With severe hurricanes, increased rainfall intensity, and longer periods of drought, Jamaica has suffered large economic losses as a result of climate change in recent years. Jamaica’s natural resources have suffered a decline in quantity and quality over time, due primarily to its heavy dependence on these resources, cultural/traditional unsustainable practices, and the many natural hazards which have affected the island. Unfortunately, the island has, and will continue to be affected by increased frequency and intensity of tropical weather systems, which is caused by climate change. This paper examines the effects of climate change on the Caribbean’s Tourism and Agriculture sectors, the likely impact and possible policy responses.
Climate change is defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer and encompasses any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity.” (IPCC, 2007). Human activities associated with economic and social development have altered the composition of the global atmosphere through the emission of greenhouse gasses. In so doing, humans have compounded natural climatic variability through a process of global warming resulting from the greenhouse gas emissions.
The Caribbean is the most tourist-intensive region in the world, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. This makes Caribbean economies particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of Mother Nature. Most Caricom countries have at least a 10% chance of being struck by a hurricane each year, according to a 2013 study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that is cited by the UNESCO Science Report. The probability is even as high as 24% in Jamaica and 20% in the Bahamas. Even moderate storms can reduce growth by about 0.5% of GDP. For example, winds that were well beneath hurricane strength took a toll on the small economies of St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines in December 2013.
Moreover, according to the Caribbean environment programme, Over the last 25 – 30 years, Jamaica has experienced an increase in the frequency of natural events, primarily floods related to inclement weather, tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes, and droughts and landslides. The adverse impacts of hurricanes included a decline in the health of coral reefs; loss of seagrass beds; severe beach erosion and loss of forested areas. They continue to state that Between 2004 and 2008, five major storm events caused damage and losses estimated at US$1.2 billion. These have had significant impact on the national economy; the quality of the country’s natural environment, which will result in damaging of farms and tourist attractions.
The World Travel and Tourism Council predicts that the Caribbean will become the most at-risk tourist destination in the world between 2025 and 2050. In 2015, the UNESCO Science Report observed that ‘the region would be hard-pressed to deal with a major meteorological disaster,’ and urged it to ‘take climate change adaption more seriously.’ As stated by Dr. Parham, there are four major effects likely to occur as a result of climate change in the region. He identifies these as warmer temperatures which are already being observed; more natural disasters such as hurricanes, which are formed when sea temperature rises above a certain level; change in rainfall patterns and coastal erosion. “As warmer temperatures are raising sea temperatures, we would expect longer hurricane seasons with storms more numerous and more severe. This is what appears to be happening at the moment, even if it is not yet scientifically proven,” he says.
Dr. Parham further notes, that the effects of warmer temperatures result in loss of species diversity as those which cannot adapt die out, and the loss of advantage for growing warm weather crops. “The Caribbean is proud of the fact that many food crops produced here cannot be produced in more temperate regions. This situation may alter as summers warm up and frost-free winters become more widespread,” he points out.
Climate change represents a clear and growing threat to food security in the Caribbean with differing rainfall patterns, water scarcity, heat stress and increased climatic variability making it difficult for farmers to meet demand for crops and livestock. “Last year (2014) the drought was prolonged over a period of about five months; it affected 18,000 farmers and cost the agricultural sector about 1 billion Jamaican dollars. So, climate change through drought has really been a challenge,” Norman Grant, President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), told Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS). Grant spoke with IPS during an event aimed at developing a business approach for the agri-food sector in Caribbean and other small island states (SIDS) in African Caribbean and Pacific Regions. Additionally, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management in Barbados, Esworth Reid, said small island states are feeling the effects of climate change and this phenomenon has been impacting negatively on the agricultural sector due to long periods of drought.
As aforementioned, the Caribbean is immensely known to be heavily tourism-dependent. However, with the increase of greenhouse gases (climate change) the tourism sector is likely to suffer. It can be said that sea level rise (SLR) is one of the listed risks to Caribbean tourism. Almost one-third of Caribbean tourism resorts are at flooding risk from SLR of 1 meter, and many more would have their beach assets substantially eroded or destroyed. Biodiversity, beaches, mangroves and coral reefs are all at risk from a combination of SLR and warming sea temperatures. The loss of coral reefs, which are a major tourist attraction, could particularly impact tourism. Another natural resource change which could impact tourism is a projected reduction in the availability of fresh water.
Specifically speaking, Caribbean countries and economies are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Jamaica, for example, is one of the world’s top 40 climate “hot spots”. This means that Jamaica is one of the countries in the world that has been, and will be, worst affected by climate change. 25% of Jamaica’s population lives in a coastal area, and 90% of the country’s total income is produced within these areas. Many other Caribbean countries are also at significant risk due to their geography, location and dependence on agriculture and tourism. Climatic change can also result in degradation of our natural beauty and the extinction of our native animals. The birds, butterflies and other species in the Caribbean that are not found anywhere else in the world, are one of the many negative attributes on this atmospheric change. Climate change and shifts in weather threaten our natural environment, our animals, and our beautiful surroundings.
It is suggested and recommended that coastal management policies should be reviewed and revised to account for SLR and storm surge-with specific attention for regulations related to setback requirements, mangrove and coral reef conservation, beach nourishment, and property decommissioning. Architectural and engineering coastal protection designs for beach resorts should be market-tested with international tourists. As sea level rise is transforming coastal tourism in the Caribbean, SLR vulnerability mapping should be used to inform revised Tourism Master Plans and Land Use Plans. Future tourism development should be redirected away from highly vulnerable areas, and priority areas for coastal protection need to be identified. Internationally, Caribbean leaders and regional groups need to continue to lobby against policies elsewhere that disadvantage less developed countries and destinations.
According to the Caribbean Tourism Position, they recommended that Caribbean countries should review the energy use of their source markets in comparison with their cost-effectiveness to restructure their tourism economies with the overall goal of reducing energy use and thus the vulnerability to oil price volatility, climate policy, environmental awareness of tourists, and the consequences of unlimited climate change. Moreover, in order to assess the need for and best practices to adaptation and mitigation, both global and location-specific research and evaluation activities are required, e.g. projecting current and future climate change impacts; assessing vulnerabilities and evaluating resilience and adaptive capacity; and evaluating current and future adaptation and mitigation activities.
In conclusion, Tourism and Agricultural policy makers throughout the region must ensure that adaptive strategies to deal with climate change become part of planning for tourism in the future.