By Sir Ronald Sanders – Friday, July 31, 2020 — (The writer is Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organisation of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and at Massey College, University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own.)
The effects of global warming over the last five decades have been devastating agricultural production. CARICOM countries, except for Belize and Guyana, are now net food importers. At least seven of the 14 countries import more than 80 percent of the food they consume, resulting in the region’s annual food import bill estimated in 2019 at US$5 billion.
This serious vulnerability has been alarmingly exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the foreign exchange earnings of countries have diminished. Stark choices have had to be made about foreign purchases. Should the priority be medicines, food, or building materials? This has caused governments to encourage more local food production.
However, these belated efforts in agriculture will be frustrated, if not overturned, by uncurbed climate change. Extreme heat, droughts, floods, saltwater encroachment due to rising sea levels and storms have harmed agricultural productivity and caused food price hikes and income losses. These events have wiped out crops, bankrupted farmers and forced them out of business, in many cases permanently. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, crop yield declines of 10-25 percent may be prevalent by 2050 because of climate change.
The effects on tourism would also be devastating. Suffice to say, that the challenges and dangers posed by global warming and sea-level rise are enlarging, requiring strenuous and sustained responses at the national, regional, and international levels.
Even now, there should be a joined-up effort by national government agencies to factor the effects of climate change into their economic planning. That planning should be advised by scientific research and data. National blueprints should also dovetail into a regional action plan. Integral to the plan should be coordinated international advocacy about the Caribbean plight.
In Washington, DC, CARICOM ambassadors have started an international outreach by soliciting the convening power of the Organization of American States (OAS) and its Secretary-General, Luis Almagro. The idea to which Almagro has given full support is to gather the leading financial and development institutions to consider actions to save the Caribbean from the catastrophic consequences of unrestrained climate change. There is good reason to give the Caribbean special attention; it accounts for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and suffers hugely disproportional impacts.
Actions, like that taken by the OAS secretary-general, should be secured from other heads of multilateral institution such as the Commonwealth of which Caribbean countries are members.
Since 2010, more than 30 studies, aimed at quantifying the economic impacts of climate change on various vulnerable sectors of the Caribbean. have been conducted. Therefore, the nature and scope of the problem are well-known; it is time to stop the studies and to start the action.
In the words of the poet Dylan Thomas: “Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight; rage, rage against the dying of the light”. And do so from the rooftops of the world.
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