Caribbean researchers, scientists, policymakers, and key regional stakeholders are participating this week, from October 9 to 12, 2017 at the International Climate Change Conference in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. This conference is timely, given wake of the unprecedented destruction caused by successive hurricanes in Caribbean small islands during this hurricane season, which officially ends on November 30. The conference is being hosted by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) in association with the European Union (EU), and is funded by the Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Initiative (GCCA+). It seeks to address the role of climate information in shaping and implementing climate policy and programmes in the Caribbean as well as to discuss the crucial nexus of science-policy in integrating climate change into national and regional development planning and implementation in the Caribbean. Data which is timely, relevant and robust and specific to the Caribbean was highlighted as a key need in the Caribbean small islands to enable evidence-based policymaking in the region.
During the opening ceremony today, Dr. Kenrick Leslie, Executive Director of the CCCCC noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) First Assessment Report in 1990 suggested that a link between a warming climate and extreme weather events such as hurricanes. The exceptionally active hurricane season of 2017 is confirming that this prediction is real, with successive IPCC reports supporting this initial prediction of over 25 years ago, with increasingly higher confidence levels. Recently, the IPCC confirmed the outline for the Sixth Assessment Report which will include a chapter on the science of attributing extreme events to climate change.
Unfortunately, despite anecdotal data which documented that these climatic changes were being experienced here in the Caribbean, they could not be included in previous IPCC reports due to the requirement that these reports must be informed by peer-reviewed research papers. Caribbean small islands, which are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, have been unable to successfully publish sufficient scientific research which could be utilized in IPCC reports – until now.
Dr. Leslie indicated that this international conference will showcase current climate information and research being carried out in the Caribbean, in particular the 1.5 to Stay Alive research project for the Caribbean region, which was funded by the Caribbean Development Bank, and showcases the consequences of global warming exceeding a 1.5 degree C threshold and the need for global mitigation efforts to be scaled up so that global warming does not exceed this threshold. This Caribbean led climate information will be incorporated into the forthcoming IPCC Special Report on 1.5.
Science-based climate information is critical in the design and implementation of appropriate policy responses which integrates climate change into programmes, projects, and policies for national development. However, this climate information must be available and accessible to decision makers and the general public through appropriate and sustained communication and knowledge-sharing strategies to enable increased awareness of climate change and its application into decision-making at the individual, local, sectoral, national or regional levels.
Dr. Douglas Slater, Assistant Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) echoed this sentiment, noting that science-based policymaking is dependent on high-quality data which is produced, analysed, and disseminated on a regular basis. CARICOM in 2016, developed an Action Plan for Statistics which supports a regional approach to the collection, production, and dissemination of data and statistics through strengthening National Statistical Offices. However, availability and accessibility of relevant and robust data is a major limitation in Caribbean countries which hinders the application of evidence-based policy-making in the region, whether on climate policy, health policy or agriculture policy. The collection, analysis, and dissemination of data is not often considered a priority by Caribbean Governments, given the other competing issues which must be addressed in their national budgets. However, data is critical for sound decision-making as well as for awareness building and sensitization on key issues, such as climate change across sectors.
This international conference on climate change for the Caribbean, therefore, provides a useful platform to showcase and discuss the current climate research being carried out by Caribbean researchers to policy-makers, key stakeholders, and the general public. Over the next few days, participants will have the opportunity to critically consider the role of climate information in decision making and relevant strategies for dissemination, communication, and integration of climate information into the development and implementation of appropriate policies and programmes on climate change mitigation and adaptation in the Caribbean.