Caribbean countries at risk from rising seas

New reports predicting a 3 to 4 feet increase in the global mean sea level by the end of the century is causing increasing concern in the Caribbean.

For countries like the Cayman Islands that already face flooding in some areas during heavy rainfall, Nick Robson, founder of the Cayman Institute, an independent think tank addressing climate change, said rising sea levels coupled with more intense hurricanes, and increased wave action equals disaster.

‘It is going to happen,’ he said.

‘An extra six inch rise in sea level and storm surge, it’s disastrous immediate damage.’

Mr. Robson said that people are finally starting to understand just how dire the situation could get, if action is not taken, adding:

‘The message is getting through. It’s about survival.’

It’s a sentiment that is likely to be expressed throughout a global summit in Denmark in December. Rising sea levels and renewed cries for countries to enhance and or create mitigation and adaptation strategies will be the driving force as members of the international community negotiate a new climate treaty and set new emissions goals.

The National Climate Change Adaptation Working Group is working with the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre to create a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for the Cayman Islands.

Spearheaded by the Department of Environment the document will identify key risks to these islands, focusing primarily on the tourism sector, and prioritise the actions necessary to manage those risks.

The assessment will cover coastal setback regulations, building codes, beach erosion, water treatment facilities, infrastructure, drainage systems, and other aspects.

The information will go a long way in opening the eyes of government and the community but the DoE would like it to go further.

‘What would be ideal is have a Stern-type report produced for the Cayman Islands,’ said Lisa Hurlston-McKenzie, DoE’s Sustainable Development Unit Manager.

‘This would put a dollar figure on what the impact is going to be from climate change, and what the cost of inaction or delayed action might be compared to implementing adaptation options in the near future,’ she said.

‘The damage assessment from hurricane Ivan alone gives an idea of what more intense hurricanes associated with climate change may mean for these islands economically,’ added Ms Hurlston-McKenzie

Director for the Department of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie noted that the National strategy document is just the beginning.

‘DoE can’t do it alone, we need members of the community to engage in the discussion and for the media to produce responsible reports and help us get the message out, and that message is it’s really important that we not lose sight of climate change and the impact of climate change in the decisions we take today,’ she said.

Ms Ebanks-Petrie is particularly concerned that with all the current talk of development stimulus, officials may lose site of the big picture and forget to take into account the impact climate change will have on new development and infrastructure.

‘We need to get to the point that the environment is not seen as an add-on or something considered when it’s convenient. Equal weight needs to be given to economic, social, and environmental issues,’ she said.

Currently most policy making and planning does not incorporate global warming into the decision process.

Ms Ebanks-Petrie believes a proper legislation framework like the Conservation Bill now before the Legislative assembly would change that.

‘Making sensible decisions now will prevent costly and or irreparable mistakes in the future’.