Climate change threatens Cayman

The eyes of the world will centre on Copenhagen in December when the United Nations conference on climate change takes place.

The goal of the conference is to come up with a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a treaty limiting carbon emissions.

Cayman’s National Weather Service Director Fred Sambula isn’t likely to be at COP 15, as the Copenhagen conference is called, but he knows what’s at stake.

‘Climate change is the next big thing that will affect humanity and its survival,’ he said. ‘Climate change is upon us and it’s little island nations like the Cayman Islands that are going to be affected the most, even though we contribute [carbon emissions] the least,’ he said.

Mr. Sambula heard all about climate change when he attended the World Climate Conference-3 in Geneva from 31 August to 4 September as a delegate of the British Caribbean Territories. His trip was coordinated through the Caribbean Meteorological Organization, with funding by the World Meteorological Organization.

One of the first speakers at that conference was former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, who called for an agreement coming out of COP 15 that would be ‘universal, radical and binding’.

‘If it is to be both fair and effective, it must also have the principle of climate justice at its heart,’ Mr. Annan said.

The concept of climate justice resonated with Mr. Sambula.

‘If we don’t seek to control emissions, we are creating climate injustice for future generations,’ he said.

World Climate Conference-3, which followed similar conferences in 1979 and 1990, was convened by the World Meteorological Organisation, the same body that first raised the issue of climate change and global warming.

‘The WMO alerted with world in 1976 with an authoritative statement that there was an accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere and that it had potential impacts,’ Mr. Sambula said. ‘Original forecasts on the impacts of climate change are different that what we’re seeing. Things are changing a lot more rapidly than expected.’

Mr. Sambula heard the concerned words of current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had just visited the Arctic prior to speaking during the last day of the conference.

‘I witnessed the sober reality of change with my own eyes,’ Mr. Ban said. ‘The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. It may be virtually ice-free by 2030.’

Changes in the Arctic are accelerating global climate change, Mr. Ban warned.

‘Instead of reflecting heat, the Arctic is absorbing it as the sea ice diminishes, thus speeding up global warming,’ he said. ‘Methane, trapped in permafrost and on the seabed, is escaping into the atmosphere.’

Mr. Ban explained that methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

‘Increased melt from the Greenland icecap threatens to raise sea levels and alter the flow of the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe warm,’ he said. ‘Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading towards the abyss.’

Mr. Sambula believes the threat is real.

‘Climate change is something every government needs to take seriously,’ he said, noting that he is aware of the theories that global warming and climate change are just a myth.

‘There are detractors that probably have agendas,’ he said. ‘There are also 400 scientists around the world, 200 authors and nearly 2,000 reviewers who accept [global warming]. When one entity comes and says they’re opposing all of this, who do you think I’m going to listen to?’

Mr. Sambula said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conducts sound climate science.

‘[Science] has shown there is climate variability, that there are short-term variations in climate conditions,’ he admitted. ‘There are periods of climate variations. But when you look at the long-term picture… you’ll see very dramatically there is a shift from where we use to be.

‘If we don’t do something, it could affect the sustainability of human life and of our planet. Any sensible person can weigh the information and arrive at a reasonable conclusion.’

Mr. Sambula said the Cayman Islands would be vulnerable to rising sea levels and that some island nations are feeling the effects right now.

‘The Maldives are already seeing islands going under water,’ he said.

The statement coming out of the World Climate Conference-3 called for a global framework for climate services to address the issue, with the free and unrestricted exchange of climate data.

Mr. Sambula said that unlike many aspects of governments, national meteorologists are usually good at sharing information with their counterparts in other countries.

‘We work together,’ he said. ‘Weather respects no boundaries. Weather doesn’t need a visa to come into your country. What is in my front yard today can be in your front yard tomorrow.’

Mr. Sambula said there is a need for countries to look at the threats of climate change from an integrated viewpoint and for policy decisions to be made using available scientific data.

‘Every country needs to make sure science is taken into account when they are undertaking long-term development,’ he said, explaining, for instance, that the science relating to rising sea levels could cause the Cayman Islands to change its planning laws with relation to building on waterfront properties.

Mr. Sambula said mitigation against climate change was not a one-agency, one entity or one person issue.

‘It’s everybody,’ he said. ‘No one agency will have the solution. Everyone has to play a part.’

Educating the public about the consequences of climate change and what people could do on a personal level to mitigate the problem was a key to the World Meteorological Organization’s strategy, Mr. Samubla said.

‘It is important to bring the science down to where it informs every member of society,’ he said. ‘We need to become a little more conscious that we are vulnerable and start to seriously think about how we can mitigate and utilise the various scientific institutions to gather the requisite information.’