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Caribbean to focus on climate change

Bert Wilkinson | 1/9/2014, 11:57 a.m.

As an editorial in the Jamaica Gleaner put it recently, fate dealt a cruel blow to some of the smaller island nations in the Eastern Caribbean when heavier than usual December rains caused havoc in the region, killing nearly a dozen people, triggering mudslides and floods and causing general mayhem for thousands.

Weather forecasters blamed a low-level trough for the Christmas Eve rains that devastated islands such as St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica, but leaders like St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves quickly pointed the international community to what they charged were clear illustrations of how global warming and climate change affect one of the most geographically vulnerable regions in the world.

Perhaps luckily for nations in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), from the beginning of this month, Gonsalves became the six-month rotating chairman of the 15-nation grouping and pledged almost immediately to let the world know that the region is threatened by a real phenomenon called climate change. He plans to make a lot of noise for those who haven’t heard of or don’t believe in the concept.

“The big issue is global warming, climate change. We are having systems affecting us outside of the normal rainy season and the normal hurricane season. There are lots of monies which countries talk about for adaptation and mitigation to climate change. But I haven’t seen the money yet, and we have to use our diplomacy as a region, and we have to be aggressive with our [Caribbean Community] Climate Change Centre in Belize,” he said as his island tries to recover from one of its worst natural disasters in recent memory.

In the past two years, world leaders have not traveled to Mexico or any world capital to debate the issue at any depth, as was the case at previous December climate change talks. However, it is one of the most critical issues for the region.

Experts have argued that if global temperatures surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius, it would constitute virtual death for the region, hence CARICOM’s mantra of “1.5 to stay alive.”

Still, Gonsalves argues that as a geographic grouping, the Caribbean does not contribute much to global warming or climate change, if any at all, noting that the larger metropoles are the ones who dump tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“We are on the front line. This is an issue which is big,” he said.

The plan to ramp up the climate change debate and bring attention to the plight of the grouping of mostly island nations—which run from Guyana and Suriname on South America’s coast to as far north as the Bahamas and Belize—comes as experts complain about warmer than usual sea water destroying dozens of coral reefs in the region in recent years.

There are also fears that sea level rises could be catastrophic for CARICOM, as most of the region’s tourism infrastructure, hotels, resorts, support structures and even state offices are situated on beachfronts and could be rendered useless if Arctic ice continues to melt at the rate scientists believe it is melting.