The ravages of climate change are being felt with increasing force. Droughts, torrential rains, heat waves, hurricanes and wildfires, as well as rising temperatures and sea level rise, are some of the extreme events that are increasing in frequency and intensity due to this phenomenon.
Although developed countries are historically responsible for the largest percentage of greenhouse gasses that have triggered the current climate crisis, this phenomenon disproportionately affects developing countries, such as those in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Dominican Republic is no exception. According to experts, climate change is already affecting the coasts, biodiversity, cultural traditions, and agriculture. This has occurred precisely because of droughts, extreme temperatures and other unusual events such as the rains of November 4, 2022.
During this last event, the lack of preparation and the deficiencies in the storm drainage system in Greater Santo Domingo became evident. There was flooding, vehicular traffic collapsed, numerous houses were destroyed, and nine people died due to this extreme phenomenon. At the Corripio Communications Group luncheon, the director of the National Meteorological Office (ONAMET), Gloria Ceballos, explained that, in three hours, more than 200 millimeters of rainfall were recorded in the National District, that is, more than 50% of what is expected for the whole month.
Events such as that of November 4th will only become more frequent due to climate change, and, as a consequence, the inevitable and irreparable damages caused by extreme weather conditions will increase. These unavoidable social and financial impacts are referred to as loss and damage, a central issue for Latin America and the Caribbean given its vulnerability to the climate crisis.
In fact, two days after the aforementioned disaster, the United Nations climate conference, COP27, began in Egypt. The countries gathered at this summit agreed to create a specific fund to address loss and damage, in order to support the countries most affected by climate change.
For the executive vice-president of the National Council for Climate Change and Clean Development Mechanism (CNCCMDL), Max Puig, this was one of the “great conquests” of COP27. “The very fact that it was approved goes in the direction of what is called climate justice. It still does not have funds allocated, something that will be negotiated in the coming months and will be finalized at COP28 in the United Arab Emirates,” he said in a recent interview, where he also highlighted the fact that the Dominican Republic had a pavilion for the first time at this summit, and its leadership within the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
Indeed, at the last climate conference, it was agreed that a meeting would be held no later than March 31, at which a Transitional Committee of 24 members (10 from developed and 14 from developing countries) would plan the administration of the funds in order to present a detailed proposal at COP 28. However, the process has not been free of setbacks, such as the failure to meet the deadline for appointing the members.
The importance of this committee lies in the fact that it will deliberate who will pay the money, where the funds will come from, and which countries will be compensated. In this way, the aim is to make progress not only in addressing losses and damages, but also in climate justice.
Loss & damage in the Dominican Republic
Due to its geographical location, the Dominican Republic is one of the first areas to be impacted by cyclones, says engineer and president of the Academy of Sciences of the Dominican Republic (ACRD), Eleuterio Martínez.
In this sense, loss and damage derived from climate change can be economic, as they include, for example, financial losses suffered by economic activities (such as agriculture), as well as the destruction of property and infrastructure (like housing, among others).
The Dominican Republic has joined forces with the World Bank to quantify losses and damages at the economic level due to large-scale events in general, and to prepare the National Catastrophic Risk Profile.
According to the Fiscal Risks report of the Ministry of Finance, published in September 2021, between 1960 and 2017 the direct and indirect losses caused by the most severe events were estimated at US$8,606 million. These events had detailed processes for assessing direct and indirect losses, making it possible to quantify the impact at the sectoral level, where half of the losses are concentrated in the agricultural and transportation infrastructure sectors.
This creates a number of vulnerabilities and risks to food security and productive sectors. “In the past, people were able to sustain themselves. Today, they have to look for money elsewhere, to buy because they are no longer producing,” laments meteorologist Francisco Holguín.
On the other hand, there are also non-economic loss and damage, which include cultural traditions, indigenous peoples’ knowledge, biodiversity and ecosystem services (benefits provided by nature) that are lost due to the numerous impacts of climate change. Most of these are not “tangible”, but they are undoubtedly invaluable. But are they quantified?
Consulted for this article, ONAMET, the Ministry of Culture, the National Statistics Office (ONE) and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MIMARENA) reported that they do not have data on non-economic losses and damages in the Dominican Republic, while other requests for information had not yet been answered at the time of going to press. This reflects, in part, the enormous complexity of this issue and the gaps that need to be filled in order to know the impacts and possible measures that can be adopted.
Challenges and projections
“They say that history repeats itself, but the truth is that its lessons are not taken advantage of”, says the French politician Camille Salomon Sée. This is how it looks, in fact, in the Dominican Republic.
“The Dominican Republic’s monitoring, registration and data collection system needs to be improved in order to have duly registered reviews with all the parameters, because climate change is a really significant damage”, says engineer Martínez, adding that damages such as extreme temperatures are not adequately registered in the country.
However, meteorologist Holguín emphasizes that ONAMET has enough data from the 1940s and 1950s to carry out studies, although “this series of data must be fed every day with the information that is being collected, but the software is not available in the institution, and human resources are not assigned and trained”. Another weakness of this institution is that it does not have a well-defined climate change index. “If there is no definition of the types of drought or types of rainy areas, then climate risks cannot be defined,” he adds.
“I think we have to prepare more Dominican technicians with software, so that we don’t always have to leave it to those who come from outside. The studies are needed by province, in that part we lack vision, human resources and financial resources, for us to be able to place ourselves with that large database as do the countries of the region, Costa Rica and El Salvador, which are doing very good studies on climate change issues,” says Holguín, who is also a disaster risk manager.
Because of these and other antecedents, the executive director of the Institute of Lawyers for the Protection of the Environment (INSAPROMA), Euren Cuevas, believes that one of the main challenges is to finish Law 368-22, on Land Management, Land Use and Settlements. He also mentions that another challenge – in terms of the environment and natural resources – is to make an inventory, in order to know what to protect and restore, effectively applying the laws and developing new regulations when necessary. For example, he points out that the Coastal and Marine Resources Law has been discussed for more than ten years in the National Congress, but has not been approved.
Both engineers, Martínez and Holguín, agree that other socioeconomic activities are also under threat from the influence of climate change. Martínez highlights the case of sargassum, a seaweed which directly affects coasts, biodiversity and local tourism. For his part, Holguín projects that probably by the year 2100, several ecosystems will be lost or degraded to such a degree that tourism will fall and migration will increase.
Authorities in debt
“The measures that are taken are always reactive,” claims Martínez. “You wait for the cyclone to arrive, and for it to cause all possible impacts and then take action, where the ideal would be planning,” he argues.
In any case, the president of the Academy of Sciences maintains that “the COE has been improving a lot, that must be recognized. Both the Civil Defense and Meteorology (ONAMET) are now better equipped and give information in time when these phenomena come. But there must be economic resources in the planning to face the programmed events, because the ideal is that we are forewarned, that there are resources, trained personnel and equipment to face each time these cyclones come, which no one can stop them, because climate change is more present every day”, he warns.
Similarly, Cuevas agrees with the reactive action of the authorities and what should be done beforehand. He gives as an example the scuppers which are almost always clogged because solid waste is not collected in an adequate manner, and emphasizes that Santo Domingo has grown exponentially and vertically, but planning is not being carried out in accordance with the growth of the city.
It should be noted that the country has Law 147-02 on Risk Management, which creates the National System for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Response, as well as a fund for this purpose. Likewise, within the regulations dedicated to improve mitigation and response, the Organic Budget Law No. 423-06 allocates 1% of the estimated Current Revenues of the Central Government –with authorization to add 0.5% of the nominal GDP if necessary– to cover contingencies due to public calamities.
However, all indicates that more efforts and support are required to address the irreparable consequences of extreme events.
From education to climate justice
There are profound challenges to address the consequences of the climate crisis in the Dominican Republic, starting with education from an early age. As a way to raise awareness and empower present and future generations, interviewees agree on the importance of including the issue of climate change, as well as losses and damages, from basic education to higher education. In this way, not only will they have knowledge of this phenomenon, but they will also be able to demand decisive actions from decision-makers in order to advance in adaptation, mitigation and climate justice.
In this regard, the president of the Academy of Sciences, Martínez, favors that universities dedicate spaces for training and research to identify the most important parameters that impact property, infrastructure, culture and biodiversity, and how to act and prevent the devastating consequences.
“It should be explained what climate change is and how it impacts negatively, where not only property and assets are damaged, but also human life itself. Many of these phenomena take lives and there is no way to repair a life, any material damage is repaired over time, but when a life is lost, it is lost forever,” Martínez highlighted.
It is also necessary to prepare the population to be able to respond to the effects of the climate crisis, including extreme events. “What is needed, first and foremost, is for houses to be reinforced, built with adequate materials and planning, and personnel willing to collaborate in each of the cases that arise, but more importantly for society itself to plan,” he suggests.
Cuevas is in favor of compliance and improvement of regulations. “The big problem in the Dominican Republic is the non-compliance with the law.. For example, the National Development Strategy Law, which after the Constitution of the Dominican Republic, is the most important law in the country, establishes the decarbonization of the national energy system. But, we are installing coal or gas plants where the law says they should not be installed,” he claims. In addition to these weaknesses, he says that international cooperation is not enough.
In any case, the Dominican Republic is no stranger to international decisions and negotiations.
A demonstration of this was the presentation by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources’ Vice Minister of Climate Change and Sustainability, Milagros De Camps, who advocated at COP27 for climate justice for the Dominican Republic and affected island nations.
De Camps, who was also appointed to the Loss and Damage Transition Committee, questioned during the last summit the non-compliance with the commitments of “ambition and financing” and highlighted that countries like the Dominican Republic are in the front line of climate change impact.
That is why the leaders of the world’s major economies are expected to push for the transformation of the global financial system to address the losses and damages because, in the words of De Camps, “we do not demand charity, we demand justice“.
This story was originally published by Diario Libre, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.