Hur­ri­cane Matthew a cau­tion­ary tale in Caribbean bat­tle with cli­mate change

Jamaica Gleaner - - EARTH TODAY - Pe­tre Wil­liams-Raynor Con­tribut­ing Ed­i­tor

WHILE JA­MAICA was spared the full wrath of Hur­ri­cane Matthew, oth­ers in the Caribbean were not, mak­ing well the case for hold­ing global tem­per­a­tures at 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius in the face of a chang­ing cli­mate.

So says re­spected me­te­o­rol­o­gist and former cli­mate change ne­go­tia­tor for Ja­maica, Clif­ford Mahlung.

For him, the ex­pe­ri­ence of Matthew – leav­ing in its wake a trail of bod­ies and ex­ten­sive in­fra­struc­ture dam­age in not only Haiti, which took a se­vere bat­ter­ing, but also the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and Cuba – is chock-full of takeaways.

“The lessons that we gather from Matthew are nu­mer­ous. It cer­tainly strength­ens the ar­gu­ment that we keep our global tem­per­a­tures as close as we can to 1.5 de­grees, be­cause any­thing above 1.5 will re­sult in many such sys­tems like the one we just ex­pe­ri­enced with this hur­ri­cane,” Mahlung told The Gleaner.

In the run up to and dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional cli­mate change talks held in France last year, the Caribbean ag­gres­sively lob­bied for and ul­ti­mately se­cured the in­clu­sion of 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius as a tar­get ref­er­enced in the new cli­mate deal.

Dubbed ‘The Paris Agree­ment’, it has as its goal to hold “the in­crease in the global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture to well be­low 2 de­grees Cel­sius above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els, and to pur­sue ef­forts to limit the tem­per­a­ture in­crease to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius above prein­dus­trial lev­els, recog­nis­ing that this would sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the risks and im­pacts of cli­mate change”.

The agree­ment will come into force next month fol­low­ing re­ports of en­dorse­ment from Euro­pean na­tions yes­ter­day, which sent the ac­cord across a cru­cial thresh­old. “Euro­pean na­tions raised back­ing for the 2015 Paris Agree­ment to coun­tries rep­re­sent­ing 56.75 per cent of world green­house gas emis­sions, above the 55 per cent needed for im­ple­men­ta­tion,” a Reuters news re­port said, quot­ing from a United Na­tions web­site.

With this year’s global cli­mate change talks, to be held in Mar­rakesh, now only weeks away, Mahlung said Hur­ri­cane Matthew lends sig­nif­i­cance to the com­ing into force of the agree­ment. It also un­der­scores, he said, the need for global fi­nan­cial and other sup­port for cli­mate change adap­ta­tion and loss and dam­age as­so­ci­ated with ex­treme weather events in small-is­land de­vel­op­ing states (SIDS).


“Hur­ri­cane Matthew was able to main­tain cat­e­gory three or higher for sev­eral days. It shows that we can get a cat­e­gory five hur­ri­cane in a mat­ter of hours,” Mahlung said.

“It shows the dif­fi­cul­ties of even do­ing some of the predictions, as we saw how the pro­jected tracks changed con­sid­er­ably over time; and this is not be­cause the mod­els are not good, but that the kind of con­di­tions we now face with re­spect to trop­i­cal cy­clone de­vel­op­ment have changed sig­nif­i­cantly from the good old days of, say, a Gil­bert or Ivan,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to the me­te­o­rol­o­gist, SIDS have to re­main vig­i­lant.

“You can ap­pre­ci­ate that there were times when the peo­ple in Haiti and Do­mini­can Repub­lic would have thought that the sys­tem would not have come to His­pan­iola. We saw where, in the fi­nal analysis, Ja­maica was spared and the track was changed, re­sult­ing in grave dev­as­ta­tion in His­pan­iola and par­tic­u­larly Haiti,” Mahlung noted.

“So when we make the case with re­spect to adap­ta­tion in Mar­rakesh in a few weeks time, and also loss and dam­age, we will go into those ne­go­ti­a­tions with first-hand ex­pe­ri­ences of just what se­vere weather events such as a trop­i­cal cy­clone, can do to small­is­land states,” he em­pha­sised.

Former head of the Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Ser­vice, Jef­frey Spooner, for his part, said there was no ques­tion of the need to con­tinue the push for a cli­matese­cure Caribbean.

“My real wish is that Mar­rakesh con­tin­ues the work to en­sure that we get to the point where we can re­ally seal this deal to cap the in­crease in global tem­per­a­tures at 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius. Ja­maica, CARICOM and SIDS need to con­tinue to press for that,” he said.

Caribbean waters have been dis­turbed by Hur­ri­cane Matthew, which has left a trail of death and de­struc­tion in its wake this past week.


Fam­i­lies seek­ing shel­ter ahead of Hur­ri­cane Matthew re­ceive food at the univer­sity in Guan­tanamo, Cuba, on Mon­day.

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