When people think of the Caribbean, it’s the turquoise seas, clean beaches, coral reefs teeming with fish, turtles and balmy breezes that come to mind.
For us, this paradise is what we call home. We depend upon its riches for sustenance and, often, to make a living. It is the origin of much of the pride we feel when we say we are from the Caribbean.
Increasingly however, the reality does not live up to expectations—we may arrive at the seashore to find it covered with sargassum, the water cloudy and brown, and the horizon covered in trash; the coral reefs may look faded and tired and with barely enough fish to count on one hand…
For visitors, what version of the paradise they may find is becoming unpredictable and some may never return, depending on their experience.
For locals, it’s a different matter—as seafood prices go up and children develop rashes after swimming in the ocean, and as houses flood after each storm and tourists turn their backs on the islands, the paradise is increasingly looking less idyllic.
Sounding a wake-up call to protect the reefs
More than 100 million people in the wider Caribbean region live on, or near the coast in a complex ecosystem with the highest number of marine species in the Atlantic Ocean.
Shallow-water coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, lagoons, estuaries and beaches as well as coral banks and rocky outcrops in deep waters together make up the coral reef sub-ecosystem, the richest in biodiversity in the wider Caribbean region.
Almost 10 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are found in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, and 45 per cent of the fish species and 25 per cent of the coral species are found nowhere else in the world. With an area of 10,429 square kilometres of mangrove forest, the adjacent North Brazil Shelf has the highest mangrove coverage of any large marine ecosystem.
This wide ecosystem supports three of the region’s major fisheries—reef fish, spiny lobster and conch—and is the foundation of the region’s tourism industry. Coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds also play an important part in coastal and shoreline protection under normal sea conditions as well as during hurricanes and tropical storms.
A 2016 study by the World Bank put the economic value of the Caribbean Sea alone at US$407 billion per year. Yet this precious ecosystem is at the heart of competing economic and social demands as well as natural stresses and threats.
Pollution from activities on land and at sea degrades and destroys the reef. Many once-abundant species are now threatened or endangered.
Hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more severe, resulting in great destruction and loss of lives, leaving both the coastline and local communities more vulnerable to future shocks.
A strategy to keep it pristine
Since 1981, UN Environment’s Caribbean Environment Programme has been working with the region’s national governments to better manage and use coastal and marine resources.
Following the establishment, in 1983, of the Cartagena Convention—the only legally binding agreement for the protection of the Caribbean Sea—the programme has relentlessly worked to gain acceptance of, and agreement upon, three protocols or agreements to combat oil spills [the Oil Spills Protocol] coastal and marine biodiversity [the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol] and pollution [the Land Based Sources of Marine Pollution Protocol] among its 28 member states and 14 territories.
As a result of the analysis of the wider Caribbean region conducted between 2007 and 2011 by the joint United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility’s Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem Project (2009–2014), the coral reef sub-ecosystem was given priority in a regional strategy to address transboundary problems that compromise the ability of the Caribbean Sea and the region’s living marine resources to support social and ecological well-being and resilience.
In the last two years, the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol, together with the Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems Project 2015–2020, published the Report on the State of Marine Habitats in the Wider Caribbean, which then became the basis for the Regional Strategy and Action Plan for the Valuation, Protection and/or Restoration of Key Marine Habitats in the Wider Caribbean 2021–2030. The strategy recommends a series of measures to support the people, economies and ecology of the region, targeting coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds in particular.
Using an integrated approach, participating governments and stakeholders from academia, civil society, the private sector, and regional and global agencies are working together to enhance management and conservation of the coral reef sub-ecosystem in support of sustainable development.
UN Environment’s Caribbean Environment Programme, as Secretariat of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol, has been working to revamp the Caribbean Marine Protected Areas Managers Network and establish a regional wildlife enforcement network, in efforts to improve marine biodiversity management. Assisting the region and its countries in co-executing the strategic action plan is another important step in this direction. The Caribbean Environment Programme is driving the process, building the alliances needed to ensure the integrity of Caribbean coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves, in the hope to bring back the paradise we all expect.
The problems of climate change, part 2
As we continue to examine the studies on climate change that is raising the average temperature of the planet, it must be said that the impact of temperature on production efficiency at too low or too high temperatures negatively affects production efficiency and causes significant economic losses.
Outdoor workers are more severely threatened by high temperature heat waves due to prolonged exposure to excessively hot environments. When the high temperature (33°C) lasts for ten days, the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases in the outdoor worker group increases by 149%.
The 2020 China report by the prestigious journal ‘The Lancet’ calculated that in 2019 Chinese outdoor workers lost about 0.5% of their potential working hours due to high temperatures, thus causing a 1% loss of the country’s gross domestic product (126 billion dollars), which is equivalent to China’s total annual budget for science and technology.
Heat does not only affect physical health, but also mental health such as emotions, etc. In 2020 Patrick Baylis published an article in the Journal of Public Economics, one of the leading economic journals, to identify people’s latent preference for temperature. He used the public’s emotional expressions on Twitter from June 2014 to October 2016 as a source of information to construct daily, monthly and annual data on working days, holidays, and time trends specific to worker status. He noted people’s emotional response to temperature in the work environment. People’s emotions are generally negative in relation to normal temperature trends (20-25 °C), and people’s mood index drops from 0.1 to 0.2 or more on hot days (35-40 °C).
The influence of temperature also affects the sociability index.
Furthermore, Baylis used the exogenous impact of income (quarterly salary changes or parking fines, speeding fines, etc.) to economically measure this emotional response. He found that the economic value of a deviation for large differences in temperature affects the mutual willingness index between people. The willingness to invest money to reduce the maximum daily temperature from 30-35°C to 20-25°C is between 11.94 and 4.77 dollars (depending on salary or the amount of fines incurred).
It is worth noting that the accumulation of negative emotions will cause more social problems, such as depression, suicide, instigation of criminal activities and aggravation of human conflicts. In 2018 Marshall Burke, Felipe González, Patrick Baylis, Sam Heft-Neal, Ceren Baysan, Sanjay Basu and Solomon Hsiang edited a paper in “Nature Climate Change” that analysed the relationship between suicide rates and high temperatures. The results showed that for every 1°C increase in the average monthly temperature, suicide rates in US counties and in some cities in Mexico increased by 0.7% and 2.1%.
In 2013 Solomon M. Hsiang, Marshall Burke and Edward Miguel published a paper in “Science”, after reviewing the relevant literature, and found that extreme weather conditions can easily lead to individual and group violent crimes and property crimes, as well as political turmoil in poor countries and personal aggression and violence.
Such behaviours will increase with high temperatures. Moreover, the resulting extreme rainfall has widened the income gap by affecting agricultural production. The authors discussed the related mechanisms of change in the state of affairs, including climate change, which will alter the supply of resources, as well as exacerbate social inequality and cause human conflicts. This will also reduce socio-economic productivity, thus weakening the monitoring of government agencies and suppressing the control of crime intensity.
Population migration and fast urbanisation caused by climate change will lead to competition for very limited local resources. Climate change will affect people’s physiological mechanisms and reduce their ability to make rational judgements. People will become more abusive and confrontational, which in turn will lead to greater destabilisation.
The 2015 study by Matthew Ranson (2014) published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management also shows that a high-temperature climate will trigger more criminal activity and it is estimated that, between 2010 and 2099, the social costs of criminal activity in the United States due to climate change will reach between 29 and 78 billion dollars.
In summary, the impact of climate change on human health and socio-economic development cannot be underestimated. Consequently, climate change is a global challenge that defies national borders and urgently requires close cooperation among all countries. On December 12, 2015 at the Conference held in the French capital on climate change, the Paris Agreement was adopted, calling for global action against climate change.
It has become an important part of human history following the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Rio de Janeiro 1992) and the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. It is the third milestone in international case law to address climate change, planning a new path for global climate research.
The main objective is to keep the global average temperature increase in this century within 2°C and bring the global temperature increase within 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level.
The People’s Republic of China, a responsible developing country, has always attached great importance to tackling climate change. On September 3, 2016, China formally adhered to the Paris Agreement and became the twenty-third country to complete ratification. In September 2020, President Xi Jinping solemnly declared at the General Debate of the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations that the People’s Republic of China will enhance its efforts to collaborate on climate improvement, strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 (Green Development, regarded as indispensable to building a green civilization, as indicated by the decarbonization targets), as well as “actively respond to climate change” as early as the 14th Five-Year Plan 2021-2025.
According to the 2019 Annual Report on China’s Climate Change Policies and Actions, published by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment led by Huang Runqiu, China’s carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by 4% in 2018, with a 45.8% cumulative decrease since 2005, which is equivalent to a reduction of 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, non-fossil energy accounted for 14.3% of total energy consumption, thus substantially reversing the fast growth in carbon dioxide emissions, and made an important contribution to the response to global climate change.
However, more effective policies and measures are still needed to ensure the fulfilment of the 2060 commitment and to minimise the health burden of climate change on the world’s population.
Sink or swim: Can island states survive the climate crisis?
Small island nations across the world are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, and their problems have been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely affected their economies, and their capacity to protect themselves from possible extinction. We take a look at some of the many challenges they face, and how they could be overcome.
Low emissions, but high exposure
The 38 member states and 22 associate members that the UN has designated as Small Island Developing States or SIDS are caught in a cruel paradox: they are collectively responsible for less than one per cent of global carbon emissions, but they are suffering severely from the effects of climate change, to the extent that they could become uninhabitable.
Although they have a small landmass, many of these countries are large ocean states, with marine resources and biodiversity that are highly exposed to the warming of the oceans. They are often vulnerable to increasingly extreme weather events, such as the devastating cyclones that have hit the Caribbean in recent years, and because of their limited resources, they find it hard to allocate funds to sustainable development programmes that could help them to cope better,for example, constructing more robust buildings that could withstand heavy storms.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the economic situation of many island states, which are heavily dependent on tourism. The worldwide crisis has severely curtailed international travel, making it much harder for them to repay debts. “Their revenues have virtually evaporated with the end of tourism, due to lockdowns, trade impediments, the fall in commodity prices, and supply chain disruptions”, warned Munir Akram, the president of the UN Economic and Social Council in April. He added that their debts are “creating impossible financial problems for their ability to recover from the crisis.”
Most research indicates that low-lying atoll islands, predominantly in the Pacific Ocean such as the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, risk being submerged by the end of the century, but there are indications that some islands will become uninhabitable long before that happens: low-lying islands are likely to struggle with coastal erosion, reduced freshwater quality and availability due to saltwater inundation of freshwater aquifers. This means that small islands nations could find themselves in an almost unimaginable situation, in which they run out of fresh water long before they run out of land.
Furthermore, many islands are still protected by reefs, which play a key role in the fisheries industry and balanced diets. These reefs are projected to die off almost entirely unless we limit warming below 1.5 degrees celsius
Despite the huge drop in global economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of harmful greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere increased in 2002, and the past six years, 2015–2020, are likely to be the six warmest on record.
Climate finance (climate-specific financial support) continues to increase, reaching an annual average of $48.7 billion in 2017-2018. This represents an increase of 10% over the previous 2015–2016 period. While over half of all climate-specific financial support in the period 2017-2018 was targeted to mitigation actions, the share of adaptation support is growing, and is being prioritized by many countries.
This is a cost-effective approach, because if not enough is invested in adaptation and mitigation measures, more resources will need to be spent on action and support to address loss and damage.
Switching to renewables
SIDS are dependent on imported petroleum to meet their energy demands. As well as creating pollution, shipping the fossil fuel to islands comes at a considerable cost. Recognizing these problems, some of these countries have been successful in efforts to shift to renewable energy sources.
For example, Tokelau, in the South Pacific, is meeting close to 100 per cent of its energy needs through renewables, while Barbados, in the Caribbean, is committed to powering the country with 100 per cent renewable energy sources and reaching zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Several SIDS have also set ambitious renewable energy targets: Samoa, the Cook Islands, Cabo Verde, Fiji, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Vanuatu are aiming to increase the share of renewables in their energy mixes, from 60 to 100 per cent, whilst in 2018, Seychelles launched the world’s first sovereign blue bond, a pioneering financial instrument to support sustainable marine and fisheries projects.
The power of traditional knowledge
The age-old practices of indigenous communities, combined with the latest scientific innovations, are being increasingly seen as important ways to adapt to the changes brought about by the climate crisis, and mitigate its impact.
In Papua New Guinea, local residents use locally-produced coconut oil as a cheaper, more sustainable alternative to diesel; seafaring vessels throughout the islands of Micronesia and Melanesia in the Pacific are using solar panels and batteries instead of internal combustion; mangrove forests are being restored on islands like Tonga and Vanuatu to address extreme weather as they protect communities against storm surges and sequester carbon; and in the Pacific, a foundation is building traditional Polynesian canoes, or vakas, serving as sustainable passenger and cargo transport for health services, education, disaster relief and research.
Strategies for survival
While SIDS have brought much needed attention to the plight of vulnerable nations, much remains to be done to support them in becoming more resilient, and adapting to a world of rising sea levels and extreme weather events.
On average, SIDS are more severely indebted than other developing countries, and the availability of “climate financing” (the money which needs to be spent on a whole range of activities which will contribute to slowing down climate change) is of key importance.
More than a decade ago, developed countries committed to jointly mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 in support of climate action in developing countries; the amount these nations are receiving is rising, but there is still a significant financing gap. A recently published UN News feature story explains how climate finance works, and the UN’s role.
Beyond adaptation and resilience to climate change, SIDS also need support to help them thrive in an ever-more uncertain world. The UN, through its Development Programme (UNDP), is helping these vulnerable countries in a host of ways, so that they can successfully diversify their economies; improve energy independence by building up renewable sources and reducing dependence on fuel imports; create and develop sustainable tourism industries, and transition to a “blue economy”, which protects and restores marine environments.
Fighting for recognition
For years, SIDS have been looking for ways to raise awareness of their plight and gain international support. As the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in 1990, they successfully lobbied for recognition of their particular needs in the text of the landmark UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) two years later.
Since then, the countries have continued to push for a greater emphasis on ensuring that international agreements include a commitment to providing developing countries with the funds to adapt to climate change. An important step was ensuring that climate change negotiations address the issue of “loss and damage” (i.e. things that are lost forever, such as human lives or the loss of species, while damages refers to things that are damaged, but can be repaired or restored, such as roads or sea walls etc.).
SIDS continue to urge developed nations to show more ambition and commitment to tackling the climate crisis, and strongly support calls for a UN resolution to establish a legal framework to protect the rights of people displaced by climate change, and for the UN to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Climate and Security, to help manage climate security risks and provide support to vulnerable countries to develop climate-security risk assessments.
•SIDS have also advocated for eligibility to development finance to recognize the vulnerabilities they face, including from climate change hazards. The UN will release its recommendations in a report due to be released in August 2021.
Wildfires in Turkish tourist regions are the highest recorded
Turkish fires in tourist regions are the hottest in history, due to which thousands of tourists evacuated as the nation fights over 50 blazes from the Aegean Sea resort. On Thursday, according to satellite data given to the Guardian, the heat intensity of flames in Turkey was four times greater than anything in the nation recorded. At least 4 people have been slain by blazes that spread across Antalya, causing a fleet of boats to rescue thousands of vacationers from their hotels.
The conditions in and throughout the country were tinder-dry at sites for scores of additional blazes. Turkey’s 60-year temperature record had been broken the previous week when Cizre, a town in the south-east, registered 49.1C.
The pictures of damage in Turkey on social media add up to fears about the increasing fury of extreme weather in a climate-disrupted world after fatal heat waves in America, floods in Europe and China, and Siberian fires.
The popular Aegean resorts surrounded by slopes, forests, and agricultural areas turned to ash are reported in local media. In the province of Bodrum, Muğla, 80 hectares (197 acres) of land and air were torched. In the summer, wildfires are typical in Turkey, but the blazes have been extraordinary for the last two days. The EU Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service satellite analysis shows a heat intensity of around 20 gigawatts on Thursday, up 4 times the daily maximum for fires.
Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service stated “these figures are not as large as the past 19 years. He continued that the fire smoke near Antalya was now moving to Cyprus. Residents in the cities concerned said that reporters never saw such a thing. Ibrahim Aydın, a farmer, said he was almost killed while fighting the flames, and he lost all of his cattle. “All I had on the floor was burnt. He said Daily Sabah, “I lost lambs and other animals.” “This was not common. It was like hell.
The firemen fought over 50 blazes around the country. Dozens of the smoke were admitted. As the news spread, #PrayForTurkey appeared on Twitter trend with devastating photos and maps that displayed over two dozen around the country. Government ministers secularized, however, that the reason may be incendiary assaults by the Kurdish separatist PKK movement. Wider climatic trends that are rising fire hazards in Turkey and abroad have been noted in a few domestic studies. Climate scientists have long foreseen that increasing temperatures and variations in precipitation due to human emissions will impact the Mediterranean worse. According to the latest study of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the future wildfire danger in Southern Europe is expected to grow.
Levent Kurnaz, The Turkish climate scientist, stated current climatic conditions for easy inflammation were established. “There is very hot and dry weather. This helps begin fires. Our minor error leads to a major calamity,” he tweeted.
Singer Dua Lipa bemoaned the fact that the world must understand that climate change is read in Turkish response to wildfires. Dua sent prayers to Turkey on Friday via Instagram where flames were devastated by wildfires. “Pray for Turkey”. We weep on our wretched world.
She added, “We have to face the facts. PROTECT OUR MOTHER. Turkey I’, with you.”
The trend is expected to continue this year. The World Weather Organization stated that severe heat in Italy, Greece, Tunisia, and Turkey is reaching the entire Mediterranean region, with forecasts of temperatures even higher than 40C. It has called for measures to avoid difficulties with health and water supplies.
It is anticipated that the heat waves in Southern Europe will last into next week, with certain projections that it might be some of the worst on record. In the weeks ahead, the Turkish weather bureau has little chance of reprieve. The temperatures of Ankara and numerous other locations will be over 12C next week than the norm in August. Southern Greece was already affected by wildfires, requiring rural evacuations outside the western port of Patras. In Bulgaria and Albania, Blazes are also documented. In North Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, and portions of Romania and Serbia, high-temperature warnings were issued. In Italy, Portugal, Spain, and portions of North Africa, the EU has issued its highest fire-risk alert. Further east, on Thursday in Lebanon, a big fire broke out, killing one person.
In tourist regions, villages and some hotels were evacuated, and the film showed people fleeing through fields when flames closed in their houses. In Antalya’s Mediterranean resort zone and the Mugla district of the Aegean resort, Pakdemirli claimed flames are still blazed. There were four people killed by wildfires on the south coast of the nation. On Friday, following the evacuation of dozens of communities and hotels, firefighters fought burns for the third day. We can hope that part of the fire would be contained this morning, but although we cautiously claim it is improved, we can still say it’s controlled. The wildfires broke out somewhere else in the region, with more than 40 winds and high temperatures in Greece during the previous 24 hours. On Tuesday, a pine forest north of Athens was burned and more than a dozen residences were damaged before the fire came under control. In the hilly north of Lebanon, fires burnt vast areas of pine forests this week, killing a firefighter at least and causing several inhabitants to evacuate
“Right now, the risks are quite significant; if these temperatures persist we might begin to see more fire over the following weeks.”
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