Call for a New Approach to Developing Climate Adaptation Strategies in the Caribbean

Hurricane Irma caused massive damage in the Bahamas last September

Dominated by coastal communities, climate change impacts such as sea level rise (SLR), is projected to cost the Caribbean region US$187 billion by 2080.


A 1-metre (3.3-foot) rise in SLR is expected to displace 110,000 people throughout the Caribbean with The Bahamas expected to feel some of the greatest impacts, affecting five per cent of the Bahamian population, three per cent of their urban districts, 36 per cent of their coastal resort properties, 14 per cent of their roadways and six per cent of the agricultural land.


And in her dissertation titled, ‘Ecosystem-based Adaptation and a Nexus Approach to Climate Adaptation in The Bahamas,’ Kendria Ferguson calls for a two-part approach to developing effective climate adaptation strategies that will address climate change impacts and related socio-economic issues faced throughout The Caribbean.


Highlighting the economic damaged incurred following Hurricane Irma (September 2017), the third consecutive Category 4 hurricane to impact The Bahamas since Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, Ferguson writes: “The Bahamas government has found themselves unsustainably spending extensive efforts to rebuild communities, temporarily relocate families and provide much-needed relief to those affected.


Despite increasing evidence of its repercussions and the need to build strategies equally focused on improving coastal resilience and their ability to rebound after major natural disasters, The Bahamas has yet to find a model of climate adaptation that is effective and efficient at reducing their climate vulnerability.”


With this year’s hurricane season a little over three months away, the region is focused on re-building climate resilient communities. Last December, there was the launch of the Caribbean Climate-Smart Coalition, which will focus on reducing the region’s reliance on fossil fuels by introducing opportunities for renewable energy integration, improving the built and natural environment climate resilience, providing financial models and promoting climate-smart growth pathways.


But what does this really mean for developing countries that are geographically isolated, faced with tremendous financial constraints and who are already facing national pressures to address socio-economic issues such as poverty, crime and the lack of education, health-care and reliable energy sources? Ferguson found that the region is facing a disproportionate challenge of establishing a window for economic growth while rebuilding post-national disasters, finding solutions to reduce future climate impacts and simultaneously addressing ongoing social issues.


Her two-part approach to effective climate adaptation includes methods of ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) and adopting a nexus approach to climate response which promotes a cross-sectoral approach to developing climate policies and strategies, identifies synergies and trade-offs and “recognizes the inter-relationships that exist between climate change, the economy, environment, and society.”


In her dissertation, she explains that methods of EBA such as rehabilitating damaged mangroves and coral reefs and protecting remaining forestry and water resources helps build resilience and improves the health of ecosystems. Ferguson believes the region must focus on “addressing current land-use, ecosystem degradation and coastal erosion,” in order to reduce their coastal vulnerability to hurricanes, storm surges, and SLR.


“Unsustainable land-use and zoning coupled with the lack of enforcement of building codes and coastal setbacks have resulted in fragile coastal ecosystems that would have otherwise served as protective buffer systems,” she said, adding that understanding these trends in land-use and the inter-relationships between food, energy, and water will provide an opportunity to take a “cross-sectoral approach to reducing the impacts of climate change and finding shared solutions.”


Failing to recognize the interconnected relationships that exist “has resulted in the development of legislation, policies, and management plans that function exclusively of the other, leading to inefficient strategy development and weak implementation,” Ferguson added.


She said the Caribbean can no longer have a reactionary response to national disasters. This year, the region must move toward implement cross-sectoral strategies and establish effective policies and legislation that are proactive to climate change impacts, Ferguson added.