Climate Change – A Brief Understanding of its Impact on Small Islands


Climate History

Change is the only constant on Earth… from periods of extreme global cooling to warming, driven by natural factors like variations in the Earth’s orbit. Over the past 50 years scientists have recorded environmental data which point the blame on mankind’s actions, inaction, and delayed reaction. Earth’s surface temperature increased by 1.1to1.6 degrees Fahrenheit between 1906 and 2005. Though the increments may not seem alarming, it is the rate of temperature change that’s especially troubling to scientists. Temperatures have risen nearly twice as fast in the last 50 years over both land and sea. The inconvenient truth is glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising and humidity is becoming a killer. Satellites beam disturbing images of significantly depleted snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere. The amount of snow and ice loss in the last 30 years is higher than many scientists predicted, which means the Earth is absorbing more solar energy than had been projected.

But all of this you already know, or at least you’ve heard the cold, hot facts from every tree hugger and responsible news outlet. For decades scientific data fell on ears focused on the industrial revolution, with a handful of economic superpowers trying to gain fiscal might powered by fossil fuels.

A Few Climate Change Contributors

In 1900, the United States was the world’s largest polluter with nearly 1.6 billion tons of CO2 emitted that year. China was the 7th largest polluter with 175 million tons of this dangerous gas.  Fast forward 50 years, America was leading the industrial revolution courtesy fossil fuels, and its impact resulted in 4.2 billion tons of CO2 in that year.  Russia was in second place with 750 million tons of the pollutant, and the assault on the earth had only just begun.  66 more obits around the sun and Mother Earth was beginning to show the battle scars from a silent war with a changing climate.  The main assailant as of 2016 was China, with 10.4 billion tons for greenhouse gas emission.

The Plight of Small Island Developing States

The victims of this climate injustice are developing countries and many face widespread poverty and the lack of resources to battle the transgressions. They at times face the gravest risks and are usually poorly equipped to find ways to prepare for and prevent environmental threats.  Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are more vulnerable to climate change because there is nowhere to go as sea levels rise, and nowhere to hide as hurricane frequency and intensity are amplified annually. Freshwater exists in a precarious balance with the surrounding sea, and declines in fisheries may decimate ocean-based economies. The unpredictability of weather patterns has the most crippling impact on the food security of these vulnerable states.   

Ironically the victims contribute less than 1% of global carbon emissions. Their dependence on food and energy imports, and tourism revenue, increase their vulnerability to external shocks.  

Small Island Developing States have found themselves at the doorsteps of the international community seeking financial assistance. Their economies are “in freefall.” They called for debt relief and increased financing to build resilience to climate change, to fund critical climate mitigation initiatives, and to support adaption to climate change. For example, the procurement of heat-resistant crops, rainwater harvesting, photovoltaic systems, solar and windfarm infrastructural projects and funding for homeowners to be better prepared for the frequency and intensity of storms.  Paradoxically, within this consensus lies deep-rooted disagreements as to the best ways to finance mitigation and adaptation programs in SIDS. These include how to diffuse the emerging climate-friendly technologies as widely and as fairly as possible.  The environmental quagmire which has mothed into a moral and financial debate has given rise to the need for urgent implementation of, “Climate Justice.”  

Climate Justice recognizes the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income communities around the world; the people and places least responsible for the problem.  It seeks solutions that address the root causes of climate change and in doing so, simultaneously addresses a broad range of social and environmental injustices. 

A Response from SIDS

SIDS have effectively channeled their collective vulnerabilities to climate change to play a prominent role in international climate change negotiations. They created a coalition, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), in 1990 and successfully lobbied for recognition of the special needs of SIDS in the text of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Since then, AOSIS has worked to place adaptation on an equal footing with mitigation and to ensure funding to help countries adapt to climate change, through the Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund. These countries played a critical role in getting the loss and damage associated with climate change impacts on the agenda, including extreme weather and slow onset events.

Saint Lucia has been a recipient of 68 million US dollars from the World Bank to fund climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives under the Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project.  Though it is but a drop in the bucket, it represents a recognition by those responsible that their actions cause injury to the Earth and the need for restorative justice for those most affected.  Incremental payments after much cajoling of the industrialized giants will not, and cannot silence SIDS forever.  A Green New Deal promises to pay the injured, reduce the assault and slowly and collectively, implement strides towards reduction of our carbon footprint in the interest of the next generation of humans.

This project supported by Open Society Foundations 

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