It has been more than 15 years since ‘Ivan the Terrible’ devastated our territory, leaving 70% of Grand Cayman flooded and exacting $2.8 billion in damages – or 183% of the gross domestic product at the time.
Category 5 hurricanes are powerful reminders of our vulnerability to Mother Nature. Within hours, they can destroy progress that took years or generations to secure, claiming lives, homes and entire communities.
They force us to re-evaluate, rebuild and rethink how we develop.
Since Ivan, nearly a dozen other Category 5 storms in the Caribbean have inflicted similar destruction in communities much like our own – small, often low-lying islands, with few natural protections, other than their diminishing reef and mangrove ecosystems.
Some of these islands, like Dominica and the British Virgin Islands, have responded with renewed commitments and financing mechanisms to respond to the threats of climate change.
Cayman, however, has met the topic with stops and starts. Our jurisdiction still lacks a comprehensive climate change policy, despite past efforts and certain strides made through the National Energy Policy.
A never-implemented, draft climate policy warned Cayman nine years ago that while Caribbean countries contribute less than 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, they are among the communities that stand to lose the most in climate change projections. Rising sea levels, coastal erosion and higher storm surges threaten Caribbean lives and economies.
Renewed political interest
Recent actions by government, however, have hinted at renewed political interest. Governor Martyn Roper and Premier Alden McLaughlin have met to discuss climate initiatives, and a private members’ motion to address climate change met with unanimous approval in the Legislative Assembly on 31 Jan.
Cayman’s young people have also emerged as a powerful force and have succeeded in driving much of the conversation around issues such as plastic pollution and environmental degradation.
The voices of climate change and science deniers seem to have grown fainter, but still, the doubt they cast persists.
What if we create a Cayman with more resilient infrastructure, cleaner beaches and more environmentally friendly development, and the doom-and-gloom predictions of climate change never culminate?
Such a scenario would, in fact, be the most favourable outcome. But it would be foolish of us to ignore the warnings of climate scientists and jeopardise our long-term development.
Cayman stands to lose nothing when we invest in the foundation of our islands: the environment that sustains us and which drives the second pillar of our economy, tourism.
The call to protect our environment is enshrined in the Cayman Islands Constitution. This foundational document establishes a duty to limit pollution and ecological degradation, promote conservation and biodiversity, and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources.
Section 18 of the Bill of Rights reads: “Government shall, in all its decisions, have due regard to the need to foster and protect an environment that is not harmful to the health or well-being of present and future generations, while promoting justifiable economic and social development.”
For the month of March, the Compass Issues section will explore climate change from a Caymanian perspective. What does science tell us about our risks as Caribbean islands? What are our leaders in the public and private sectors doing to respond? What role does Cayman play in the larger picture?
Climate change poses many questions and while we will not be able to answer them all in the confines of this newspaper, we hope to encourage a conversation that appears to be gaining momentum.