Overcoming Sea-level Rise and Saving the Caribbean’s Cities!

For the world’s 52 small island nations, including the Dominican Republic, the effects of climate change induced sea level rise could be up to four times the global average, as it was recently reported by theUnited Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The New York Times confirmed that if Co2 emissions continue at a high rate over the next few decades, the ocean could rise as much as three or four feet by 2100.

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National Geographic explains that the rise in sea levels is linked to three primary factors, all induced by the ongoing global climate change:thermal expansion (When water heats up, it expands), melting of glaciers and polar ice caps (Recently persistently higher temperatures caused by global warming have led to greater-than-average summer melting of glaciers as well as diminished snowfall due to later winters and earlier springs. This imbalance has resulted in a significant net gain in runoff versus evaporation for the ocean, causing sea levels to rise), ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica(higher sea temperatures are causing the massive ice shelves that extend out from Antarctica to melt from below, weaken, and break off). The rate of sea level rise itself over the past 20 years, was reported as a 0.13 inches (3.2 millimeters) increase a year, roughly twice the average speed of the preceding 80 years.

The rise in sea levels, clearly unavoidable at this stage, could have catastrophic repercussions not only for the environment but also for local communities.
shutterstock_134938700smallGlobally the 62 million people that live in these 52 small island nations will become increasingly vulnerable to flooding. Higher sea levels would force them to abandon their homes and relocate. The low-lying islands could themselves be submerged completely.

This seems particularly unfair as the Director of UNEP, Mr. Achim Steiner, confirms that “the 52 nations emit less than one per cent of global greenhouse gases, yet they suffer disproportionately from the climate change that global emissions cause.”

 

Within the Caribbean, seventy percent of the population lives on the coast. Almost all the Caribbean’s main cities, with their millions of inhabitants and their essentials infrastructures, are less than a mile from the coast – including highly vulnerable cities such as Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Havana, Cuba.

In the Dominican Republic, the World Bank states that this mass relocation of cities could become a reality sooner than planned. Indeed, if the sea continues to rise at their current rate, Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, will be one on the five cities most affected at a global level by climate change in 2050.

In Santo Domingo, the poorest are already affected by flooding. Many live along the edge of the Ozama River and on its floodplain. Rising sea level, contributing to higher storm surge, coupled with potentially heavier rains, hurricanes and other natural hazards caused by climate change would make those people even more vulnerable.

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Salt-water infiltration into its freshwater is another issue that the country has been fighting with. This is particularly concerning issue in the region of Bávaro, where the famous tourist destination of Punta Cana is located. In Bávaro, drinking water is extracted from wells in the coastal plain. A sandy area where rainwater soaks into the ground where it floats on top of saltwater that rises and falls with the tide. As sea level rises, the freshwater layer becomes thinner and more susceptible to saltwater contamination through a process known as saltwater intrusion. Once contaminated, well water needs to be treated with costly advanced technologies, such as reverse osmosis, in order to make it fit for drinking again.

This is a growing problem also faced by many other Caribbean countries.

As climate issues such as these continue to spread across the global, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) decided to quantify the cost of climate change to the world economy. Reporting its findings last week in the reputed scientific journal Nature, LSE confirmed the cost could be as high as US$24 trillion by 2100!

So what can be done to address this issue? In addition to adopting abinding international legal agreement to commit countries across the globe to the fight against climate change and provide financial support to those most vulnerable to climate change, Small Island Nations themselves can also help to remedy the problem.

They can transition to an inclusive green economy and ensure a sustainable prosperous future by taking advantage of opportunities in areas such as renewable energy (only 3 per cent of the energy mix in the Caribbean is from renewable sources), the sustainable exploration of unexploited resources, and even developing an ocean-based green economy. They can lead the world in the development of inclusive indicators that go beyond Gross Domestic Product to include natural resources. To find out more about these options click here.

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As Heads of States, make their way to New York City next week to sign the international legal agreement on Climate Change, make sure you add pressure on your community to implement policies supportive of sustainable development and give the Caribbean its chance to transition to an ocean-based green economy. The year 2100 is not that far away, we need to act now if we are to ensure a livable planet for our children and the future generations.

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