable economy embraces all these areas. Supporting we must focus on research and development of new systems and technologies; this means new middle class jobs in the renewable energy industry for educated Barbadians.
Our framework for mitigating the effects of climate change must include building designs to withstand hurricanes, and a retrofit code for protecting existing buildings. This translates directly to job opportunities for engineers and contractors. Buildings should generate and use clean, reliable and affordable electricity.
The sun is the single most important source of renewable energy and Barbados is blessed with sunshine all year. Barbadians are pioneers in this field so it is an obvious choice for starting any energy programme. The government and regulatory authorities must facilitate increased investment in green energy by enacting or amending legislation that allows ordinary persons who install and use photovoltaic cells to integrate easily with the national electric grid and regularize a credits system for those users.
Another sector that would greatly benefit from a shift to clean energy is transportation. Not only should we facilitate importation of more energy efficient vehicles but we must seek to manufacture such vehicles for the local and regional market. Additionally, we support lower carbon transportation by improving the efficiency of vehicles in our publicly owned fleet and by making strategic investments in zero-emission vehicles wherever we can.
This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Barbados needs to find the political will and earmark resources to implement serious changes to our energy policy and how we prepare to respond to hurricanes. Presently, much time is being squandered while the changes to our environment continue at an inexorable pace.