A Call to Action on Climate Change: A Youth View from Adrian Watson

I said I would not be blogging much, and this is in fact a guest blog by Adrian O. Watson, a member of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network in Jamaica, Projects Coordinator/National Focal Point and a member of Junior Chamber International in Kingston. He sent it to me a couple of weeks ago, and I am rather belatedly posting it (my apologies, Adrian!) It covers a lot of ground… I hope you will find it of interest.

The Wigton Windfarm in Manchester is currently under expansion. (Photo: evwind.com)
The Wigton Windfarm in Manchester is currently under expansion. (Photo: evwind.com)


The Jamaican energy bill is consistently high for a non-oil producing country with almost all year round sunshine; but yet we import large amounts of barrels of oil to generate electricity for both industrial and domestics markets. The school system is known to be a big energy user; possibly more than they spend on computers and textbooks combined. The cost of electricity used by Government entities in 2012 was estimated at $13.5 billion; the education sector accounted for seven percent of Jamaica’s total energy consumption. The monthly utility bill for the education sector, for public schools was estimated at $250 million per month. It is quite likely that a significant portion of the energy in school buildings is used inefficiently or unnecessarily. In a bid to promote sustainable energy management in high schools across Jamaica, the Ministry of Education, the Scientific Research Council and the Jamaica Public Service in a collaborative effort in 2013, had set out to train students and teachers as energy auditors under an energy awareness project, Promoting Energy Awareness in Jamaican Secondary Schools. That’s where energy efficiency education steps in. The manufacturing sector in Jamaica is also hampered by these challenges as well. The cost of energy for production is usually very burdensome for local businesses, especially those in the Micro, Small and Medium size enterprises (MSMEs) which cite energy cost as one of the reasons for low productivity and growth. It is a significant factor in many businesses failing.

Jamaica over the last few years with the aid of many multilaterals and Public Private Partnerships have tried to run many projects to help solve the issue of energy sustainability through renewable energy generation with little success. However the country needs to overcome the internal bureaucracy that plagues the system to get the help to where it is needed. Jamaica needs to request skills transfer along with technological help to maintain these systems locally, using Jamaican Nationals, as a way of investing in both people and energy in a more efficient and sustainable way by building the capacity of the infrastructure and knowledge base. This would allow Jamaica to become more energy resilient. This would mean that the Energy Policy of the country will need to be updated and agreements with Jamaica Public Service would also need to be revised. Jamaica will need to engage the international community for this transfer of knowledge and technology if the international community expects a small island nation like Jamaica to help mitigate climate change and adapt. Jamaica contributed 2.66 metric tons of carbon, versus the United States 17.56 metric tons of carbon and Australia’s 16.93 in 2010. Therefore Jamaica needs to ask for aid in developing a low carbon intensive energy sector from the international community. As a small island developing state, Jamaica is being hampered by low resources and capacity in this area.


Jamaica’s freshwater resources come from surface sources (rivers and streams), underground sources (wells and springs), and from harvesting rainwater. Groundwater supplies most (about 80 %) of Jamaica’s water demands and represents 84 % of the island’s exploitable water. Rainfall is very important in Jamaica’s water sector. The amount of surface water resources varies from dry to rainy season in flow, which can, in part, be linked to rainfall. Groundwater is also directly recharged by rainfall, and indirectly from rivers and streams.

Water resources are important to Jamaica’s economy and the health of its people. Jamaica is a small island developing state that is confronted by a dual problem: To develop communities or conserve the natural environment in its pristine form, bearing in mind that Jamaica has limited land space. The lack of or limited water availability, especially on the south coast, has often forced the closure of schools and hampered production by the manufacturing sector across the island. This was seen in the 2013 drought scenario where there were high levels of absenteeism in many urban and rural schools. For many students, it is a daily challenge during the seven months of drought and even outside of drought months being afforded clean and adequate potable water for drinking and water for basic sanitation needs. Most recently, in 2014, the National Water Commission (NWC) advised the country that a continuing decline in inflows to its major water-supply facilities in the Corporate Area had resulted in the water-storage level at the Mona Reservoir and the Hermitage Dam falling to a critically low 36 percent and 20 percent of capacity, respectively during an extended drought period. This led to incidences of early or total school closures. This downtime reduces the face-to-face time for students with their teachers and impacts on the learning environment negatively.

With climate change it is likely that there may be an increase in the length of the dry season and a decrease in the total annual rainfall by the end of the 21st century. This will mean less water for schools and communities supplied by single spring or river sources. An increase in the intensity of rains in the short to medium term will likely result in very heavy rains which will increase the amount of dirt and debris in the water flowing into the watershed areas. This influx of water will breed pests and allow for the proliferation of diseases. The Chikungunya Virus swept across the nation relatively quickly in a pretty normal season for Jamaica, with a very high mosquito population being the vector. Increased dirt and debris will mean additional work and costs to treat water for our daily use. However, while rainfall may be more intense, it may occur less frequently. When this happens, more water will simply run off the surface of the land, and less will be available to replenish underground water sources/groundwater. The potential decrease in rainfall and increase in temperatures will result in reduction in potential groundwater recharge/replenishment of underground water sources. Less water will be available for everyone. The likely increase in the intensity of hurricanes will result in stronger but not necessarily more frequent hurricanes, which may pose an increased threat to infrastructure within the water sector (pumps, wells etc), as well as to revenue after the event and during the recovery period. A rise in sea levels within the Caribbean in general and around the coasts of Jamaica will pose a threat to our coastal aquifers. Increased sea levels may lead to salt water intrusion into the coastal aquifers, which means water quality will be negatively affected.

Recognising the need to ensure water availability and security in schools, an innovative initiative was realized: the Water Tanks in Schools (WTS) Push-up Challenge 2014, which benefited 33 schools across Jamaica. In an attempt to address the problem, the Government has completed rainwater harvesting systems in several schools and communities, aiming to do more once funding has been realized. It was recently suggested that the building code should include water harvesting systems for new buildings and communities being established.

A house damaged by Hurricane Ivan in Jamaica in September, 2004. 17 people were killed in Jamaica and 18,000 made homeless, while damage was estimated at US$360 million. (Photo: Gleaner)
A house damaged by Hurricane Ivan in Jamaica in September, 2004. 17 people were killed in Jamaica and 18,000 made homeless, while damage was estimated at US$360 million. (Photo: Gleaner)


Jamaica has experienced an increase in the frequency of natural events. The major threats include landslides, hurricanes, floods, droughts and earthquakes. But Jamaica is plagued by hurricanes, landslides and flooding primarily and these have become more frequent, especially over the last 25 – 30 years. The impact of these hazards has proven to be disastrous in several instances, resulting in significant social dislocation and very high economic losses. Between 1998 and 2004, Jamaica has had approximately 10 major weather related disastrous events with significant impact on the economy. In 1998, we had three events totaling just under JM$ 2 Billion; in 2001 Michelle resulted in damage valued at 0.8% of GDP and cost us 2.8% of Government revenue and grants; in the year 2002 damage was valued at 0.7% of GDP while in 2004, Hurricane Ivan resulted in damages of J$35 Billion. Jamaica was the first country directly affected by Sandy, which was also the first hurricane to make landfall on the island since Hurricane Gilbert, 24 years prior(1988). Trees and power lines were snapped and shanty houses were heavily damaged, both from the winds and flooding rains. More than 100 fishermen were stranded in outlying Pedro Cays off Jamaica’s southern coast. Stones falling from a hillside crushed one man to death as he tried to get into his house in a rural village near Kingston. The country’s sole electricity provider, the Jamaica Public Service Company, reported that 70 percent of its customers were without power. More than 1,000 people went to shelters. Jamaican authorities closed the island’s international airports, and police ordered 48-hour curfews in major towns to keep people off the streets and deter looting. Most buildings in the eastern portion of the island lost their roofs. Damage was assessed at approximately $100 million throughout the country. The total cost of direct and indirect damage associated with the passage of Hurricane Sandy was estimated at $9.7 billion (US $107.1 million), of which $9.4 billion was damage and $0.3 billion loss. Of the total damage, privately owned properties accounted for approximately seventy per cent ($6.6 billion), while publicly owned properties accounted for $3.1 billion. Disaggregated by sector, the Social sector accounted for the largest portion of the damage (48.2 per cent). This was followed by damage incurred by the Infrastructure Sector (27.6 per cent); the Productive Sector (17.2 per cent); and Emergency Operations (7.0 per cent).

In 2013 the Jamaican Government drafted a Green Paper Climate Change Policy Framework and Action Plan which aims partly to help mitigate against disasters affecting Jamaica that are exacerbated by climate change. Jamaica also implemented the Jamaica National Hazard Mitigation Policy in 2005. The Policy is grounded on the key principles of:

  1. Reduction in social and economic dislocation owing to hazard impacts and realization of social and economic benefits of hazard mitigation.,
  2. Accountability among institutional stakeholders responsible for implementation of specific aspects of the National Hazard Mitigation Policy.,
  3. Equity of access to resources for hazard mitigation
  4. iv) Inclusiveness of all stakeholders in strategies for hazard mitigation.
  5. v) Partnership and participation among stakeholders for hazard mitigation.
  6. vi) Environmental protection, good governance and an integrated approach

Jamaica is one of the most vulnerable to climate change enhanced disasters, compared to other natural hazards such has earthquakes. Jamaica has a very good disaster response mechanism in place but needs more aid to help refine this system. Jamaica is often used as a point for regional support for helping other countries in their time of crisis (without being anywhere near the top carbon emitters). Jamaica has made contributions in human and other types of resources to the earthquakes and flooding in the 2010 disasters in Haiti, as well as for the storm that hit Grenada in 2011. Jamaica like its Caribbean counterparts faces the most significant price to pay for the exploitation of the world’s natural resources.

Young scientists at a Youth Climate Change Conference in Kingston, September 2014.
Young scientists at a Youth Climate Change Conference in Kingston, September 2014. (My photo)


Climate change presents a challenge to our youth but also offers opportunities for interventions that are yet to be recognized. Despite the perceived and real risks and differential adaptive capacities among our youth, we often overlook existing examples of youth contributing to climate change adaptation as well as broader development processes. Current Jamaican education falls far short of preparing the country for the challenge to transformation of the nation’s technological infrastructure. The generation of information technology, and the generation that will face the climate change impacts in their entire lifecycle going forward are those now 35 years old and under. The youth are the present and next generation. There is a need to address the societal aspects as it relates to learning activities and programs to prepare scientists, engineers, policymakers, and the public to address the challenges.

The youth of Jamaica have a shared interest in supporting Jamaica’s schools and communities, in reducing carbon emissions, realizing the economic benefits of reducing energy consumption and building resilience by adapting to the future impacts of climate change. They need to be educated to become more effective change managers by applying social learning techniques and tools to help mitigate the environmental degradation.

Jamaica needs to advance the mission of climate change education partnership through exemplary climate change education (research). The goal of the climate change partnership is to develop a national schools network to catalyze, transform, and enhance education on the issues of climate change, including issues of governance, sustainability, justice, trust, and public engagement, to prepare current and future engineers, policymakers, and the public to meet these challenges.

Jamaica needs a program aimed at assisting the youth in understanding the impact of global warming today and at increasing “climate literacy” among young people. This program must support strengthening the capacity of schools to assimilate quality climate change education; encouraging innovative teaching approaches to integrate climate change education in schools; and raising awareness about climate change, as well as enhancing non-formal education programs through media, networking and partnerships. Research and case studies show that children and youth can be strong advocates, helping their families, schools and communities adapt to climate change. A study by Plan International suggests that children are often more knowledgeable about climate change impacts than adults, based on information learned at school or from accessing environmental resources through other media and communication sources.

There is a need to be innovative, apply new technologies and tactics to deal with the impacts of climate change. We therefore need to educate our next generation to make them understand the issues surrounding climate change properly. We need to articulate to our youth the importance of having a “greener” world. The youth are committed to working in partnership to improve the energy efficiency of our school properties. Residents,communities, businesses, non-governmental organizations and government are invited to work with us to prepare our plans and achieve our commitment. They are also invited to sit with us to further detail ways in which they can get involved in supporting us.

A St. Elizabeth farmer holds a melon that is much smaller than usual, due to last year's drought. (Photo: Launtia Cuff/Gleaner)
A St. Elizabeth farmer holds a melon that is much smaller than usual, due to last year’s drought. (Photo: Launtia Cuff/Gleaner)


Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (World Health Organization definition). Climate change has both direct and indirect impacts on human health. Various studies have shown that some of the main killers of children are highly sensitive to changes in the climate. For example, temperature increases have been linked to increases in the burden of malnutrition, cholera, diarrheal disease and vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria. Heat waves can also be a tremendous burden on individuals whose jobs are in the open environment, especially during day time hours.

The livelihoods of many in developing countries are impacted by climate change through the effect of these diseases, reducing productivity or otherwise destroying infrastructure. Agriculture is one sector in Jamaica that has been hit by the impacts of climate change on multiple levels. These include damages incurred by hurricanes, flood, and wind damage, drought and increased pest damage. This impact on the ability of countries like Jamaica to maintain food security and ultimately on the food import bill could have a profound effect on the nation’s nutrition.

Effective climate change action will require meaningful local participation down to the grass roots level. This can only be achieved by improving the effectiveness of global governance through enabling constructive community participation in governance on important issues. Increased participation of business owners and health care providers amongst others can accomplish more effective and efficient development, increased equity, legitimacy, transparency and accountability, and enhanced diversity and resilience.

The governance of climate change adaptation needs a thorough connection to local knowledge, innovations and perspectives, an area that can be significantly improved with the voice of the people. Jamaica needs to garner more support from the international community to help establish social and eco-friendly enterprises to help in the battle against the negative effects of climate change; and to provide some of the services to mitigate and adapt to climate change that the government is not able to do quickly enough.

A car drives in the rain, as Hurricane Dean passes close to Jamaica, in Kingston. (Image: Meteorological Service of Jamaica)
A car drives in the rain, as Hurricane Dean passes close to Jamaica, in Kingston. (Image: Meteorological Service of Jamaica)





2 thoughts on “A Call to Action on Climate Change: A Youth View from Adrian Watson

  1. Sorry to say that the school you posted in this photo is the Bluefields Basic School in Westmoreland and the project was not funded by USAID. Please to check your source before posting. This is a very serious offense under the copy write law of Jamaica. Thanks


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