Friday, 24 January 2014

Matters of the Environment

Global warming and climate change should be everybody,s business. The sheer destruction, death and subsequent displacement of  hundreds of St Vicentians by flood rain on Christmas Eve of 2013 is not only heart rending but should spur the region to pay more attention to matters of the envirnonment. We all saw the images of the aftermath of super-typhoon Haiyan which devastated parts of the Philippines in 2013. These two events should serve as a catalyst for the Caribbean to move ahead with a sense of urgency to find lasting and meaningful solutions to issues of global warming and climate change.  Extreme, unusual and irregular weather patterns have been attributed to global warming and the Caribbean as a region is not immune to such occurrences. Despite not having a hurricane for 2013 Atlantic hurricane season Jamaica was unusually hot for the better part of last year. The massive typhoon which hit the Philippines was one of the most powerful ever on record, with winds exceeding 200 kilometers per hours. Some estimates have placed some 10,000 deaths in one village alone with the figure expected to increase as government officials’ access difficult terrain.
It is rather ironic that the typhoon hit the Philippines on the same day that the United Nations began talks on Climate change and its Impact in Warsaw, Poland. The United Nations has a target of limiting global average warming to two degree Celsius over pre-industrial Revolution levels and this can be achieved by curbing emissions of invisible, heat trapping gases from burning fossils fuels which sadly is the backbone of the world’s energy supply. However, as emerging world powers seeks cheaper and less sufficient energy sources such as coal in order to bolster their economy it is clear than an collaborative is required from both industrialized societies as well as small and emerging economies. Jamaica is currently midway through implementing phase 2 of a US$25 million Strategic Programme for Climate Resilience (SPCR). This initiative seeks to boost government led efforts to strength Jamaica’s ability to withstand the damaging effort of climate-related occurrences such as a hurricane. Successive governments have not always paid sufficient attention to matters of the environment and as a consequence the devastating effects have been felt by many who have lost loved ones as well as property due to government lax building codes and their inability or refusal to monitor greedy developers who in the past have been allowed to construct homes in well- known river beds and sell these to unsuspecting and desperate clients. The heart rending images appearing on television and other social media after the aftermath of super typhoon and the flood rains in St.Vincent should serve as a reminder of the cost of inaction on climate change. Many lives have been uprooted by this act of nature; adults and children alike are hungry and homeless. One can clearly see a sense of hopelessness and despair on the faces of the survivors as they search for food and meaning in the rubbles around them. We all need to be reminded that any disturbance to nature and the environment will have catastrophic consequences and that the popular and unwise decisions we take today usually come back to negatively haunt the next generation. 
Jamaica has suffered from the devastating impact of hurricanes. In 2004 Hurricane Ivan killed 17 Jamaicans and left damages totaling some US$360 Million. Four years later in 2008 Hurricane Gustav impacted Jamaica with a recovery bill of some US$210 Million. Yet some of our people continue to destroy the environment by cutting down trees and as well as by building their homes on the banks of gullies. We must continue our public relations campaigns to inform those among us who do not know any better of the negative and long lasting implications of tampering with nature and the environment. Let us be reminded that there can be no sustainable development without first protecting the environment to think or do otherwise is retrograde.  
Let us remember our brothers and sisters in the Philippines and in the Caribbean as they rebuild their lives and move forward. From the initial assessments done this effort will take millions of dollars of aid and many years to complete the recovery process.
While some of us might still be in doubt as to whether or not climate change caused the super cyclone in the Philippines let us err on the side of caution and learn from others and do what we can do to safeguard ourselves in this ever changing world. Is there a coordinated regional plan to deal with matters such as hurricanes, earthquake and massive flood rains? Is there a National Policy on Climate Change and Global Warming?
If no, the time is far overdue for such policies. We must include in such a policy a focus on coastal towns, for example, Portmore, areas of St. Thomas, Portland and St. Mary. Are we prepared in Jamaica for the consequences of a storm surge should a hurricane trigger such an occurrence?  The time is now for us to move swiftly and decisively in order to seriously address the issues of climate change and global warming even amidst our economic constraints.