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by Amrita Dass

The rest of the world seems to be on board, but how far off is the Caribbean from setting sail towards achieving a sustainable future? The Paris Agreement recently set a long term goal towards pursing efforts to limit global warming from the previous threshold of 2 degrees Celsius, to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. In response this raised a major question throughout the population: “What is the significant difference between a 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius world?”

As we know, the world has been experiencing extreme weather conditions over the past years and scientists predict that this phenomenon will only worsen with a combination of negligence and time. According to Erich Fischer of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, he believes that the difference lies in the probability of occurrence in natural disasters including; droughts, floods, hurricanes and storms.

A girl walks on a tree damaged by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti on Oct. 5. Photo: ANDRES MARTINEZ CASARES / Reuters

A girl walks on a tree damaged by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti on Oct. 5. Photo: ANDRES MARTINEZ CASARES / Reuters

Consequentially, this will inevitably result in the depletion of food crops to sustain human survival, massive loss and migration of animal species which would also contribute to the diminishing food supply and loss of tourism generating ecosystems such as coral reefs due to high ocean temperatures.

Erich Fischer suggests that this dramatic increase in temperature will double if we make the jump from 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. This extra half degree, as small as it may seem, would pave the pathway for more extreme events to occur at a faster rate.

According to the World Bank’s “Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal” (TDTH) report, the only feasible mitigation strategy to keep warming below 1.50 C, requires total greenhouse gas concentrations to be below a level of 400ppm CO2eq.

Nations worldwide have been implementing the necessary strategies to contribute towards a more sustainable future by slowly decreasing their dependency on oil. The Caribbean, however, does not seem to share the same sentiments. Little is being done by both the government and the private sector to enforce renewable alternatives as the Caribbean’s economy thrives on oil and natural gas. As the world begins to invest in viable options for the future, it is crucial for the Caribbean to also develop long term energy strategies that will contribute towards a sustainable livelihood and meet energy needs on a sustainable basis.

A promising and progressive goal for the Caribbean to sail towards can be food independence. In terms of productivity and competitiveness, over the past decades, agriculture in the Caribbean has been in a constant state of decline. With an astronomically high annual food import bill of US$4.75 billion, it is evident that the Caribbean sustains its population with food products from outside of the region. Resultantly, over time, food production has transformed from a local agrarian system to a global one which incorporates imports and exports prominently via shipments.

Jamaica is known to be the highest importer of agricultural products, contributing 21 percent or US$997.5 million of the total regional bill. Not far behind is Trinidad and Tobago, accounting for 20 percent or US$950 million, while Haiti represents 19 percent or US$902.5 million.

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Infographic of Jamaica’s agriculture sector. From: http://modernfarmer.com/2014/01/ask-ag-minister/

With these outstanding figures, it can no longer be ignored that the Caribbean is too heavily dependent on the importation of food products from outside of the region. Consequentially, this not only bares a high economic cost, but additionally a high environmental cost is also associated with this implication.

Importation of food products places a high reliance on transport companies. Due to extensive transport routes, a large percentage of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere to and from delivery. Therefore, by having a relatively high importation rate, this increases and places dependency on shipments to be made in order to adequately satisfy the population’s needs, thereby also increasing the rate of atmospheric pollution.

The Caribbean can contribute towards the 1.5 degrees limit goal by implementing innovative growing techniques to improve and expand farm productivity, so that they can tend towards a sustainable and independent agriculture sector. The government and private sector can work together to achieve this through investment in more effective pesticides, more efficient irrigation systems and setting aside more land for agriculture use. Once adequately planned and successful, this will significantly contribute to the region’s GDP and economic growth, while providing job opportunities for small scale farmers.

It is time the Caribbean put the necessary measures in place to join in with the rest of the world in sailing towards a sustainable future.

Amrita Dass

About Amrita Dass