JAMAICA’S Professor Michael Taylor has made the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team, tasked to deliver what is a vital report for the Caribbean and other small island developing states (SIDS), in the fight against global climate change.
Taylor was invited to serve as one of three coordinating lead authors for the third chapter of a special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius as a global greenhouse gas emissions target.
The IPCC was mandated to produce that report, largely through lobby efforts led over years by SIDS, in the race to curtail emissions that fuel the changing climate that could devastate them.
“Chapter three merges what happens with the physical impacts of climate change, like changes in temperature, rainfall, and so on, with the impacts on ecosystems, natural systems and on human beings,” Taylor, a celebrated local physicist and head of the Climate Studies Group Mona, told The Gleaner on Tuesday.
“It is actually the first time they are merging those two things in one chapter. Normally, it would be Working Group I (WGI) looking at the physical side and WGII on the physical impact. Chapter three now will look at both the scientific basis for 1.5 and what are the impacts on managed systems as well as human beings,” he added.
Taylor is joined by two other coordinating lead authors and a team of 20 lead authors to deliver that chapter.
“We will also coop contributing authors with special expertise as needed to lead the authorship of that chapter,” noted the head of the Physics Department at the University of the West Indies, Mona.
Taylor’s research interests include understanding and quantifying the Caribbean region’s vulnerability to climate change.
Quizzed as to his feeling on being asked to serve, the scientist said: “It is a real honour; I appreciate the honour.
“It is not just an honour for me personally, but also for Caribbean science that it is being recognised in such a way. But it is an overwhelming task that is being asked so I also feel extremely overwhelmed but extremely grateful for the recognition,” he added.
The historic Paris Agreement, which charts the course for the global response to climate change, looks to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” and pursue “efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.
The inclusion of 1.5 was hard-fought-for by Caribbean and other SIDS aided by the regional campaign dubbed “1.5 To Stay Alive”.
The campaign run primarily in the lead-up to and during the 2015 climate talks in Paris where the agreement was adopted involved regional players such as the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, communication NGO Panos Caribbean, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Saint Lucia Ministry of Sustainable Development, the Regional Council of Martinique, and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
Among other things, it saw the establishment of a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account to promote Caribbean negotiating positions and to expose the region’s climate challenges all the while calling for the holding of temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
A theme song the collaborative effort of Caribbean artistes, including Panos’ Voices for Climate Change Education’s singer Aaron Silk was also released.
“The 1.5 is a kind of threshold of viability for small islands going into the future. So this report, I think, the small islands have a special interest in because it will be the report that evaluates whether the case they are making is a good case,” Taylor said of the review work to be done in the coming months.
“And the case they are making is not just for them, but a global case. This is the report that is kind of the backbone of the aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement,” he added.
Nobel laureate Professor Anthony Chen, who was recognised for his own contributions to climate research through the IPCC, had high praise for Taylor.
“Professor Taylor is an excellent person to lead the project and I have every confidence in him,” said Chen, a mentor to the professor, whom he taught at university and who succeeded him as head of the Climate Studies Group Mona.
“I was very glad for him. He had asked me what I thought and I told him, ‘go for it’. It puts the Caribbean on the map that they should be for the 1.5 project. This is sort of a late registration of that fact,” he added.
The effort to mainstream gender in climate change considerations while cementing the place of women in decision-making in that arena has a supporter in Dr James Fletcher, recent head of the CARICOM Task Force on Sustainable Development.
“Women are disproportionately affected by climate change, particularly in small-island developing states. Anytime here in Saint Lucia, if there is a drought, the people you see going miles to collect water are not the men, it is the women because they are the ones who, unfortunately, have the children on their hands and the household on their hands,” he noted.
“So women are always the ones who are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, and I think there must be some sensitivity in funding to the fact that there is a gender imbalance in the impacts of climate change and other natural disasters,” Fletcher added.
He was speaking with journalists at the Marrakech Climate Talks in November last year on the issue of a lack of funding to support the gender work programme that emerged from the Lima Climate Talks two years earlier.
Decisions in that work programme include:
– To enhance the implementation of the decision to promote gender balance and improve the participation of women in United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations and in the representation of parties in bodies established in line with the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol; and
– that additional efforts be made by parties to the convention to improve the participation of women in their delegations and in all of the bodies established under the convention.
Among other things, it also invites parties to advance gender balance and promote gender sensitivity in developing and implementing climate policy and achieve gender-responsive climate policy in all relevant activities under the UNFCCC.
However, in Marrakech – as in Lima – it emerged that financing to achieve the provisions of the work programme is a challenge.
Fletcher’s advice to the women and gender constituency is to press ahead with their efforts.
“The thing with some of these discussions is it takes a while for common sense to prevail. So things you think people would get immediately, they don’t, and you must have a lot of back and forth. But I think that is the nature of the multilateral process. People come with different agendas, different perspectives,” he said.
“It really speaks to the need to continue having faith in the process, to continue pressing the line, and continue developing a coalition and seeking out allies and seeing how you can get support,” added Fletcher, who is also the former sustainable development minister for Saint Lucia.
He revealed that this is what had happened in the small island developing states’ effort to have the world take up the issue of loss and damage associated with climate change.
“When we started out with loss and damage, loss and damage was quintessentially a small-island state issue, and then suddenly, other people realised ok, there is a lot of merit in this, and we started developing allies and having more people come and support our cause,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that on a gender issue you need to go in that way because you figure anybody should realise that is an issue. But I think, probably, it is one of these areas where we need to do more work and where we need to do more sensitisation and make people understand the imperative of making sure that the funding is gender sensitive,” Fletcher noted.
With the Marrakech climate change talks now only weeks away, the few CARICOM member states that have not yet ratified the Paris Agreement – Jamaica among them – have been urged to do so.
The appeal has come from Dr James Fletcher, former head of the CARICOM Task Force on Sustainable Development.
He predicted that the failure to ratify will see those islands running the risk of not having a say in the first meeting of the parties to the global deal next month.
“Given that the Paris Agreement will enter into force in the Marrakech meeting … if you haven’t ratified the Paris Agreement, then really you cannot be at the table determining rules and procedures and everything else,” he cautioned.
“If you have not ratified the agreement, then you don’t have a voice at the meeting. There will be CARICOM countries there (who share similar challenges) and who will speak on your behalf, but I don’t think it is a position you want to be in because you cannot articulate your own concerns,” added Fletcher, also the former minister of sustainable development for St Lucia.
Ten CARICOM countries have so far ratified the agreement. They include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, The Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
They are among the 81 countries to have ratified the agreement, which prescribes the way forward for the planet in its battle against the changing climate.
Caribbean islands and other small-island developing states (SIDS) are counted among those most vulnerable to climate threats.
Those threats include extreme weather events, the likes of Hurricane Matthew, which barrelled across the region recently, leaving in its wake death and destruction in places such as Haiti, Cuba and The Bahamas.
In Haiti alone, the death toll is registered at more than 900, with millions of dollars in loss and damage to infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Fletcher – a respected regional statesman reputed for his work in climate change and other development issues, including energy – is buoyed with the progress on the Paris Agreement. Still, he cautions that there are still miles to go to where the region needs to get in its readiness for climate change.
“We are very encouraged by how quickly this agreement has come into force … It really is awesome for me that the community has rallied to this cause and there seems to be an urgency that, at least philosophically, we need to move in a particular direction,” he said.
“What is worrying to me is that there does not seem to be an urgency where climate action is concerned. If you look at the level of ambition for the level of greenhouse gases, it is still not taking us below 2.7 degrees Celsius. Nobody has come out and said, for example, that they will reduce their emissions by another 25 per cent,” Fletcher added.
This, he noted, is what is required if the world is to realise one of the objectives of the Paris Agreement, to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.
“I would like to see greater pledges from major emitters to reduce their emissions and more pledges where finance is concerned,” the former minister noted.
“There is a lot that has to be done where SIDS are concerned. (We are in a time when we) have hurricanes hitting multiple countries and travelling in pairs. So the situation is ominous; the projections are all showing that our area will be one of the hardest hit by climate change, and we don’t have the funds to adapt,” he said.
“We are really are saying to our residents that they are in for a very bleak future when we should be saying, having signed the agreement, we can now assure that the climate finance is going to flow and action is going to be taken to reduce greenhouse gases to get us close to 1.5,” added Fletcher, who will be in Marrakech next month to support CARICOM.
“We are not in a good place where bending that temperature curve is concerned, and making finance more readily available to SIDS is one way to get there,” he said.
To take better strategic advantage of climate finance opportunities while continuing the courtship of local business interests, Jamaica is looking to have private sector representation on its team to Marrakesh in November.
“In this COP (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), we would want even one private sector representative – and probably, more specifically, from the financial sector – accompanying the delegation,” said head of the Climate Change Division.
“I am going to shamelessly and aggressively pursue that to see if it will happen,” she added.
According to Gordon, who recently assumed leadership of the division, it is critical to have the private sector fully sold on and involved in Jamaica’s climate change response efforts.
“When we have a weather event, then people suffer, but the private sector’s bottom line is [also] impacted severely. So we want the private sector to have a higher profile in this round,” Gordon noted.
Among the climate change impacts facing Jamaica and other small-island developing states of the Caribbean are extreme weather events, including hurricanes and droughts.
Both types of events have seriously affected the performance of the Jamaican economy in the past.
For example, data compiled by the Planning Institute of Jamaica on nine hurricanes impacting the island between 2001 and 2010 put the estimated cost at more than $111 billion.
The infrastructure sector is said to have accounted for $51.7 billion of that sum, while the transport sector, including roads and bridges, accounted for $44.4 billion.
Climate threats to Jamaica extend beyond extreme weather events to rising sea levels and the associated negative impact on coastal livelihoods. They also include warmer global temperatures and the negative health implications that flow from that, including an increase in diseases such as dengue.
Scientists predict that if there is an increase in global temperature of up to 4Â° Celsius — which the current trajectory has us reaching by the end of this century, small island developing states (SIDS) face the threat of extinction. SIDS, with similar characteristics of tropical climates, small populations and related socio-economic and development challenges, are perhaps the most vulnerable countries to this phenomenon of global warming, primarily because of their low-lying position in relation to the sea and their limited economic ability to respond to catastrophic events.
For a small island like Jamaica, which has already begun to experience effects of climate change, using the significant beach erosion in the tourist areas of Negril and Hellshire, as well as lengthy periods of droughts as examples, a call for action cannot be overemphasised. Let’s act while we still can.
Identifying the problem
The unfortunate reality of industrialisation is that, although it has improved the lives of many, it has single-handedly resulted in a wealth of environmental catastrophes — climate change is arguably the worst.
Historically, States like the US and China, in their quest to becoming developed, have played a notorious role contributing to the destruction of the environment. Ironically, however, despite SIDS having contributed the least to global warming (accounting for less than one per cent towards GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions), they stand to be the worst affected.
Extreme weather patterns, like extended droughts and increased temperatures, are just some of the threats of climate change. Of the list, perhaps the most serious is a rise in sea levels. This will not only potentially cause ground and surface water sources to become contaminated but also affect the livelihoods of many. Sectors like tourism and agriculture, both of which are heavily relied on by many SIDS for economic growth and stability, will suffer greatly as beaches become eroded, fisheries collapse, and arable lands are destroyed. As a consequence, governments will have to contemplate strategies at domestic and regional levels to address issues of public health and job and food security.
In addition to the threat to infrastructure and economies, climate change also puts millions at risk of becoming either internally displaced or altogether stateless. That would create the real possibility of climate migration in the future. Issues surrounding statelessness and climate refugees have been widely discussed in the public domain, with many questioning the ability of the international community to cope with yet another humanitarian crisis.
Some critics believe that the overwhelming number of migrants that will result from climate change will far exceed the scale and gravity of any of the humanitarian disasters being experienced today. What’s worse, they posit that if the response of the international community to the humanitarian crisis in Syria is anything to go by, it is unlikely that attitudes towards climate-related event will be any different. For those who live amongst SIDS, this should be a matter of grave concern.
Maldives and Kiribati are two SIDS which have already researched relocating their populations to different countries due to their imminent threat of becoming submerged by rising seas. Other SIDS ought to follow suit with urgency to avoid the worst.
Solving the problem
It is prudent for States to appreciate that climate change is an economic issue just as much as it is an environmental one. Numerous developing countries, including SIDS, have traditionally concentrated their efforts on advancing development while postponing action on pertinent environmental issues. In recent years, the issue of climate change has increasingly gained recognition by the international community and has been put at the forefront of the agendas of many world leaders. Of note is the Paris Agreement arrived at in December last year, in which some 150 countries have agreed to take steps to limit global temperatures at or below 2Â° Celsius.
Caricom, including Jamaica, which lobbied in Paris as part of the Alliance of Small Island States, had pushed for it to be capped at 1.5Â° Celsius. It would therefore be now remiss of us not to follow through and implement practical steps towards achieving the target.
Traditionally, economics has influenced decision-making on a domestic and international level, and although it is justifiable to some degree, States need to divorce the practice of allowing economics alone to dictate political momentum. Environmental problems are becoming increasingly acute and nothing but short-term pain for long-term gain will bring about the kind of revolutionary change towards reducing carbon footprint and creating a greener space.
The truth is that the problems posed by climate change can no longer be ignored; they are here to stay. SIDS have the choice of mitigating the threats and adapting to the changes now, or suffering the consequences later.
While some may prefer one option over the other, particularly since adaptation over the longterm can be significantly more costly than mitigation, the Paris Agreement calls for both methods to be employed. SIDS have little option but to do both, for again, they contribute the least to the problems, but will be the ones most affected.
On a wider scale, reducing GHG emissions in line with the Paris Agreement is a target that all States should buy into as successfully ‘holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2Â°C above pre-industrial levels’ is contingent on the participation of all states.
It is hoped that with the US$100 billion pledged to developing countries under the Paris Agreement, SIDS will receive greater financial assistance that facilitate promote capacity building, sustainable livelihoods, and appropriate mitigation and adaptation schemes. It is hoped, too, that countries don’t wait until it is too late to act, but move with urgency now.
Small island states lost out to their larger, more industrialised seniors at COP21.
The results of the climate change conference in Paris (COP21) give no reason for small island states to cheer. The agreement reflects many promises and little action.
The one item of concrete action is merely an undertaking to evaluate carbon emissions every five years — and even that has no teeth.
What is not in the agreement is a firm, legally binding commitment to limit average global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Also, not in the agreement is a legally binding commitment to provide developing countries with the funds needed to adapt to, and mitigate against the effects of climate change.
There isn’t even a commitment to a fund, in the sum of US$100 billion a year, that was frequently touted before the conference began.
Once again, the industrialised nations of the world — the worst polluters — took advantage of the weakness of the smallest countries of the world, which are the least polluters and the biggest victims of climate change.
To their credit, though, through the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), representatives of small states did put up a good showing in Paris. Armed with the latest statistics and bolstered by a structured expert report released by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, they argued for the containment of global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, showing that, at 2 degrees, destruction would be widespread and irreversible. But, in the end, despite all the hoopla, applause and celebration, small states lost.
Representatives of AOSIS countries might have been flattered by a brief visit to them by US President Barack Obama, when he declared: “These nations are not the most populous nations, they don’t have big armies, they have a right to dignity and sense of place.” But, while President Obama was undoubtedly sincere in what he said, he also knew, even as he was saying it, that he could not deliver ratification by the US Congress of any agreement that limited carbon emissions or bound the US legally to warming no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
So, the world has a so-called agreement, still to be ratified by the 196 participating countries, that only expresses an objective to limit global warming to “well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels”. The goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, as described by Amber Rudd, the British minister for energy and climate change, is merely “aspirational”. In making her statement that the target of 1.5 degrees is aspirational, the minister was sending a clear signal to the British industrial world that driving down carbon emissions from fossil fuels is not an immediate objective and therefore will not affect their business.
In truth, the climate change action plans submitted by 188 countries would lead to a temperature rise as high as 2.7 degrees Celsius. And, if that is not bad enough, the signatories to the Paris agreement are under no legal obligation even to meet that objective; they are legally free to enlarge carbon emissions further. So, no cause for small island states to celebrate over that one, and profound reason for them to worry.
At three degrees, the size of islands will shrink, productive areas will be under water, people will have to move habitats inland and many will be forced to migrate, legally and illegally. We have to hope that all the scientists who predict this scenario are wrong.
On the money side, the developed countries declined to insert into the Paris agreement their often-made oral commitments to transfer funds to poorer countries in order to help them adapt. Yet, all the studies show that even the US$100 billion a year that was promised would not be enough to help developing countries build up a power system quickly or cheaply enough on renewable energy sources rather than coal or oil. Incidentally, even if the US$100 billion a year fund was achieved, access to it by small states in the Caribbean would be long and arduous, particularly if the criterion of “per capita” income continues to be applied as it is now by international financial institutions. The portion available to the Caribbean region would be a small fraction of the total sum.
Some may argue that there are two aspects of the Paris agreement that are beneficial to small states, therefore, attention should be paid to them. The participating countries recognised “the importance of averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including weather events and slow onset events”. But, liability is completely ignored because it was opposed by the polluting industrialised countries. Recognition of a problem is far removed from committing to action to cure it.
Then there is the single binding legal requirement in the agreement. Every country is now required to come back every five years with new targets for reducing their carbon emissions. But there is no sanction if they fail to meet their previous commitment, and no sanction if they simply carry on business as usual.
COP21 in Paris may have been a triumph for some nations, but no self-respecting small island State should claim any satisfaction.
That is why each small State, individually and within the many organisations in which they are members — including AOSIS, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, the Organization of American States and others — must now redouble their efforts to work on the developed country governments, but also to move beyond them to the conscience of the people of the industrialised world.
This is about survival and development — two defining challenges of this century for small states. It is the work of everyone; governments, businesses and civil society, all are involved and all could be consumed.
Up to late last evening, it was still anyone’s guess as to the precise nature or strength of the climate agreement that is to emerge from Paris.
What was clear was the refusal of Caribbean and other small-island developing states (SIDS) to accept a deal that does not take full account of their particular needs in the face of climate-change impacts that could devastate entire economies and significantly reorder life as they know it.
Still, there is some willingness to compromise in the interest of reaching consensus, without which there can be no deal.
“A text was prepared [on Wednesday] and was more or less accepted in terms of its content as something that we can work on,” said Albert Daley, head of the Climate Change Division and a member of the Jamaica delegation to the international negotiations.
The ‘text’ is the label used to describe the intended outcome document while it is being negotiated.
“Having looked at it, there are a number of issues that we were concerned about … we were adamant that 1.5 [degrees Celsius as a cap in global temperatures] has to be in the agreement,” he added.
However, Daley said further: “We are conscious that there are some parties who are saying less than two [degrees Celsius], and so in the agreement that evolved, there was one option which spoke to well below 2 degrees C with the intent to move to 1.5 degrees C. That seemed like something that we would be willing to compromise on if we have to.”
They are also intent on ensuring that whatever the final agreement, it is one that recognises the special circumstances of SIDS. But as with other elements of the draft text, there is a battle raging.
“We are in a fight against other countries who say they are vulnerable. The Latin American countries – the Central American countries – are saying that they are vulnerable. Other countries, too, are claiming they are vulnerable and needing to get the same kind of special treatment. But we are insisting that SIDS have to be mentioned as a group of countries that have special circumstances that necessitate us being treated in a special way,” said Daley, who was in deliberations until 5 a.m. yesterday.
“Very few countries are like us. If we have a storm, other countries can retreat to the hills and continue life as normal. With us, the whole country is impacted,” he added.
Meanwhile, there is yet more wrangling over finance – which SIDS want to be adequate, predictable and sustainable – as countries debate who should pay and how much.
“The countries that are responsible for the climate-change problem will have to take responsibility for contributing to helping countries to deal with the issue. What we are saying is that the developed countries, they were the original cause and they must finance it, according to the Convention (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change),” explained Daley.
“But they (the developed countries) are now saying you have some newly developed countries who have resources and, therefore, they should contribute to helping to address climate-change concerns. And they (those other countries) are saying, ‘No, the Convention says you (developed countries) are responsible and, therefore, should bear the brunt of it’,” he added.
Still, despite the cut and thrust of the talks, Daley was optimistic.
“I think there is a movement towards a text which says the developed countries must continue to live up to the essence of the Convention, which says we have common but differentiated responsibility … . And we are moving towards a state where other countries can voluntarily contribute financing where they are able to,” he noted.
“We are looking forward – having made our inputs to what we feel are reasonable bridging positions – to see what [the new draft text] looks like, and that would now provide the basis for the final round [of negotiations],” Daley added.