Editorial | Facing the climate crisis
The countries of the Caribbean are not among the world’s big emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gases that heat the earth and cause climate change.
Indeed, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the economic group of the 15 countries, of which Jamaica is a member, accounts for less than two per cent of the CO2 equivalent that is spewed into the atmosphere each year. Yet, they are among the small island and low-lying coastal developing states that face an existential threat from climate change.
That is why Jamaica and its CARICOM partners have a clear interest in the report released last week by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and why they ought to redouble their campaign for rich countries to do more to cut their own emissions as well as meet their obligation to poor countries of helping to finance their climate mitigation programmes as well compensate them for climate damage.
Indeed, the Bridgetown Initiative, Barbados’ ideas for a substantial reordering/overhaul of the global financial architecture – which has been endorsed by CARICOM, but paid very little attention in Jamaica – should, therefore, be firmly on the region’s agenda.
The latest IPCC report is dire. However, it reminds the world of a way back from its pell-mell race to a climate catastrophe. If nothing drastic happens in the short-term, the IPCC scientists warn, humans are on track to, over the decade or so, shoot past their target for Earth to remain a reasonably tolerable place for the species to live – which is ensuring that the rise in its temperature is, by the end of this century, kept to below 1.50 Celsius (2.70 Fahrenheit), compared to the pre-industrial period.
Should the planet become hotter than that threshold, Earth’s environment is likely to be so profoundly changed that it would be difficult to adapt. Sea levels, already rising, would, in many areas, become intolerably high; large swathes of farmland would be lost; agricultural output would decline; animal species would be lost; famines would increase; and millions more people would die from infectious diseases.
Indeed, Jamaica and the Caribbean are already having more than a taste of the effect of global warming and climate change. The region contends with longer periods of drought, and storms are more frequent, violent and unpredictable. In the case of Dominica, for example, three storms in fewer than eight years, between 2011 and 2017, left damage of more than 360 per cent of the country’s annual GDP.
Elsewhere, Pakistan last year had a third of its territory under water from unprecedented flooding. In east Africa, parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are facing their worst drought in over seven decades. Crops have failed. Millions of people could face famine.
Yet, these countries of the global south contribute relatively little to global warming, but suffer disproportionately from its impact. And time is running out to halt outright devastation.
As António Guterres, the UN secretary general, put it: “The climate time-bomb is ticking.” Defusing it demands a massive fast-tracking of climate efforts, particularly a shift from fossil fuels to clean energy, by countries and industry.
In this regard, CARICOM must further advance its leadership on the climate front, while at home, Jamaica must open a serious conversation on its next steps in renewables, including its planned request for proposals (RFP) next month for 200 MW of clean generating capacity. The Government also needs to provide further and better particulars on its policy for transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs), especially in the area of public transportation.
But as Mr Guterres indicated, a big breakthrough in the climate crisis can’t happen without concerted action by the economic big-hitters, the G20 countries, who also happen to be the major polluters. The secretary general’s call for a Climate Solidarity Pact, in which G20 and other big polluters accelerate their programmes to cut emissions, and to mobilise money to help emerging and developing economies pay for their transition and mitigation programmes, is welcomed.
Many people will, understandably, be sceptical that Mr Guterres will get sustained traction. In Paris in 2015 rich countries undertook to, by 2020, provide developing states US$100 billion a year for their climate resiliency projects.
That target continues to lag. The estimated US$5.6 trillion developing countries will need to spend on their adaptation/mitigation programmes over the next decade seems a distant prospect.
Indeed, global financial institutions haven’t sufficiently realigned their funding arrangements to the climate crisis. Neither have they mobilised resources sufficient to the magnitude of the crisis, especially with respect to developing countries – and what they require to avert disaster.
This newspaper therefore hopes that the global financial summit proposed by Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley, and to be co-convened in Paris in June by France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, does happen and yields real results, especially giving a fillip to the proposals of the Bridgetown Initiative.
We are particularly concerned with the initiative’s call for the world’s development banks to lend developing countries an additional US$1 trillion for climate resilience, as well as Ms Mottley’s innovative proposal for an IMF-anchored, private sector-supported Global Climate Mitigation Trust that would provide US$3 trillion to US$4 trillion for lending/investment directly to climate resiliency projects (rather than to governments) that utilise proven technologies and are embedded in national climate plans and green industrial strategies.