Small Island Developing States in Crisis
Extreme weather events threaten the future of the Caribbean. In response to a series of catastrophic hurricanes, Caribbean leaders at the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly again brought to the world’s attention the growing existential threat posed by climate change. Appeals to the international community followed the devastation left behind by hurricanes Irma and Maria. These weather events, unprecedented in scale, intensity and timing should remove any lingering doubt that weather patterns are changing due to humaninduced climate change. Extreme weather events and the resulting economic and humanitarian disasters make the development model relied upon by Caribbean countries unviable in the face of climate change-related risks.
Such extreme weather events challenge the ability of Caribbean islands to implement development programmes given the increased frequency and catastrophic results of these ‘unnatural’ phenomena. While assessments of the impact of recent storms are still on-going, the effects of hurricanes Irma on Barbuda and Maria on Dominica can be placed in an historical context. In 2015 Tropical Storm Erika hit Dominica claiming 30 lives and inflicting damage estimated at over USD480 million, or 90 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Hurricane Ivan tore through Grenada over a decade ago as a category 3 system, claiming 39 lives and leaving behind damage valued at over 200 percent of GDP. These two storms, while destructive, were far weaker than those recently observed. Hurricane Irma descended on Barbuda as a category 5 system packing winds of over 220 miles per hour. Her heavy winds ripped through the island rendering what was a verdant landscape a vast wasteland. Days later, hurricane Maria tore through Dominica destroying most of the island’s vegetation and infrastructure. While no official count has been released, it is likely that up to 70 residents may have perished.
This year marked the first since records have been kept that the Atlantic Ocean has hosted two category 5 storms at the same time. Since 1851, only 33 storms have reached category 5 strength; in a period of 10 days, two such storms ravaged the Caribbean. This is to say nothing of the threats posed by hurricanes Harvey and Jose. For the Caribbean, the threat of intense weather events is likely to become the new normal. A recent study by the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme projected an increase in the frequency of high intensity category 4 and 5 storms over the next century. These findings are directly related to increased anthropogenic (human-induced) greenhouse gas emissions and the warming effect of those emissions on Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda argued that all 14 members of the Caribbean Community together contribute less than 0.1 percent of global emissions but disproportionately bear the consequences of the irresponsible choices of others. He challenged the international community to do more for small states that face challenges that threaten their very viability, if not survival.
To address the catastrophic damage already caused, and strengthen economic, infrastructural and social resilience, Small Island Developing States should pursue joint efforts through relevant multilateral fora such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). These efforts should be
As it relates to global emissions, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Brown has argued that the Caribbean community is disproportionately bearing the consequences of bad choices across the board by larger states.