Is Paris our last hope for survival?

Traffic was terrible last Friday while the remnants of Tropical Storm Grace were passing through Barbados. As I was sitting for hours in the rain, I had more than enough time to think about how Dominica was decimated by a mere storm and also how the island’s development was set back 20 years, according to their Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerritt, in his address to the nation.

This is of course not the first time a storm or an even weaker system has destroyed parts of our islands. Storms and low pressure systems have been thrashing our behinds for a while now. I think back to Tropical Storm Tomas in 2010. It snuck up on Barbados in late October and wreaked a bit of havoc. It felled trees, destroyed houses, caused flooding and made roads impassable.

Furthermore, just 3 years later, an out-of-season trough affected a now recovering St. Lucia and St. Vincent on Christmas Eve. It shows that as soon as you get back on your feet, you can be knocked down again when you least expect it. I had only just left a workshop in St. Lucia a few days before the event. While on a field trip, I spoke to a farmer who said he had just recovered from Tomas and he showed me his bountiful harvest. When I contacted him after the trough, he said his field was once again wiped out and he needed to restart for the second time. This was his livelihood and I doubt it will be the last time disaster strikes.

While inching forward every 20 minutes or so I also thought about Loss and Damage and if it was on the table for the region. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are indeed most vulnerable to climate change effects. They are also susceptible to sea level rise especially since most of the inhabitants live in low-lying coastal areas. The administrative offices in Barbados are located just a few metres from the sea and our electricity comes mainly from a coastal plant. Let us not forget the droughts that we have had and in the words of Bob Marley, ‘You ain’t gonna miss your water until your well runs dry’. Lastly, the insanely unusually hot weeks we have been having. These effects not only affect the economy but our health and well-being.

I am elated though about the unity and swift action this region has displayed so far with aid swarming into Dominica daily. Countries are individually raising money, collecting food stuff and sending rescue personnel to help our neighbour out.

As a young climate change advocate, I have to applaud the work of youth organisations such as the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) which help to raise the awareness of the region’s young citizens about climate change impacts. Additionally, the Action/2015 global campaign which aims to mobilise regular citizens worldwide to address climate change, inequalities and poverty.

Conversely, commitments from larger and richer G8 countries to reduce their emissions and provide funds for adaptation and mitigation projects are necessary for our survival. It seems that climate change negotiations so far are going as slowly as this traffic. Will there be an agreement that satisfies the needs of the Caribbean SIDS? We can only hope.

In the meantime, I would suggest that community vulnerability studies be done for each country to map the most vulnerable areas to different disasters. In this way we can be better prepared for disasters like Erika.

 

Reducing environmental impacts at the UN Biodiversity Conference

I have heard some people complain that hosting large global environmental Conferences like the Convention on Biological Diversity (UN-CBD) are unnecessary and very expensive. Not only in economic costs, but to the environment, especially when participants travel long distances and cross time zones to attend conferences. They often speak of the large carbon footprint that attendees have and a virtual conference might be better. Even to Cancun, my flight there racked up a carbon footprint of about 1.1 million tonnes of carbon and I live in the Caribbean! However, to offset the carbon footprint, and to be as ‘green’ as possible, the Government of Mexico and CBD Secretariat have made attempts. With Earth Day coming up this Saturday (22nd April), I will share my experiences.

Reducing plastic use

Every delegate was presented with a stainless steel water bottle so that they could refill their bottles at water stations at the venue. At some of them you could’ve even gotten hot water to make your tea and there was usually free freshly brewed coffee nearby. This aimed to reduce the number of plastic bottles used and disposed of for bottled water. There were also no foam or plastic takeaway containers! The disposable cups (hot and cold), plates, containers and utensils were made completely of plant-based materials. Moreso, the plastic-looking and feeling cups were made of plant-based materials as well. 

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Plants everywhere

One of the very first things I noticed at the venue was the vast number of plants. There were thousands of potted plants everywhere. All were very familiar tropical coastal plants such as sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), fat pork/cocoplum (Chrysobalanus icaco), Beach Naupaka (Scaevola taccada), Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), and varieties of Ficus and Crotons. They were mounted on wooden stands, stacked on the floor and on shelves of the conference venue and outside. Plants produce oxygen and with thousands of people visiting the venue, they helped to improve the oxygen content. I attempted to count them but I gave up after 800 and those were only from a small area. I heard later that there were over 7000 plants at the venue!

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Plants at the venue. Photo credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016

Transportation

There were shuttle buses provided for participants between the venue, hotels and airport at scheduled times for the duration of the conference. Participants also had access to conference-branded bicycles to get from one place to the next. First of all the Moon Palace Resort was humongous. It is 123 acres of hotels, golf courses, the conference centre, pools and a rich bio-diverse mangrove swamp, with birds, mammals, rodents, reptiles and I cannot forget the very large and fearless mosquitoes. These were used by delegates to get around the hotel along with golf carts. 

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Coati on the Golf Course. Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016

 

Bicycle
Source: IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin 

 

Wood no plastic!

Exhibition booths, stands, seats and signs were all made of wooden pallets rather than plastic or metal. I wondered though if these were made of old pallets which were restored and reconstructed or if they were made from fresh wood. I hope it’s the former.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

There were different waste bins to separate recyclables, strategically placed all over the venue. This was a part of the waste management programme stated in the participants’ note. This included collecting glass, plastic, paper and cardboard, aluminium, used cooking oil, organic waste, multi-layered containers and electronics and appropriate management of chemicals and dangerous wastes.

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Garbage Bins; Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy 2016

Less AC, less fossil fuel use

Another thing I was extremely happy about was the reduced air conditioning. I am not a fan of cold temperatures and usually in the Caribbean, the AC is usually very frigid and uncomfortable. However, the conference rooms were a comfortable temperature and there was no need for thick jackets. Participants were even asked to dress elegantly casual or “smart casual” for all the meetings.

All in all, I was very happy and enlightened by the conference and all the side events. As a youth delegate representing the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) and Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), this was my first Conference of the Parties of any of the 3 Rio Conventions (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Management). I dreamt of participating in one since I studied natural resources management and it definitely lived up to my expectations. The experience there was amazing; learning about all the different activities that countries and organisations are doing to preserve biodiversity. I had some comfort in knowing that at an environmental conference, efforts were made to implement conservation practices. However, a few questions came to mind: what was done with the plants after the conference? What happened to the wooden structures after? Were the separated waste items really disposed of correctly? Just a thought!

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Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016

 

Land Use and Climate Change on an Island: Chalk and Cheese?

What does land use have to do with climate change? Everything. They are not like ‘chalk and cheese’ like persons may think. How our 166 square miles are managed, directly determines our future on this beloved rock.

Aerial View of Barbados
Aerial View of Barbados (Source:Jessie R on Pinterest)

Land is definitely a key limiting factor to a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) and can definitely determine our resilience to potential climate change impacts. When land is limited, there are several competing uses for the same space such as industrial and manufacturing, educational, residential, agriculture, tourism, urban areas, solid waste disposal, and not to be forgotten, natural ecosystems such as forests, streams and mangroves. Therefore, sustainable land management is critical. When conducting research on the effects of changing land use patterns and climate change impacts on food security in Barbados, coincidentally enough, the first question some persons I pitched it to asked me was ‘what’s the link between climate change and land use?’

Brownes Beach Flooded
Flooded Beach in Barbados (Source: Richard Burke, Facebook)

According to a United States’ Environmental Protection Agency’s publication, land use planning plays a significant role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a changing climate. Additionally, it is critical in assisting communities to adapt to sea level rise, more intense weather conditions and other climate-related hazards. Land management has energy implications as well. The more developed or built-up areas are, the hotter it gets, and therefore, an increased need for air conditioning, resulting in higher electricity or fuel bills.

Correspondingly, as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported in a 2010 National Environmental Summary for Barbados, it was revealed that land management was inefficient in Barbados pertaining to climate change adaptation. It was further stated that land use has changed rapidly over the years from agriculture to a more built-up environment, which may have potentially devastating consequences such as flooding and land degradation. This would therefore increase our already vulnerable state.

From a 2015 report from the Barbados Chapter of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), preliminary results showed that 99% of 400 surveyed young Barbadians – aged 15-31 years – believed that sustainable land management is important for Barbados. However, 92% were of the opinion that the land was not being managed well at present. Also, climate change was ranked as one of the top threats to sustainable land management, only second to pollution. What will we do about this?

Thus, despite the fact that we like to blame the government for several shortcomings, we as ‘proud Barbadians’ have to do our part to help ourselves. What we do on the land will determine as a nation, how much water we conserve, how much oxygen we get, whose houses and businesses will be affected first by flooding from sea level rise, what our food and energy bills will be and overall how resilient we are to weather systems, earthquake and volcanic activity which the region is very prone to. Note that we are just weeks shy of the hurricane season and Tropical Storm Ana has graced the Atlantic with her presence. If we are not usually prepared for the regular season, how will we defend ourselves against an off-season trough like that which devastated our neighbouring isles in 2013?

Most importantly, education and change in attitudes of our citizens, especially young people, is highly recommended to create a culture of a better appreciation for land as a precious resource and further, to adapt to climate change impacts. We need to start with us.

As our National Environment Month approaches in June, I want persons to not only think about what actions they will take for climate change but to actually do positive actions so we can all survive.

What do you think about land management in your country?

 

Save the Earth, Dr. Seuss Style

Dear colleagues & friends,

As Earth Day swiftly approaches, I reminisce on the basis of the animated film The Lorax. Who could have put it any better than Dr. Seuss? It teaches the basics of sustainable consumption and production and sustainable development on a whole. It also fits in with the theme for this year: It’s our turn to lead!

I often fear that my future grandchildren would grow up in a place like Thneedville, where everything was artificial, the trees and hedges were made of plastic and there was toxic waste. Air was a commodity and persons were subjected to buying bottled clean air so they can breathe at home. Clean air for sale, anyone? Also, high city walls blocked the view of the inhabitants from the wastelands outside of the city. The people there were seemingly extremely happy; walking around with their eyes closed to the real issues. But why not? They had everything they needed in Thneedville. It’s ALL Good! It was much like an island. Also the person who created the bottled air ruled the town and did not want anyone learning about trees which would take him out of business.

Real trees were a thing of the past. But the age-old love story aided in the raising of awareness about the environment. Boy meets girl, girl only wants a real tree and boy tries his best to retrieve said tree no matter the cost. Although the intent was not on conservation of natural resources, I think it shouldn’t really matter how it comes about; once it changes the minds of the public to conserve natural resources, I am happy.

It all began with a budding entrepreneur trying to make a life for himself. When he found his dream material from a tree, he immediately cut it down. The Lorax, Guardian of the Forest, warned him about the dangers.

He declared: ‘I speak for the trees!’ He even tried to run him out of the forest.

The Lorax concerned about the chopped tree (Source: https://littlelessonslearned.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/the-lorax-pic091.jpg)

So when his business started to grow, he started to harvest the material with a conscience. But as his greed stepped in, he started chop, chop, chopping with a vengeance. He asked how bad could it possibly be? His eyes were only the money and pleasing his family. He built his empire as the money piled in but alas, when he chopped down the last tree that was the end of his business. As he did not replant any, his supply vanished and his family left him. As he explained this to the love-struck boy in his old age, he happened to have a seed from one of those trees which the boy ended up planting in the city centre. He educated everyone in the town why they should let the trees grow and showed them the desolation outside the city.

Love-struck boy planting the tree in city centre (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQK7bjYQWQw)

It is a lesson for us to learn especially when it comes down to managing our natural resources. We should not let our greed get in the way and we shouldn’t use up what limited resources we have before it is too late. Islands, especially like Barbados where I’m from, need to start paying more attention to the management of their very limited natural resources, such as land, water and food.

Happy Earth Day!