Photo credit: UNCTAD - Photo: 2018

UNCTAD Asks the Caribbean Countries to be Weather-ready and Climate-smart

By Jaya Ramachandran

GENEVA (IDN) – The Caribbean countries should be weather-ready and climate-smart in view of the rise in global temperatures and extreme weather events threatening to become frequent menacing the region, says Crispin D’Auvergne, who works on climate change and disaster risk management for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), comprising 10 island nations.

Efforts advocated by D’Auvergne will also be backed by the 70 million Euro initiative launched by the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States in November 2017.

Experts are predicting that “the 2018 season will be as busy as the last, when three major storms – Harvey, Irma and Maria – devastated parts of the Caribbean”. Such extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent as global temperatures rise, and Caribbean islands need to adapt.

To assess the climate-related risks and vulnerabilities of airports and seaports, the lifeline of island economies, UNCTAD developed a methodology recently put to the test in the Caribbean nations of Jamaica and Saint Lucia, as part of a three-year project looking at the impact of climate on coastal transport infrastructure in the region.

The project, on which D’Auvergne – a native of Saint Lucia – worked, concluded end of 2017. In an interview with UNCTAD, he explained the risks ahead and why the Caribbean nations should take to adaptation measures.

Saint Lucia contributes just 0.0015% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet as a small island state it is among the most vulnerable to sea-level rise and more extreme events.

But D’Auvergne thinks the more serious impact will be the decline in water as a result of changing rainfall patterns, because some islands are water scarce. Considering that ‘water is life’, this can have a profound impact on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to the extreme events, which are dramatic and can totally upend an island’s efforts to advance itself.

“The Caribbean is special in the sense that we lie in an area that is prone to hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis,” said D’Auvergne. The rate of sea-level rise in the Caribbean is higher than the global average, as is the rate of temperature increase.

The project has brought attention to an area of vulnerability that has been under studied or not studied at all. While those studies looked at infrastructure in a broad sense – roads, bridges, ports – these did not take into account the vulnerability of air and sea ports in a focused way.

This is what the study does. It has brought that to the fore in a practical way to show that these ports and airports, which are the lifeblood for the Caribbean countries – for commerce, for agriculture, for tourism – that they are particularly vulnerable and need focused attention in terms of building resilience.

It has also applied a methodology for determining vulnerability, which is being subjected to academic peer review. At last one academic paper presenting the case studies and methodology is already under review for publication in a prominent academic journal. This paper is intended to feed into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on the 1.5 degree target.

The methodology is based on the assessment of operational disruptions due to changing climatic factors and has produced marine flood maps for ports and airports for different scenarios, depending on the year, like 2030, 2050, 2100.

In the case of Saint Lucia, it shows that approximately 150 meters of the runway of the island state’s international airport, Hewanorra, will be flooded under the 100-year storm event in 2030. It’s graphic. You can actually see how the flooding, or the inundation, progresses.

“So it tells you, as a country, that if you want to still have airports that are functional, you will have to take certain measures in terms of building their resilience, in terms of protecting them,” D’Auvergne said.

D’Auvergne has been advocating for extending the model to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and to the wider Caribbean, and applying to other situations.

One of the reasons he considers important to extend the work is that the region is a network of islands, and there is an interconnection between airports and seaports. “Even if Saint Lucia is not hit by a hurricane, for example, but a major hub is hit by that particular event, people won’t be able to fly from that hub into Saint Lucia.”

Besides, a lot of Saint Lucia’s food imports come from Miami. “So when Miami gets hit, depending on how long Miami stays out of commission, it affects the extent or the rate at which food and other supplies get to the region.”

This applies to tourists too. “The Caribbean is highly dependent on the tourism sector. If people who are planning to come on holiday can’t get out of Miami that has knock-on effects for other countries, for local economies.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 March 2018]

Related study > Port Industry Survey on Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation

Photo credit: UNCTAD

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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