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Caribbean priorities for COP26: adaptation, mitigation and access to finance

Aurora Herrera reports on the formidable climate challenges facing the Caribbean and people's hopes and expectations for COP26.

Posted on 24/09/2021
By Aurora Herrera
Jonathan Gladding

The Caribbean population has been experiencing the effects of increasing global temperatures for decades. Government and civil society experts have been asking for the resources to adapt to and mitigate the effects of a changing climate, but global funding mechanisms have not been effective.

Now the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has underscored the gravity of the situation, many Caribbean countries hope that the plight of the most vulnerable states will be at the forefront of the upcoming climate negotiations in Glasgow.

‘1.5 to stay alive’: compensating loss and damage

According to the IPCC’s 2018 report, warming is occurring at 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. At this rate, 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming may occur as soon as the year 2030— much faster than original predictions.

Professor Michael Taylor, a leading Caribbean climate scientist based at the University of the West Indies, said: ‘For the Caribbean, 1.5 is a matter of life and death. After 1.5, there is actually a shift in rainfall patterns, the region moves from marginally wet to dry in the long term. Loss and damage become a significant issue the more you go above 1.5.’

‘In Jamaica, just this year alone, we have had three major flooding events in the last four months, each costing the government upward of 100 million Jamaican dollars (US$675,000). Where is the government to find 100 million? And wasn’t that money earmarked to deal with education or Covid-19 or health? That’s the real cost of climate change.’

Dr Adelle Thomas, renowned Climate Scientist and a Lead Author of the latest IPCC Report, is also a strong advocate of making loss and damage a principal issue for COP26 and beyond.

‘At the international scale, loss and damage has been pushed to the sidelines,’ she said.

‘I did a paper looking at policies and mechanisms in SIDS [small island developing states] to see if we have things in place to assess loss and damage, and we largely don’t. Without having an understanding of [the scale of] loss and damage, it’s hard to say, “I need this support.”’

‘We need funding for loss and damage which is separate from the annual US$100 billion that was promised. I hope that we can get the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage operationalised [at COP26] and start helping countries.’

While efforts at adaptation and mitigation began in the Caribbean in the 1990s with financial support from the Global Environment Facility, ensuring continued access to technical and financial resources has been challenging for the region.

‘Where is the government to find 100 million? And wasn’t that money earmarked to deal with education or Covid-19 or health? That’s the real cost of climate change.’ – Professor Michael Taylor

Dr Ulric Trotz, Former Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize, described one such challenge: ‘Since 2015 we put in a proposal to support extending efforts at coral reef restoration in the Caribbean and up to now we have not had any agreement about supporting that,’ he said. ‘That is now six years ago. We have wasted six years and you are seeing increased bleaching of our reefs, increased degradation.’

He is right to be worried. Among many other effects, warming of 1.5 degrees will lead to the destruction of 70-90% of coral reefs globally. In the Caribbean, as elsewhere in the world, coral reefs provide shoreline replenishment and protection, are a major draw for tourism, and serve as critical habitats for local fisheries on which many coastal residents depend.

Dr Trotz also pointed out the failure of the international community over the last decade to keep up commitments from the Cancun Conference in 2010.

‘We were promised in Cancun that the international community would mobilise US$100 billion a year by 2020 for financing adaptation responses across developing counties […] but there is nowhere near the level of investment promised.’

There’s also widespread concern in the Caribbean that the countries most responsible for global warming are not honouring their commitments to reduce emissions and provide the necessary finance.

The Caribbean region in its entirety is responsible for less than 1% of global emissions while the United States contributes approximately 24% at a higher per capita rate. China has now pulled ahead of the United States in total global emissions: last year it built more than three times as much coal-fired capacity as the rest of the world combined.

‘When it comes to climate commitments in the Caribbean, I think that question needs to be turned on its head,’ Dr Thomas commented. ‘We need to ask, “is the developed world adhering to their climate commitments?” They are the big emitters, they are the ones that are supposed to be providing finance for us to be able to adapt, and they are not.’

‘To expect small developing countries to adhere […] without any support, while we are trying to manage impacts of climate change that are already happening now and also having to cope with things like this global pandemic, which has decimated our economies that [rely] on tourism—it’s an impossible situation while also trying to develop.’

Caribbean commitments and progression

All signatories to the Paris Agreement, including 14 Caribbean territories, have strict emission reduction targets known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Trinidad and Tobago, for example, must reduce cumulative emissions from the three main emitting sectors by 15% by 2030, while public transportation emissions must be cut by 30% as compared to a business as usual scenario.

However, to reach this level of compliance, poorer countries need access to the resources necessary for adaptation and mitigation.

The estimated cost of implementation for Trinidad and Tobago is USD $2 billion, which is expected to be met through a mix of domestic funding and international climate financing, including through the Green Climate Fund.

‘If it’s not coming from the government, then we need to start doing things ourselves.’ – Dr Adelle Thomas

Kishan Kumarsingh, Head of Multilateral Environmental Agreements at the Ministry of Planning and Development, acknowledged that ‘The commitment made by Trinidad and Tobago is a very ambitious one in light of our national circumstances and the peculiar challenges we face as a small island developing state.’

Despite this, Trinidad and Tobago has set up a region-leading system to monitor emissions, and other Caribbean countries are now looking to them for guidance on the process.

The Bahamas, which, like Trinidad and Tobago, ratified the UNFCCC in 1994 and signed the Paris Agreement in 2016, has committed to achieving its mitigation contribution through an economy-wide reduction of greenhouse gas emission of 30% by 2030.

Thus far, Bahamian efforts include the expansion of the marine protected areas from 2 million acres to more than 13 million acres, surpassing national targets.

However, Dr Thomas, a Bahamian, feels that climate change is still not a top priority for the country.

‘Climate change is way down on our agenda of things we are interested in, even though we are highly vulnerable’ she said. ‘There is poverty, there is Covid-19 …  [Hurricane] Dorian came through and that completely destroyed everything and we had to focus on rebuilding so there are lots of other development issues, and climate change doesn’t get as much attention.’

The role of civil society

Dr Thomas believes participation from civil society organisations is critical in the fight against climate change.

‘Civil society really needs to hold government to account, to speak up when there are things happening that are not bringing climate change resiliency into bearing’, Dr Thomas said. ‘They need to be the ones to say this project is not a good project, this project is going to make us more vulnerable to climate change.’

‘In the Bahamas, we are still going after cruise ships, digging up the ocean to put in a cruise ship port—we cannot continue [like] this, we are going to see the negative impacts of that within our lifetime.’

Dr Thomas also advocates for the role of CSOs in community-based projects and top-down adaptation relief, saying that they are key in organising and reaching the community to reduce their vulnerability: ‘If it’s not coming from the government, then we need to start doing things ourselves.’

IAMovement, a Trinidadian organisation that was formed in 2014, has recently embarked on a Caribbean-wide mitigation and adaptation project led by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture. Grassroots4LaVie, as it is known, will utilise vetiver grass and the vetiver system, a unique ‘green’ infrastructure technology that assists with slope stabilisation, erosion control and soil and water conservation.

‘I hope that the growing citizen awareness and pressure globally and realities outlined in the sixth IPCC Climate Report will help to force decisions and agreements to be made at COP26′ – Jonathan Barcant

Jonathan Barcant, an engineer and co-founder of IAMovement, is overseeing training and implementation for the project alongside local NGO partners across Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago. He has also been advocating for action on climate change issues within Trinidad and Tobago through marches and community and policy work.

‘Frankly, if we look at the long historical record of knowledge about climate change and lack of action on climate, traditional leadership has failed miserably and I believe may one day be held accountable for it. We are now at a time which is pivotal to the future of mankind and our planet.’

Barcant believes that action on climate change will not happen without the active engagement of citizens.

‘I hope that the growing citizen awareness and pressure globally and realities outlined in the sixth IPCC Climate Report will help to force decisions and agreements to be made at COP26 which are long overdue, and which can play an important role in supporting and determining the levels of security and comfort which our future generations will face.’

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, between 31 October and 12 November 2021.

Reporting by Aurora Herrera.