Adopt a culture of readiness in tackling climate change
By University of The Bahamas, Office of University Relations
Oct 15, 2020 - 5:52:31 PM
Nassau, The Bahamas — A culture of preparedness is the key component in any viable climate action plan for The Bahamas, according to an environmental advocate, who argues that The Bahamas must increase its preparedness to play the long game and adopt a “prevention is better than cure” mentality to thwart an existential threat.
“The ultimate goal is to create a culture of preparedness for climate change so we can decrease our vulnerabilities and build capacity to mitigate negative impacts from events, not just a culture of preparedness to respond post-disaster when we have already lost what we know could have been protected,” said Kelli Ashley Armstrong, Project Manager at BRON Limited. “The former is adaptation.”
Climate action is a critical issue for The Bahamas as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) as these countries and territories pay the heaviest toll for climate change. Climate change is caused by the rapid increase of greenhouse gases—the majority of which are carbon dioxide (CO2) gases—in the atmosphere, principally from the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuel combustion for energy consumption is the main source of these emissions, with additional contributions from agriculture, deforestation, and industrial processes.
The University of The Bahamas’ (UB) Government and Public Policy Institute (GPPI) has been increasing the national dialogue about climate action as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of a grant awarded by the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to engage local policymakers, civil society, the private sector, academia and the public on SDGs 6, 7, 13, 14 and 15.
Ms. Armstrong posited that any war on climate change in which The Bahamas is engaged will have to be focused on remedying one core issue – fossil fuel combustion – and diversifying the country’s energy solutions.
“The result of these fossil fuel emissions and the overuse of them is an accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases building up into the atmosphere,” said Ms. Armstrong. “So we have a natural greenhouse gas layer that protects the earth, but due to our extensive use of fossil fuels, we are attributing an anthropogenic impact of climate change to the global system, and that is causing the world to enhance global warming.”
According to some experts, if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, seasonal temperatures are expected to increase about 1.7 degrees Celsius. Most models project a modest increase in hurricane intensity and maximum winds to increase by two to 13 percent over the next century, which could mean the difference between a Category 3 and a Category 5 hurricane. Rainfall levels could also increase by 10 to 31 percent, another major problem given that most areas in The Bahamas are less than 27 feet above sea level.
Warmer atmospheric temperatures coupled with longer periods of drought are also predicted to occur. Local meteorologist Mr. Wayne Neely said recently that 19th April, 2020 was the warmest maximum temperature on record for the month of April at 94.1 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the World Meteorological Organization, July of 2019 was the warmest July on record. The summer of 2015, which ended on September 23rd of that year, ended as the hottest in 135 years of recorded data. Additionally, 1983 to 2013 was the warmest 30-year period in 1,400 years, and 13 of those 15 years all occurred since 2000.
“So right now our novel hurricane season, which is June to November, we experience our summer months when our ocean tends to be warm or at its warmest on a regular basis,” Ms. Armstrong pointed out. “But now we’re seeing more extreme heat days, so that’s just not based on our atmospheric temperatures but also our ocean temperatures, and therefore our hurricanes are stronger, therefore we suffer more severe impacts.”
She also noted that while there is a trend in the frequency and severity of hurricanes and impacts from hurricanes, it is technically incorrect to attribute a single cataclysmic event, like Hurricane Dorian for example, to climate change. That is because climate change is best exemplified by the frequency of abnormal weather patterns, she said.
“So if we say Hurricane Dorian itself is attributed to climate change, that would be incorrect, because Hurricane Dorian is a single event,” Mrs. Armstrong explained. “We’ve always had extreme weather events. However, the frequency of the characteristics of that particular storm, we’re seeing more often. So that itself, is climate change.”
The frequency of severe weather anomalies is why taking climate action is critically important, Ms. Armstrong urged, and the best way to do that is by following through with recommendations for national policies and plans that have already been prescribed by previously executed government and civil society projects. Those projects would have involved studies that considered SDG 13 targets, some implicitly, some explicitly, she said.
Leveraging the country’s connections with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) could also be integral to the fight.
“We often hear the argument that The Bahamas does not fight our battles from a position of strength,” she said. “As a SIDS, The Bahamas is a member of both CARICOM and AOSIS. These groups have a wealth of knowledge that can benefit us as it relates to issues of economic sustainability, as well as disaster/climate risk management, but for whatever reason we do not effectively tap into this bank. We all have inherent vulnerabilities to climate change that position us as beneficiaries for climate funds and financed projects to increase resilience, yet The Bahamas does not seem to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded.”
Ms. Armstrong explained that while there are many useful sources of climate-related data and information, there is little standardization regarding how, when or where records are collected. Additionally, she said The Bahamas is currently unequipped to accurately report on national sea level rise statistics because it does have a national vertical datum or the proposed weather and metocean data instrument network.
“These need to be established so the data can help us develop more resilience to climate variability and climate change,” she explained. “Without proper zoning and access for various infrastructure and community types, we will never fully recover from the increasingly frequent impacts of climate-related disasters.”
She also proposed the establishing a standardised system that would allow for the project reports compiled by the relevant professionals to be archived in a publicly accessible government repository is one way researchers and government representatives can perform assessments and identify local trends that would enable a more efficient response to climate change issues.
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