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Caribbean Community Climate Change

In 2017, the Caribbean felt the full brunt of climate change with a warning that current trends indicate that there will be no respite. Within a two-week period, Hurricanes Irma and Maria brought home the reality of the impact of climate change as they churned their way across the Lesser Antilles destroying everything in their paths. Hurricane Harvey had in August set the stage for what was to come; with devastation in Houston, Texas, amounting to nearly US$200billion.

“The unprecedented nature of this climatic event highlights the unusual nature of weather patterns that continue to affect nations across the globe,” the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Secretary General Irwin LaRocque said in a message to United States President Donald Trump, as Harvey made landfall in the United States after whipping up strong winds and heavy rains in the Caribbean.

It took less than a month for his statement to bear fruit. Hurricanes Irma and Maria, two Category 5 storms left so many Caribbean islands devastated in September that the Caricom Chairman and Grenada's Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell said “there can be no question that for us in the Caribbean, climate change is an existential threat”.

The Caribbean region is one of the most threatened by the phenomenon known as climate change. Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it affects the foundations on which these territoriea are built. Through various impacts to natural resources, increases in severe weather events and disease, sea level rise and more, climate change will have serious consequences for the economy, way of life, health and wellness.

The percentage of days in the Caribbean region having very warm maximum or minimum temperatures has increased considerably since the 1950s, while the percentage of days with cold temperatures has decreased.

Many islands across the Caribbean are experiencing generally drier conditions, but more episodes of heavier rain events resulting in flooding. Records show that the frequency of droughts has “increased significantly” since 1960 and flood events have increased since the mid 1990s. From October 2009 to at least May 2010, the majority of Caribbean islands experienced severe drought, the worst ever seen in many cases.

Over the period 1990-2004 compared to the period 1975-1989, the number of categories 4 and 5 storms in the South-West Pacific has more than doubled. While the trend has not been as strong in the Caribbean basin, there has been an increase in hurricane activity since 1995 compared to the 1981-2000 baseline, with all except two Atlantic hurricane seasons having above normal activity.

The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (5C's) has identified climate change as the most serious threat to sustainable development in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) region. Currently, economic growth in the Caribbean continues to be hindered and constrained by the effects of hurricanes and other extreme weather events. In the longer run, rising sea levels, and the concomitant rise in storm surge levels, will require huge investments in protection, relocation, and adaptation of economic infrastructure located on the coastlines.

Hurricanes in the Caribbean are a major source of macroeconomic vulnerability. Intense hurricanes can cause damages that wipe out an entire year of GDP output, leaving countries with a fractured infrastructure, thousands of people affected, and governments scrambling to put together the necessary resources to finance emergency assistance and relief, recovery, and reconstruction.

The Caribbean is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to natural disasters. In particular, to disasters caused by tropical cyclones; 15 Caribbean islands are in the top-25 positions of most tropical cyclone disasters per km2, and another 7 rank in the top-50.

Climate change induced droughts, floods, extreme weather events, sea level rise, storm surges, warming air and sea surface temperatures, and ocean acidification are predicted to worsen in the coming decades, contributing to food and water shortages, increases in diseases, damage to economic infrastructure, and degradation of natural resources upon which livelihoods depend. Adapting to the impacts of climate change is essential for national security, sustainable development and community well-being in the Caribbean.

In recent years, the region has experienced more severe drought conditions, reducing the amount of fresh water available for drinking and agriculture, and increasing the frequency and severity of bush fires. Sea level is predicted to rise by up to four feet this century, increasing damage to coastal infrastructure and communities from flooding and storm surges.

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