Climate change resilience in the Caribbean must include social welfare

15 May 2018

In the recent past, many citizens across the Caribbean have been pulled out of poverty. However, in the face of the adverse affects of climate change, the situation is precarious and will continue to be so if social inequality is not a top priority for governments. 

Leaders across the Caribbean must focus on promoting social welfare and reducing inequality to be better prepared for natural disasters according to Bahamas-based independent environmental consultant Kendria Ferguson.

In the past 40 years, extreme weather events across the region have tripled in number. The new normal is both the threat of drought and extreme rainfall as well as at least one devastating hurricane each year. 

Sea levels are expected to rise by at least 1 meter around the Caribbean, and each five-year delay before the globe reaches peak carbon emissions is likely to cause an increase of an additional 20cm, according to scientists from Nature Communications. 

To better prepare for and deal with environmental degradation and natural disasters, Caribbean governments must make social welfare a priority, as low income families and communities are those worst affected when disaster strikes.

Climate change resilience in the Caribbean must include social welfare

These citizens have a lower ability to protect their homes in the case of either gale-force winds or heavy rainfall. They also have less means in the process of recovering from infrastructure and property damage in the aftermath of a disaster or rising sea levels.

Integrated climate-related strategies which promote social welfare in the context of an increasingly hostile natural environment, must become standard across the region according to Ferguson. Framing the effects of poverty, high crime rates, and low economic growth in the context of climate resilience brings the necessity of building climate resilient communities into the equation.

Governments throughout the Caribbean must address these issues prior to and in connection with a natural disaster. Social inequalities reduce a nation’s ability to recover from a hurricane, extend disaster recovery time, and perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

Building climate resilient communities

Jorge Familiar from the World Bank commented on the subject of climate resilience in Latin America and the Caribbean; “Despite the big prosperity gains in recent years, many people in Latin America and the Caribbean are just one disaster away from falling back into poverty. Countries need to better prepare for and build resilience to shocks so that they don’t lose in one day what took years to achieve.”

For Ferguson, this means a two-pronged approach to building climate resilient communities. Firstly, using methods of ecosystem-based adaptation – rehabilitating damaged mangroves, coral reefs and protecting forestry and water resources – will build resilience in natural ecosystems.

“Unsustainable land-use and zoning coupled with the lack of enforcement of building codes and coastal setbacks have resulted in fragile coastal ecosystems that would have otherwise served as protective buffer systems,” said Ferguson.

The connection that the population has with the natural environment which provides food, energy, and water must then be contextualised in relationship with climate change, economy and society. 

The failure of governments to recognize the interconnected relationships that exist between these factors “has resulted in the development of legislation, policies, and management plans that function exclusively of the other, leading to inefficient strategy development and weak implementation,” Ferguson added.

Ferguson is a sustainability consultant based in Nassau, The Bahamas. She recently graduated from the University of South Florida with a masters in Sustainable Energy. She works specifically in environmental project management and sustainability analysis and acquired her LEED GA certification in 2016.

Speaking separately about her home country, The Bahamas, Ferguson said; “The Bahamas government has found themselves unsustainably spending extensive efforts to rebuild communities, temporarily relocate families and provide much-needed relief to those affected.”

“Despite increasing evidence of its repercussions and the need to build strategies equally focused on improving coastal resilience and their ability to rebound after major natural disasters, The Bahamas has yet to find a model of climate adaptation that is effective and efficient at reducing their climate vulnerability,” she concluded.

Socio-economic inequality driving deforestation in Latin America

22 February 2019

Scientists at the University of Bern have found a connection between rising levels of socio-economic inequality and the rates of deforestation in Latin America.  

In combination with a rising level or urbanization across Central and South America, human development is a growing threat to the lungs of the Americas. Agriculture in particular and a growing demand for meat around the globe has seen hectares of forrest replaced with farmland each year.  

A rising demand for soy, palm oil, cocoa and coffee is translating into expanding plantations for these crops worldwide and contributing to deforestation at an unprecedented scale. However, other factors too need to be considered, according to a new analysis, with researchers from Switzerland finding that there is a correlation between inequality and deforestation. ”More equal distribution of income, wealth, and land ownership is not only fairer, but also an effective means of improving environmental protection,”said one of the project’s researchers, Graziano Ceddia.

"We know that different forms of inequality can significantly impact how environmental laws are formulated,”researcher Ceddia added. “The novelty of this study is its explicit investigation of the interaction between agricultural productivity, farmland expansion at the expense of forests, and various forms of inequality.”

Socio-economic inequality driving deforestation in Latin America

Just under half (40%) of Latin America is covered by the tropical rainforest known as the Amazon spanning from Brazil and Venezuela to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This territory represents 22% of the global forest area and it is located in the Amazon basin, which is the largest continuous mass of the world's tropical forests. 

The stark truth is that there is not one custodian of the Amazon where inequality is not a major electoral issue. "If we want to ensure that increased agricultural productivity serves to protect tropical forests, then the message to policymakers is clear,” Ceddia said. 

In an increasingly hostile political environment, advancing environmental or climate policies alone may be difficult. As Brazil’s new president demonstrates, he has already moved to relax protectionist policy for the Amazon, pushing sustainability up the agenda is easy at times of economic bloom, but significantly harder in the current economic climate. This leads Ceddia  to believe that, if played correctly, addressing inequality may be a leaver which could make a more important difference, and more importantly, is one that could be implemented in the current circumstances.

Deforestation and climate change

With the link being drawn between deforestation and inequality, it is imperative to note that there is also an inextricable link with carbon emissions. As forests are natural carbon capture and storage machines, deforestation and forest degradation also impact climate change.  

Around 15% of human-made emissions are directly linked to deforestation, second only to fossil fuel combustion,explained PwC partner Celine Herweijer in an article written for the World Economic Forum (WEF). “More than half of deforestation is the result of the production of commodities such as soy, palm oil, pulp and paper, and cattle products.”  

“Brazil, for example, has committed to reducing its emissions by 37% by 2025: almost half of that will be contributed by tackling emissions from its land use and forestry sectors… The business case is clear. The opportunity for the financial sector to play a part in driving and integrating sustainable practices into forestry management is enormous.” 

However, according to the researchers at Bern, to truly tackle the issue at its core and confront deforestation in the Amazon whilst meeting Latin countries’ pledges to the Paris Agreement, inequality cannot be ignored from environmental or climate policies.