This article was written in commemoration of World Food Day 2017 by Tyrell Gittens, Varuna Ramjit, Tracy Jagerssar, Verindra Janglee, Tiffani Ramnarine and John Wood-Salomon. 

In a speech to Pacific Island leaders at the University of Hawaii, former United States President Barack Obama, once stated that, “No nation, not even one as powerful as the United States, is immune from a changing climate”, as he described climate change, an immense threat to the planet and future generations.

Resulting in large-scale changes to the Earth’s climatic patterns, which are observable over comparable time periods, the rate of climate change has accelerated in the 21st Century due to direct and indirect human activities. Research on the phenomenon has also revealed that Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as those found in the Caribbean, are most vulnerable to its effects.

While most Caribbean territories experience distinct wet and dry seasons, the alteration of weather and temperature patterns by climate change can blur the lines, resulting in; changes to precipitation patterns and warmer ocean temperatures, however, these changes aren’t as simplistic as they may sound.

Climate threats in the Caribbean 

Altered precipitation patterns can lead to; intense wet and dry seasons, which leaves the Caribbean in a greater position of vulnerability to extreme flooding and drought events, respectively, while ocean temperatures becoming warmer by as much as 1 degree Celsius, creates an environment more conducive for the formation of storms with a greater intensity during the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

The threats posed by climate change to the region become far more consequential when its overarching risk to livelihoods that are reliant on the health of the natural environment, is considered. Livelihoods, under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) definition, are the skills, resources and activities that are required for a means of living.

For example, persons who rely on; agriculture and fishing for direct or indirect sources of income and the services they provided, will face increased difficulty to maintain their livelihoods as extreme weather and environmental changes impact their ability to; properly access resources and carry out economically beneficial activities.

With agriculture accounting for 20 percent of employment in the region, fishing responsible for the employment of a further 182 000 persons and, World Bank data trends between 1990 and 2010 suggesting that Caribbean countries affected by weather events had lost an estimated 1 to 9 percent of their GDP, these figures highlight that a substantial number of livelihoods in the region are vulnerable to natural hazards which is only further compounded by the effects of climate change.

Strategic action against climate change needed

Though the possible effects of climate change on livelihoods may seem like an unstoppable force, there are strategic actions that can be deployed to build resilience against and mitigate the effects of climate change but it should be noted that each come with their own costs and benefits. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) defines these climate resilient actions as steps taken to resist, absorb, adapt to and recover from the effects of climate change in a timely and efficient manner.

Highlighted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Climate-Smart Agriculture is one area that can strategically build the capacity of farmers against the stresses caused by climate change. Riyadh Mohammed, founder of the Tropical Agriculture Consultancy Services, in a sit-down interview, stated that researching and producing genetically engineered crops (GMCs) that can withstand a changing climate as well as providing improved technological communication to rural farmers, are some climate-smart agriculture methods.

However, Mohammed noted that “Large amounts of capital are required for GMCs to be researched and created”, which allude to that fact that implementing the method may be costly and lead to increases in the cost of crop production. Because of increases in the cost of food production, society may have to bear the cost of these increases in the form of; economic costs such as higher food prices and/or social costs such as the inability to access proper nutrition.

Climate-resilient actions, listed under the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries include; integrated monitoring/information systems, and integrated coastal zone/watershed management. While these steps may improve the general resilience of the fisheries and reduce its vulnerability there are potential economic costs such as those associated with setting up monitoring/information systems. Possible integrated coastal zone/watershed management may also entail the imposition of greater restrictions on the yields that fishermen and those in the fishing industry, may be able to produce which may adversely affect the availability and price of fish products.

The implementation of climate resilient actions may have economic costs to society today but may reduce the severity of potential economic fallouts from climate change in the future as a society will be more able resist, absorb, adapt to and recover from its effects in a timely and efficient manner.

Tyrell Gittens

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