At a time when Barbados is wrapped up domestically in economic turbulence and political manoeuvrings, some of our officials and their Caribbean colleagues are on the other side of the globe in Bonn, Germany lobbying for decisive action on what is undoubtedly a looming threat to our survival – climate change.
While some who should know better have sought to trump the issue as a “hoax” even in the face of scientific and practical evidence, there’s hardly a Barbadian or Caribbean national who is not convinced of the damning reality in light of the brutal lessons hurricanes Irma and Maria inflicted on our neighbours in the northern Caribbean a mere two months ago.
As the Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who has been leading his country out of the morass resulting from a Category 5 Maria, said today:
“I hope you never hear the howl of the wind at 270 kilometres per hour. It is like a hundred thousand voices screaming for help. Your instinct is to rush outside to help and you have to scream at yourself not to,” he told those gathered for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
But as Mr Skerrit, also highlighted, it wasn’t the wind that defeated Dominica, but the water.
“Water came down from the heavens. Water leaped up from the sea. Water rose from the rivers bursting their banks. Water crashed down the mountains, bringing an avalanche of mud and debris that killed.
“Over 500 millimetres of rain fell that night. Five hundred. That is the kind of rainfall that can drown you,” he warned in outlining the stark reality of climate change for this region.
Long before the unprecedented disaster that was Hurricane Maria, severe droughts, unusually hot days, sea surge, unpredictable weather patterns, coastal damage and the like signalled that climate change was not an esoteric issue for our small island developing states.
In fact, climate change is an issue which this region has every reason to shout about, given the caution that has already been sounded by experts from the University of the West Indies Climate Studies Group at Mona Campus that by the end of the current century, the Caribbean will warm a further two to three degrees Celsius over the one degree Celsius already seen in the last century.
They further predict that annual rainfall amounts will decrease by up to 40 per cent, posing a significant challenge to already water-stressed islands. Projections are also for a sea level rise of between one to two metres, far exceeding the rise already recorded.
Given all that we already know and have experienced, should we continue to bury our heads in the sand?
Our small islands are already bearing the brunt of climate change, a crippling and costly phenomenon.
Take Dominica’s mounting losses from Hurricane Maria, estimated at 225 per cent of its gross domestic product.
According to Mr Skerrit, the island will need close to US$400 million to rebuild homes, schools, clinics and key sectors, while his Antiguan counterpart Gaston Browne has estimated that it will cost between US$250-$300 million to revive the now abandoned sister island of Barbuda.
The Caribbean’s presence in Bonn this week is therefore imperative.
As a united regional bloc, not only must we intensify the pressure on developed countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to lower global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius for our countries to survive, but we must also drive home the message that climate change is not of our own doing. Therefore, it is only right and fair that those fuelling the problem should foot the bill to help us mitigate the effects and build resilience.
The Caribbean can ill afford to be locked in an endless cycle of ‘mash up and build back’.
However, our fight against climate change must not be limited to the actions of our leaders on the international stage.
At home, we have much to do and as a people we must generally be more proactive.
Climate change, its effects and our response must drive our development agenda.
Simple actions can make a world of difference.
Barbados, a known pioneer for solar energy, must speed up the shift from electricity generated by fossil fuels to alternative solar and wind energy systems. As a water-scarce nation, we have to carefully assess our resources and devise a plan of action for harvesting and maintaining a safe supply of water.
Closer attention must also be paid to how we build, when we build, where we build and what we build.
Barbadians too must be educated on how their lifestyles, including the bad practice of indiscriminate dumping hurts the environment.
After seeing what hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and the other super storms this season have done to our neighbours, it cannot be business as usual.
The effects of climate change are all too real. We all must do more to reverse the process before it’s too late.