For Dominica, Adaptation Best Option to Combat Climate Change

The island has seen a marked change in seasonal temperatures and rain cycles.

Desmond Brown - IPS

Workers build a sea defence wall in the Scott's Head Community on Dominica's south coast.

Jun 7 2012 (IPS) – It has been dubbed the “Nature Isle” of the Caribbean, its craggy and dense rain forests, usually covered with fog, bearing testament to how cool temperatures can be here.

But in recent times, Dominica, an island located between French the dependencies of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Lesser Antilles, and more so its capital, Roseau, have been experiencing sweltering heat of 31 degrees Celsius or higher. Officials blame the temperatures on climate change and global warming.

“This is…probably one of the most obvious effects of climate change that we experience on a daily basis,” Kenneth Darroux, environment minister, told IPS.

“Gone are the days when people thought that climate change was just a figment of the imagination of a few mad scientists,” he said. “We are actually starting to feel the effects now, and the science is proving correct.”

The island has seen a marked change in seasonal temperatures and rain cycles. Darroux said climate change is already costing Dominica millions of dollars annually in lost crops and disaster response.

The findings of a new report, to be released at the Rio+20 summit later in June, said Latin America and the Caribbean face annual damages in the order of 100 billion U.S. dollars by 2050 from diminishing agricultural yields, disappearing glaciers, flooding, droughts and other events triggered by a warming planet.

On the positive side, the cost of investments in adaptation to address these impacts is much smaller, in the order of one-tenth the physical damages, according to the study, jointly produced by the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB), the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

However, the study also notes that forceful reductions in global emissions of greenhouse gases are needed to avert some of the potentially catastrophic longer term consequences of climate change.

Harnessing funds

Countries would need to invest an additional 110 billion U.S. dollars per year over the next four decades to decrease per capita carbon emissions to levels consistent with global climate stabilisation goals, the report estimates.

Darroux said Dominica intends to cash in on some of the millions of dollars available to help countries deal with the climate change and its effects.

He noted that once local officials became aware of the potentially devastating impact climate change could have on the environment and the large volume of funds potentially available to mitigate such devastation, the government moved swiftly to set up an Environment Ministry following general elections in 2009.

In December 2011, Darroux announced that Dominica was in the process of formulating a Low-Carbon Climate-Resilient Development Strategy that he later explained took a two-pronged approach.

“While we work towards combating the impacts of climate change, it also looks at incorporating climate change projects in the whole scope of national development,” Darroux said. “It also serves as a means of attracting financing. We have heard about the much elusive billions of dollars out there so right now this strategy is actually a way of harnessing these funds.”

He explained that the strategy incorporates multiple national government policy papers, identifying a number of priority areas that climate change and the effects of climate change are most likely to affect, including agriculture, fisheries, eco-tourism and green energy.

This particular strategy may be new, but the government has actually been combating the effects of climate change for years by building sea defense walls and river defense walls to protect coastal villages, roads and properties against storm surges and other potentially damaging phenomena such as rising sea levels and erratic tropical storms.

“Our terrain makes us very vulnerable,” Darroux said, noting that a lot of the country’s infrastructure is located along the coast. The country is also highly prone to landslides.

More victim than perpetrator

While Latin America and the Caribbean contribute only 11 percent of the emissions that cause global warming, the region is particularly vulnerable to global warming’s effects, given its dependence on natural resources and the presence of bio-climate hotspots such as the Amazon basin, the Caribbean coral biome, coastal wetlands and fragile mountain ecosystems, says the new report to be released Rio+20.

These effects can be felt in agriculture, exposure to tropical diseases and changing rainfall patterns, among other areas. The value of the loss of net agricultural exports is estimated to fall between 30 billion and 52 billion U.S. dollars in 2050.

The study notes that the cost of adaptation is a mere fraction of the cost of the actual physical impacts, conservatively estimated at .2 percent of GDP for the region. Adaptation efforts would also offer significant development benefits, from enhanced water and food security to improved air quality and less vehicle congestion, ultimately reducing their net costs.

The Environmental Coordinating Unit has been doing its best to spread the climate change message to the general population, the unit’s director, Lloyd Pascal, told IPS.

“We’ve produced calendars that we distribute throughout the schools across the island; we make sure that every government department receives a calendar,” he said, adding that they also engaged in media outreach and public awareness work.

While Pascal is not satisfied that every corner of Dominica has received the message, he said that nevertheless, based on three severe events that occurred last year, “we are sure that more people are aware of the effects of climate change now than when we started in 1995″.

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