Climate Change in the Caribbean: Talking, Planning and What NOT to Be Doing After the Paris Agreement

Earth Day came and went very quickly. A tremendous crowd of political leaders signed the Paris Agreement, and some fifteen countries (including five Caribbean islands) have already ratified it. I understand Jamaica will be ratifying the Agreement very soon. Some cynics have observed: “Oh, Jamaica is signing yet another international agreement! What difference does it make?” or words to that effect. But, hold on a minute, oh Cynical Ones. This is not just any old agreement. This is about the future of the planet – this tiny ball spinning around in space. It is about Earth’s very survival, and that of everything that lives on it – including we humans, who have created this mess. So this one overrides every other international agreement. It has to! And action must swiftly follow.

CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque (right) and Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland (born in Dominica) at the Special Signing Ceremony for the Paris Climate Change Agreement at UN Headquarters on Earth Day, April 22, 2016. (Photo: CARICOM)
CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque (right) and Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland (born in Dominica) at the Special Signing Ceremony for the Paris Climate Change Agreement at UN Headquarters on Earth Day, April 22, 2016. (Photo: CARICOM)

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has often been regarded as a “talkshop.” I am among those who has had severe doubts about its ability to get things done. Well, now is the time for the CARICOM technocrats to prove their worth and actually galvanize the region into action. Climate change (as our previous Environment Minister repeated endlessly) is here and now, and we have to take every and all steps – large and small – to combat it. We must not get bogged down in discussion. We must just get started. Now, not tomorrow!

The current state of the Paris Agreement ratification process.
The current state of the Paris Agreement ratification process.
Chair of the Regional Coordinating Committee on Climate Change (RCCC) and Minister of Sustainable Development in St. Lucia Dr. Jimmy Fletcher (right) and Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) Dr. Kenrick Leslie. (Photo: CARICOM)
Chair of the Regional Coordinating Committee on Climate Change (RCCC) and Minister of Sustainable Development in St. Lucia Dr. Jimmy Fletcher (right) and Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) Dr. Kenrick Leslie. (Photo: CARICOM)

So, on April 27 and 28 the Regional Coordinating Committee on Climate Change met in St. Lucia to discuss the way forward. Another talk shop? One hopes not. Obviously it’s important to bring together all those who will be involved, including those who are going to put up the money (a critical aspect, of course). Now, CARICOM’s Implementation Plan is to be revised and updated. I hope this does not take too long, and that we will soon reach the point of implementation. This year, one would wish?

If I sound a little impatient (and I am unfortunately so, by nature) – it is because I want to see a much deeper understanding of climate change among the general populace, in Jamaica and across the region. Public education on what we should and should not be doing is essential, and needs to be underlined – and preached with missionary zeal – by every leader in the country (political, business sector, community leaders, teachers, pastors – you name it). Public education at the community level needs to be stepped up several notches across Jamaica.

C-CAM's caption to this photograph: "Charcoal being transported from near the flat bridge in Alley, Clarendon. It seems that larger and larger quantities of charcoal are being produced in that area. Closing of the Pan Caribbean factory operations at Monymusk (sugar factory) might make this increase further."
C-CAM’s caption to this photograph: “Charcoal being transported from near the flat bridge in Alley, Clarendon. It seems that larger and larger quantities of charcoal are being produced in that area. Closing of the Pan Caribbean factory operations at Monymusk (sugar factory) might make this increase further.”

A few very recent examples have really brought this home to me. Ingrid Parchment of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) recently posted disturbing photographs on C-CAM’s Facebook page – truckloads of charcoal in Clarendon. I doubt that this activity is even legal (this is inside the Portland Bight Protected Area). We need to enforce our environmental laws! Quite apart from that, with high rural unemployment (I have visited Alley, and it is hardly a vibrant economy) – we need to find alternative, ecologically friendly opportunities (which there are) and invest in them.

Burning tires in Naggo Head. (My photo)
Burning tires in Naggo Head. (My photo)

Earlier this week I was in Naggo Head, St. Catherine, visiting a community project funded by Habitat for Humanity and USAID. Ironically, the project called BRACED (Building Resilience and Capacities for Emerging Disasters) is specifically related to disaster risk reduction in the face of climate change. As we arrived, we were nearly choked by the acrid smell of burning tires (at least two fires) on the main road. A group of workers, probably employed by the Portmore Municipal Council, were busy clearing a dry gully. They had apparently found a couple of dead animals (not a rare occurrence in our poorer communities) and were burning them with tires. This is in breach of environmental laws; extremely harmful to the health of residents; and – yes, contributing to climate change.

A huge guango tree in the process of being hacked down in Kingston. Note the recycling center sign in the foreground - how ironic! (Photo: Diana McCaulay/Facebook)
A huge guango tree in the process of being hacked down in Kingston. Note the recycling center sign in the foreground – how ironic! Clearly The Queen’s School did not get the Earth Day message: #Trees4Life (Photo: Diana McCaulay/Facebook)

Meanwhile, environmental activist Diana McCaulay posted a sad photo of a large guango tree being cut down at The Queen’s School in Kingston. I suppose it was inconvenient and in someone’s way. What is most distressing is that, with a little care and thought, the guango tree could have been allowed to stand – clipped back when necessary, but not destroyed.

In our uptown neighborhood, which has suffered from a severe case of Townhouseitis, almost all the large trees we knew when we moved in 30 years ago are gone: poincianas, lignum vitae, and in particular guango trees, which Jamaicans seem to be particularly averse to. When we talk about deforestation in Jamaica, we often point fingers at farmers using “slash and burn” techniques to clear their land; but housing developers are major offenders, too. They cut down native trees with abandon, build townhouses and apartments, and plant imported palms in whatever space is left. Many of these gated developments have virtually no green space. With a little imagination and more careful planning, we could have much greener urban communities. It’s sheer laziness much of the time. Trees are “inconvenient.” 

We managed to preserve our beautiful guango tree - a rarity in our area of Kingston. I took this photo four years ago.
We managed to preserve our beautiful guango tree – a rarity in our area of Kingston. I took this photo four years ago. We have to clip it occasionally, but our carbon-storing tree beautifies the area and is filled with bird life all day.

The above are very common examples of what we are doing wrong. As a developing country – a particularly vulnerable island – we can talk about climate change endlessly and point fingers at developed countries for putting us in the current disastrous situation – no fault of our own. Yes, their contribution to greenhouse gases is on a huge scale; but we must play our part, even if in a small way. Our leaders cannot declare to the world that Jamaica is committed to fighting climate change, while at the same time the citizens are still busy cutting down trees and burning garbage.

One more important point: with all due respect to the very hard-working CARICOM negotiators, committee members and so on, I am concerned about a couple of things. The meeting rooms seem to consist mainly of middle-aged men. Can we have more female voices, please? It has been well established that women are disproportionately affected by climate change, and their issues must be raised and included in all planning exercises. I would also like to see young people with their feet under the table. It’s their future, after all. They must have a say, and more than that they must be actively involved in planning and implementation.

"Youth in action for mangroves" in Trinidad and Tobago. Caribbean youth MUST be involved, in the dialogue, planning and implementation.
“Youth in action for mangroves” in Trinidad and Tobago. Caribbean youth MUST be involved, in the dialogue, planning and implementation.

And I know that young people are impatient by nature, too – as well they should be. After all, this is the Earth they are inheriting. And let’s not pretend. There is no “Planet B.”

Next time, I will write more about hope – and what we can do, and what we are doing. Will it be enough? We don’t know.

Time will tell. But time is running out.

 

 


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