The past five years have been the hottest in history, and 2019 is shaping up to be the sixth, a St Lucian former government minister has predicted, warning the region to act now to mitigate its consequences of rising global temperatures.
St Lucian Dr James Fletcher, a former minister for sustainable development who now heads a Castries-based consulting firm made the comments came as he addressed the topic of Climate Change in the Caribbean at the launch of the 2019 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change Report in the Caribbean at the Radisson Aquatica Hotel this morning.
Fletcher started his presentation with sobering statistics. He said: “The months between July, August, September and October 2019 were recorded as the hottest of those particular months in history.
“Earlier this week, Australia recorded its hottest ever day, and this is the first time in history that there has been no snow in Moscow in Russia at this time of the year.
“Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the rest of the world, and a recent report stated that in Greenland, the ice is melting now at a rate scientists predicted would not have happened until 2070.”
Apart from the well-documented forest fires in Australia and California, Africa and South America are also experiencing similar phenomena, he added.
Spelling out what rising sea levels could mean for the Caribbean, he said: “If sea levels rise by one metre, the Caribbean would lose 1,300 square kilometres of its land space, equivalent to Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Anguilla.
“It would displace 110,000 people, destroy 149 tourist resorts, most of which are on the coast of our islands, five powerplants, 21 airports in the CARICOM region, and 567 square kilometres of roads.
“A two-metre rise will result in the loss of 3,000 square kilometres of landmass, 31 airports, 233 resorts and will displace 260,000 residents.
In addition, it will also destroy the groundwater supply since it would become brackish and unclean for people to use, and the sea will become more acidic, leading to the death of coral reefs and the fish and shellfish which depend on them.
“It is also predicted that with this state of affairs, between 2030 and 2050 some 250,000 more people will die from non-communicable diseases, and by the end of this century, one million people in India will die from heat-related illnesses.”
He stated that mosquito-borne illnesses tended to increase with warmer temperatures, as well as mental health issues.
“Mosquitoes tend to bite more when it is warmer, so illnesses like malaria, and in this region, dengue and chikungunya will become more prevalent,” said Fletcher.
“In terms of mental health, I worked in Dominica for six months after Hurricane Maria passed, and people got anxious every time they heard about weather systems heading their way.
“Presently, owing to the weather, farmers in St. Lucia have to stop work at certain times of the year because they are not getting enough water to nourish their crops, which of course affects their ability to support their families.
“All of the islands in the Caribbean, including the ones further south and ‘off the traditional hurricane path’ like Trinidad and Tobago, are vulnerable to extreme weather events now”.
Fletcher identified a number of solutions to mitigate the impact of these events on the Caribbean, both physically and regarding health care.
He said: “We must establish early warning systems, as studies have found that an investment of one dollar in an early warning system can prevent nine dollars in destruction from a natural disaster.”
He continued: “We must climate-proof our health care facilities because you cannot evacuate patients during a storm, and doctors and nurses need to be on hand to assist them, so these facilities should be properly built so they are safe under these conditions.
“We should also ensure electricity supplies are available to help those with chronic non-communicable diseases since insulin supplies must be kept at the correct temperature and to power the dialysis machines.”
He also called for greater training in physical and psychological first aid, especially the latter, for which he said, “We underestimate the trauma people go through on a psychological level after these incidents.”
Urging changes in diet, Fletcher said: “We can start by eating less meat because the methane gas livestock emit from their waste is one of the contributors to greenhouse gases.
“It will also be wise to buy more locally produced items because they will have a lower carbon footprint than items imported via sea or air from China or elsewhere in the world.
“The Caribbean is one of the most vulnerable regions to the effects of greenhouse gases even though it only produces one-sixth of one per cent of all the greenhouse gases in the world.
“Right now, the world is on track for a three-degree increase in temperatures by 2100, which will ‘completely mess up’ the Caribbean.
“Climate change will have an impact on every single child born at this time, so we should start using the funds available globally to tackle climate change as soon as possible.”