Caribbean islands are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and specific effects are already being felt across the region. Understanding how Caribbean islands will be affected in the future is necessary to be as prepared as possible.
“Climate Analytics” is an organization that is helping to relay information about several regions across the globe that are experiencing (or are expected to experience) profound effects due to climate change. The Caribbean region is one location where the organization focuses its studies.
The Source spoke with Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, Ph. D., Head of Climate Science at Climate Analytics, and Consortium Lead of the ‘PROVIDE’ Project at Climate Analytics. Schleussner discussed the group’s plans and goals to collect and disseminate information about how a changing climate may affect Caribbean islands, including the USVI.
Information about Climate Change Impacts
“Climate Analytics is a global science and policy institute,” Schleussner explained. “We deliver cutting-edge science, analysis, and support to accelerate climate action to limit warming below 1.5°C.”
“The ‘PROVIDE’ project [which is part of Climate Analytics] is a European Union Horizon-funded research project looking at the impacts of temperature overshoot, [i.e., investigating what happens] if [global] temperatures rise above 1.5°C but are then brought down again before 2100,” he explained.
“Among others, it asks the question, ‘Are the impacts of climate change caused by higher levels of warming able to be reversed?’ And what does this mean for urban planners and others who are working on future-proofing infrastructure?” Schleussner added.
4 Vulnerable Regions Being Studied
There are four general areas across the world where Climate Analytics is focusing its work, including the Caribbean.
“There is a particular focus on four vulnerable regions,” explained Schleussner:
- The Arctic Fennoscandia – City of Bodø, Norway
- The Iberian Mediterranean – Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal
- The Indus Basin – City of Islamabad, Pakistan
- Caribbean small islands – City of Nassau, the Bahamas
The organization identifies the Bahamas as an area of intense focus in the Caribbean region. However, observations and studies of the overall region are being conducted, and much of the information learned applies to many islands, such as the Virgin Islands.
“To model future climate impacts, for instance sea level rise, we use scenarios that make assumptions about certain policy choices, land use, and other factors, like the price of renewable technologies,” noted Schleussner.
“With partners that include city planners and adaptation experts, the project is building a web tool called the Climate Risk Dashboard. It’s at a beta stage [an early phase], but eventually, it will allow users to select a threshold for a climate impact and explore scenarios under which the threshold won’t be exceeded,” Schleussner said. “You can read more about the project here, and if you would like to engage with the project, you can express your interest here.”
Monitoring and Predicting Impacts on Caribbean Islands
Extreme weather events associated with a changing climate threaten the USVI and other Caribbean islands. Climate Analytics is working to understand and combat some of those climate threats.
“Ultimately, we are working toward a climate-safe, sustainable, and just future for all,” stated Schleussner. “For the Caribbean, where climate change is already impacting people’s daily lives, this means centering the needs of people who are being affected at the middle of policy processes. [We want] to ensure that we act faster to bring down emissions, while making sure that funding and technical assistance for adaptation projects are reaching people in need. Technical assistance can also, at times, include adding to available data for data-scarce regions, as we intend for the ‘PROVIDE’ project to do.”
“More directly, our Caribbean office in Trinidad and Tobago works to support governments in the Caribbean region to translate negotiated outcomes from the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] into domestic laws, policies, and governance arrangements. It also supports the work of regional organizations and civil society to further advance climate science, climate policy research and analysis, and concrete action on climate change,” noted Schleussner.
Implications for Caribbean Islands
The most recent Climate Analytics predictions included specific information about the Bahamas, and data regarding impacts to other islands and island nations is planned for the near future.
“So far, PROVIDE has limited modeling results, as we are early on in the project and are developing our models and the Climate Risk dashboard. More results and data will be online in its next update in November 2023 and in the final version,” explained Schleussner.
“However, based on the latest science and our stakeholder engagement in the Caribbean to date, we can say that increased tropical storm intensity is a major hazard,” Schleussner warned. “Sea level rise is another key risk, which is considered irreversible, so even if we are able to bring temperatures down at the end of the century, any increased warming will trigger larger amounts of ice melt, which is not expected to be able to re-form.”
Islands across the Caribbean region face collective and independent risks associated with climate change. Schleussner describes some of the issues the low-lying Bahamian islands could face, along with consequences that may occur in the Virgin Islands.
“For the Bahamas, precipitation changes are likely to result in longer dry seasons and shorter wet seasons, which may affect the water sector. This is significant, as some small island groundwater sources rely on precipitation for recharge when there are few other surface water sources,” said Schleussner.
“Ocean acidification and warming are a key hazard for coral and barrier reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands and greater Caribbean, in terms of the coastal ecosystem and biodiversity protections,” Schleussner added. “As we state in the report, if global temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, approximately 99% of coral reefs will be at risk of destruction (IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], 2018).”
“There is also the risk of coastal erosion where much infrastructure is near the coastline, especially on very flat areas, such as the Bahamas, where 60% of the infrastructure is located within 100 meters of the coastline,” Schleussner said. “This should be considered in terms of the islands’ economic development. Many of these impacts may be relevant for the Virgin Islands, though modeling results will be needed to better determine their relevance to other Caribbean small islands.”
Caribbean Islands “Are Among the Most Vulnerable”
Generally speaking, major developed nations are mainly responsible for pollution and emissions that negatively affect the environment. The Caribbean is feeling the results.
“It is a critical decade to limit warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Though Caribbean small islands have contributed comparatively little to global emissions, they are among the most vulnerable from the impacts,” noted Schleussner.
The COP27 climate conference in late 2022 highlighted many of these issues. Another article in the Source explains this information in more detail.
“Many Caribbean countries have set adaptation plans for climate change, and these plans must be urgently actioned. The issue is finance for implementation,” Schleussner continued. “According to the IPCC, a gap between current adaptation levels and those needed [in the future] persists, driven in large part by limited financial support. The IPCC estimates that adaptation needs will reach $127 billion and $295 billion per year for developing countries alone by 2030 and 2050, respectively.”
Schleussner concluded, “These islands have been at the forefront of international negotiations to limit global warming to below 1.5°C and should continue to do so. This threshold represents an existential threat to many aspects of Caribbean life.”