“A 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature would be a ‘death sentence’ for island and coastal communities”, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley said during a powerful speech at the World Leaders Summit on the second day of the 26th UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow.
Mottley highlighted how failure to provide critical climate finance to small island developing states (SIDS) at the frontline of climate change is measured in the lives and livelihoods of their communities. She urged world leaders to increase ambitions and “try harder”.
Although some of the least contributors to the climate crisis, the SIDS are particularly vulnerable to its impacts and face unique challenges due to their size, location and exposure to natural hazards. The worsening impacts of climate change could result in nation islands becoming uninhabitable. In the Caribbean, the increase of global temperatures would result in longer dry seasons, warmer temperatures and sea-level rise.
The science behind Mottey’s statement is clear. Here are some key notes from the latest 6th IPCC Assessment report on how climate change is impacting the Caribbean:
Changes in precipitation:
- There has been a decrease in rainfall during boreal summer in the Caribbean and will likely continue in coming decades.
- Fewer but more intense tropical cyclones are projected starting from a 2°C global warming levels, causing extreme precipitation leading to flooding in the small islands has been attributed in part to tropical cyclones, as well as being influenced by ENSO.
- Observed and projected rainfall trends vary spatially across the Small Islands, and there is a lack of evidence showing changes in heavy precipitation overall, for example increases in extreme precipitation have been observed in Tobago from 1985–2015 but it is not a uniform observation.
- Higher evapotranspiration can be expected under a warming climate and can partially offset future increases or amplify future reductions in rainfall resulting in increased aridity as well as more severe agricultural and ecological drought in Small Islands.
- Most Small Islands have warmed over the period of instrumental records, and further increases are foreseen, a synonym of an increase heat stress.
- An increasing trend in the maximum daytime heat index is also noted in the Caribbean during the 1980–2014 period, as well as more extreme heat events since 1991.
- Warm spell conditions will occur up to half the year in the Caribbean at 1.5°C GWL with an additional 70 days at 2°C, with livestock temperature-humidity tolerance thresholds increasingly surpassed.
Sea level rise:
- Continued relative sea level rise is very likely in the ocean around Small Islands and, along with storm surges and waves, will exacerbate coastal inundation with the potential to increase saltwater intrusion into aquifers in small islands. Shoreline retreat is projected along sandy coasts of most small islands.
- Mean Relative Sea Level Rise projections vary widely, from 0.4 m–0.6 m under SSP1-RCP2.6 to 0.7 m–1.6m under SSP5-RCP8.5 for 2081–2100 relative to 1995–2014.
- In Caribbean islands, sandy shorelines are projected to retreat by about 80 m by 2050 and more than 100m by 2100.
On this last point, it is important to understand that sensitivity of small islands and coastal areas to increased sea level differs between emission scenarios and regionally, which is why SIDS require the support for local processes to generate projections of sea level influences at local scales.
How is the IDB supporting small islands in the Caribbean?
As part of the IDB’s Vision 2025 to promote a sustainable recovery in the region, the Bank is supporting SIDS in the region in a variety of ways and looks forward to innovating based on country demand for a more resilient Caribbean. Some examples here:
- The IDB recently joined the Alliance for Hydromet Development with the World Meteorological Organization which will foster access to multi-hazard early warning systems, climate services, and underdeveloped data collection measures with a specific focus in the Caribbean region.
- In the Bahamas, will boost resilient and inclusive growth to promote business continuity and competitiveness of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) as well as their Blue Economy environmental resiliency. The IDB is supporting these efforts with a $140 million loan.
- The Build Forward Initiative is $3.5 billion multi-year program to help Caribbean countries achieve a sustainable recovery. The initiative aims to provide advisory services and work with countries to implement national investment plans, project banks and project prototypes. It will also provide better infrastructure services and technological advances for all citizens.
COP26 must provide a bold answer to loss and damage. Quoting once more Prime Minister Mottley, “Code Red”, an increase of 1.5C degrees still implies the disappearance of land which is in fact a threat to communities. Bold and concrete action cannot wait.
Photo: Adobe Stock