Global Climate Change Overview
Global Climate Change (GCC) has emerged in the past few years as one of the world's major long-term challenges. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as "a change of climate which is attributable directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods."
The globally averaged temperature of the air at the earth's surface has warmed between 0.3° C and 0.6°C since the late nineteenth century. The four warmest years on record since 1860 have all occurred since 1990, the warmest being in 1998. Other evidence of global temperature increases since the nineteenth century includes the observed rise in sea level of 10 - 25 centimetres resulting from a combination of the melting of mountain glaciers and the expansion of seawater associated with a rise in temperature. This recent warming stands out against a record of relatively stable temperatures over the past ten thousand years, with century to century variations of temperature seldom approaching the observed increase of global mean temperatures of about 0.3°C to 0.6°C over the last century.
Scientists believe that the unnatural changes in the earth's environment have been caused by human factors. With an increasing world population, an expanding global economy and the development of new technologies, the human impact on the environment is severe. The direct result of these human activities has been the build-up of Greenhouse Gases (GHG's) in the earth's atmosphere. These gases are primarily carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
Carbon dioxide is produced when coal, oil and natural gas (fossil fuels) are burned to produce energy. The use of fossil fuels accounts for 80 to 85 percent of the Carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere. Methane is produced by rice cultivation, cattle and sheep ranching and by decaying material in Landfills. Human activities have increased the concentration of methane in the atmosphere by about 145% above what should be present naturally. These GHG's trap heat radiated from the earth this results in a "greenhouse" or warming effect.
Caribbean and Climate Change
In the Caribbean, the production of electricity by power companies consumes the largest amount of fossil fuels making the them the greatest contributors to global warming and climate change in the region. However, the islands of the Caribbean are not considered to be major producers of greenhouse gases. Industrialised countries are the main producers of greenhouse gases but island states stand to feel the full brunt of climate change impacts, particularly those resulting from sea level rise. It is therefore critical for the islands of the Caribbean to monitor and understand the importance of climate change. Small-island developing states are most vulnerable and are least able to adapt to these climate changes which are taking place.
The Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Global Climate Change Project (2002) report on the vulnerability and Adaptation-A regional synthesis of the vulnerability and adaptation component of Caribbean National Communications succinctly outlines the concerns of some Caribbean territories.
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
-Linear increase in the number of storms and hurricanes
-Increased drought (rainfall reduction)
-Sea level rise as impacts on storm surge in particular.
-Negative effects on the tourism industry
-Increases in the number and intensity of tropical storms.
-Changes in precipitation patterns: heavy rainfall in the northern Bahamas and drought in the southern parts.
-Sea level rise will cause considerable land loss and negatively affect the tourism industry.
-Sea level rise will affect tourism, the most important industry on the island.
-Changes in rainfall patterns and sea level will affect of freshwater aquifers critically.
-Coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs are also a concern given the key role coral reefs play in fisheries.
-climate may change the range of species within the abundant forests reserves.
-Coastal agricultural lands could be affected by salinisation due to sea level rise.
-Coastal ecosystems in Dominica are also likely to be severely affected
-Impact of sea level rise on critical coastal infrastructure.
-Decreased rainfall will affect river flows, reduce available water for domestic, commercial and hydro electricity generation.
-The loss of land from rising sea levels, as well as the negative impact on water resources, and agriculture.
-Negative impacts on tourism are also of extreme concern.
-Climate change is also expected to affect human health as it will for the rest of the region.
-Higher temperatures, diminished rainfall, higher evapo-transpiration rates, water scarcity and sea level rise. -Coastal erosion of natural estuarine and sea defenses
-Coastal inundation will affect population settlements in the coastal zone in areas below sea level
-Strain the already inadequate health services
-Alteration of the topography/bathymetry of water courses in the hinterland
-Excacerbate an already oft-times devastating cycle of drought and flood in parts of the country.
-Increase the susceptibility of coastal infrastructure such as the airports and other government establishments. -Agriculture, changes in temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide will negatively affect agricultural output.
-Tourism will be negatively impacted as beaches and other coastal ecosystems sea level rise are affected by climate change.
-Water resources in Jamaica will be affected by climate change.
ST. CHRISTOPHER AND NEVIS
-Impacts in the tourism sector are of key concern as this is the dominant sector in the economy.
-Impacts in coastal and terrestrial ecosystems will have detrimental economic and social consequences given that most of the critical infrastructure and human settlements are in the coastal zone.
-Concerns in St. Lucia relate to impacts to the coastal resources, agriculture, forestry, terrestrial resources human settlements, freshwater resources, fisheries, health and tourism.
ST.VINCENT and The GRENADINES
Key impacts highlighted in St. Vincent, include increased coastal erosion, inundation of low lying coastal areas, increased flooding and storm damage, and changes in precipitation patterns.
-Increase in precipitation will result in flooding and landslides.
-Severe droughts will have significant economic and social impacts and implications for energy generation - increasing fossil fuel imports.
-Higher temperatures will also have implication for agriculture and health and well-being related issues.