Graph showing historic temperature change globally and in the Caribbean region.

Climate change in the Caribbean poses major risks to the islands in the Caribbean. The main environmental changes expected to affect the Caribbean are a rise in sea level, stronger hurricanes, longer dry seasons and shorter wet seasons.[1] As a result, climate change is expected to lead to changes in the economy, environment and population of the Caribbean.[2][3][4] Temperature rise of 2 °C above preindustrial levels can increase the likelihood of extreme hurricane rainfall by four to five times in the Bahamas and three times in Cuba and Dominican Republic.[5] Rise in sea level could impact coastal communities of the Caribbean if they are less than 3 metres (10 ft) above the sea. In Latin America and the Caribbean, it is expected that 29–32 million people may be affected by the sea level rise because they live below this threshold. The Bahamas is expected to be the most affected because at least 80% of the total land is below 10 meters elevation.[6][7]

Geography

Main article: Caribbean § Geography_and_geology

The Caribbean is an archipelago of islands between North and South America. These islands include Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curaçao, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Grenada, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saba, Saint Croix, Saint Eustatius, Saint John, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Thomas, Saint Vincent, Sint Maarten, the Bahamas, Tortola, and Trinidad and Tobago. The average annual temperature of the Caribbean is 27 °C (81 °F).[8]

Impacts on the natural environment

Temperature and weather changes

Current/past Köppen climate classification map for the Caribbean for 1980–2016
Predicted Köppen climate classification map for the Caribbean for 2071–2100

Extreme weather events

Summary map of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season from NASA

An increase in air and sea surface temperature is predicted to promote the development of stronger tropical cyclone. Key factors that lead to the development of hurricanes are the warm temperatures of the air and sea surface. The higher temperatures increase the probability of the storm to become a hurricane. This provides the energy for the hurricane to intensify.[9][10]

In September 2017, the United States National Hurricane Center reported that the North Atlantic basin was highly active because four tropical storms formed and they all became hurricanes. They report a higher than average record on the number of tropical storms that developed into hurricanes this year.[11] Two of these four hurricanes, Irma and Maria, hit the islands in the Caribbean. Once at the Caribbean, both Irma and Maria became Category 5 hurricanes.[12] NASA reported that the temperature of the sea surface in the Caribbean when Irma became a hurricane was 30 °C (86 °F).[11] The required temperature for the development of a major storm is suggested to be higher than 27 °C (80 °F).[10]

Destroyed homes after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

Hurricanes of category 5 have wind speeds greater than 253 kilometres per hour (157 mph).[9] In addition to being strong, Hurricanes Irma and Maria also carried more rainfall than previous storms. The warmer the air temperature, the more water can be held by air leading to more precipitation. Multiple sources suggest that this increase in strengthening and precipitation in recent hurricanes is due to climate change.[13][12][14][15] Hurricane Irma and Maria had a total of 510 millimetres (20 in) of rainfall. In Cuba, Hurricane Irma sustained precipitation was at 270 millimetres (10.8 in) per hour. In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria had a sustained precipitation of 164 millimetres (6.44 in) per hour.[12] We are seeing repeated and prolonged droughts, an increase in the number of very hot days, intense rainfall events causing repeated localized flooding, and rising sea levels that are consuming the beautiful beaches on which tourism in the region depends.[16]

Temperature rise of 2 °C above preindustrial levels can increase the likelihood of extreme hurricane rainfall by 4–5 times in the Bahamas, 3 times in Cuba and Dominican Republic. Even to the richest nations in the region, it takes 6 years to recover from such event. If the global temperature will rise only by 1.5 °C it will significantly reduce the risk.[5]

Ecosystems

Further information: Effects of climate change on coral reefs

An increase in surface temperature has also been suggested to affect the coral reefs. In 2005 in the Caribbean, a rise in the sea surface temperature is thought to have caused widespread coral bleaching. In this study, they evaluate if this increase in sea surface temperature was due to natural climate variability or human activity. They concluded that it would be very unlikely that natural climate variability alone could account for this event. Their model suggests that this event would occur once every 1000 years if human activity is not taken into consideration in the model.[17] Coral reefs are a huge part of the Caribbean ocean and an important aspect to their ecosystem. Coral bleaching is an effect of the change in climate because of the rise in water temperature in the seawater. The coral is also being used as a "natural resource" for the natives to create cement and aggregate because they aren't provided with the same materials as are other countries.

Sea level rise

Rising sea levels are expected to cause coastal erosion due to climate change. According to NASA, the sea level is expected to increase by 0.3–1 metre (1–4 ft) by 2050.[18] By 2100, sea level in the Caribbean is expected to rise by 1.4 m.[19]

Rise in sea level could impact coastal communities of the Caribbean if they are less than 3 metres (10 ft) above the sea. In Latin America and the Caribbean, it is expected that 29–32 million people may be affected by the sea level rise because they live below this threshold. The Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago are expected to be the most affected because at least 80% of the total land is below the sea level.[6][7]

Coastal losses range between US$940 million to $1.2 billion in the 22 largest coastal cities in Latin America and the Caribbean.[20] Main sources of income, such as tourism, will also be affected because many of the main touristic attractions such as beaches and hotels are near the coast. In 2004, a study reported that 12 million tourists had visited the Caribbean. Damage to the beaches can also negatively impact sea turtles that nest in the Caribbeans. The islands serve as nesting sites and habitats for sea turtles, which are all facing endangerment due to coastal erosion and changes in habitat at all stages of the life cycle. Sea level rise can impact where sea turtles nest and their nesting behavior.[21]

Impacts on people

A climate change protester in Washington, D.C. holding a placard drawing attention to The Bahamas.

Multiple sources suggest that the Caribbean is in a particularly difficult position to address climate change.[22][20] The Caribbean's long history of colonialism for the extraction of goods, such as sugar, has left them dependent on colonial entities. This has created a disadvantage to the Caribbean as they lack the ability to compete with the current world economy and be self-sufficient. Centuries of colonialism has generated a feedback loop of the dependence of the Caribbean's economy on global powers.[22]

The damages expected from climate change will weaken the economy of the Caribbean as it will target some of the major sources of income, like tourism. It has been estimated that 25% to 35% of the Caribbean's economy relies on tourism.[6] Tourism could be significantly reduced if less tourists travel to the Caribbean because of an increase in the strength and likelihood of hurricanes in the next century. It is expected that hurricane costs are expected to range between US$350 million to $550 million or about 11% to 17% of the current GDP for hurricane damages annually. They expect that the Bahamas, Haiti, and Jamaica are the islands that will suffer the most from climate change. In addition, they suggest that agricultural and rural areas are among the sectors that will be most affected by hurricanes in the Caribbean. They estimate that damages to these areas could cost about US$3 million per year by 2050 and US$12 million – $15 million by 2100.[20]

Cultural impacts

There are a variety of people that live on the Caribbean islands and they are heavily impacted on the effects of climate change. Culturally, the peoples of the Caribbean are a mix of Africa, Asian, European, and Indigenous peoples.[23] Tourism is an important aspect in the Caribbeans economy. Without it economies will collapse and residents will struggle more than they already are. The impact of climate change on tourism will lead to unknown results and many difficulties for the islands. The coastal region, where tourist reside on their trips, is nothing like the original residence for the natives.


Mitigation

In 2019 week of climate action in Latin America and the Caribbean resulted in a declaration in which leaders says that they will act to reduce emissions in the sectors of transportation, energy, urbanism, industry, forest conservation and land use and "sent a message of solidarity with all the people of Brazil suffering the consequences of the rainforest fires in the Amazon region, underscoring that protecting the world's forests is a collective responsibility, that forests are vital for life and that they are a critical part of the solution to climate change".[24][25]

Adaptation

In Mesoamerica, climate change is one of the main threats to rural Central American farmers, as the region is plagued with frequent droughts, cyclones and the El Niño- Southern-Oscillation.[26] Although there is a wide variety of adaption strategies, these can vary dramatically from country to country. Many of the adjustments that have been made are primarily agricultural or related to water supply. Some of these adaptive strategies include restoration of degraded lands, rearrangement of land uses across territories, livelihood diversification, changes to sowing dates or water harvest, and even migration.[26] The lack of available resources in Mesoamerica continues to pose as a barrier to more substantial adaptations, so the changes made are incremental.[26]

One of the solutions researchers have come to about reducing CO2 emissions is to raise the market price on carbon. By raising the market price of carbon, it provides signals to consumers to reduce consumption of carbon-intensive goods and services, signals producers to substitute away inputs that are carbon intensive, and market incentives to innovate and adopt new low carbon products and processes. It is important to look at means of reducing CO2 emissions to aid in the long term slowing of climate change since the true costs of climate change are unknown. This is due to the possible changes in technology in the future, existence of irreversibility in policies to cope with the problem, and presence of nonmarket goods and services that are vulnerable to climate change. Researchers say the number one attribute of climate change is lack of enforceable policies.[27]

By country and territory

Grenada

Climate change in Grenada has received significant public and political attention in Grenada. As of 2013, the mitigation of its effects has been high on the agenda of the Government of Grenada, which seeks to set an example through innovation and green technology.[28]

Haiti

Haiti's position as a southern island nation makes it particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change. Factors that make Haiti more vulnerable than other Caribbean nations, such as the Dominican Republic, are its higher population density, extensive deforestation, extreme soil erosion, and high income-inequality.[29] Several effects of increased intensity of tropical storms, depleted coral reefs, and desertification. Since 1960 the mean annual rainfall has decreased by 5mm per month per decade, and mean temperatures have increased by 0.45 °C.[30] The combination of increased temperatures and decreased rainfall will likely lead to the intensification of drought conditions, especially in the centre of the country. According to the IPCC climate change predictions for 2050, more than 50% of Haiti will be in danger of desertification.[30] The frequency of hot days and nights has increased, while the frequency of cold days and nights have steadily decreased. Sea-level rise is projected to rise between 0.13 and 0.56 m by 2090.[30] The US Climate Change Science program estimates that with each 1 °C increase in temperature, hurricane rainfall will increase by 6–17% and hurricane wind speeds will increase by 1–8%.[30]

Puerto Rico

Climate change has had large impacts on the ecosystems and landscapes of the US territory Puerto Rico. According to a 2019 report by Germanwatch, Puerto Rico is the most affected by climate change. The territory's energy consumption is mainly derived from imported fossil fuels.[31][32]

The Puerto Rico Climate Change Council (PRCCC) noted severe changes in seven categories: air temperature, precipitation, extreme weather events, tropical storms and hurricanes, ocean acidification, sea surface temperatures, and sea level rise.[33]

Climate change also affects Puerto Rico's population, the economy, human health, and the number of people forced to migrate.

Surveys have shown[vague] climate change is a matter of concern for most Puerto Ricans.[34] The territory has enacted laws and policies concerning climate change mitigation and adaptation, including the use of renewable energy.[35] Local initiatives are working toward mitigation and adaptation goals, and international aid programs support reconstruction after extreme weather events and encourage disaster planning.[36]

US Virgin Islands

Climate change in the United States Virgin Islands encompasses the effects of climate change, attributed to man-made increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, in the U.S. territory of the United States Virgin Islands.[37] The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has noted a variety of expected consequences of this phenomenon.[38]

See also

References

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Works cited

Further reading