Climate change, greenhouse gases and hurricanes

The Bahamas has been engaged in the international effort to safeguard the environment, to protect our biodiversity and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for more than three decades.

Beginning in the early 1990s a host of pro-environmental actions were taken by the government including the following:

• Enacting the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Environment Act to provide better regulation of the excavation of hills and to extend protection to listed indigenous trees;

• Introducing a requirement for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) to be conducted ahead of approvals of major developments to reduce adverse impacts on the environment and to provide for the adoption of mitigating actions to minimize degradation of the environment;

• Increasing the Bahamas’ accession to the international environment conventions and protocols that promote international cooperation in protecting the global environment;

• Producing a manual for small building construction in New Providence and the Family Islands to provide improved regulation of construction practices and to ensure adherence to the Building Code;

• Adopting the Planning and Subdivisions Act to improve regulation of land use and of the built environment; and

• Joining with other small island developing states (SIDS) and with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) to lobby the developed world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as to decrease the rate of global temperature increases, Arctic and Antarctic ice melt, sea-level rise, acidification of the oceans, damage to coral reefs and mangrove wetlands and the increase in the number of monster storms.

But we have been slow to alter our own behaviors.

While science tells us that the use of fossil fuels to generate power contributes to greenhouse gas emissions which in turn contribute to rising global temperatures, sea-level rise and increased numbers of destructive storms like Dorian, we continue to act against our own best interest by cementing our commitment and investment in this widely discredited technology.

Believing ourselves to be shielded by reports that SIDS contribute less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, we have chosen to ignore calls to abandon heavy fuel (Bunker C and diesel) power generation for cleaner fuels and been slow to adopt alternative power generation technologies.

We do so at our own peril. Continuing to ignore the science makes us culpable as the straws which are breaking the proverbial camel’s back.

The most recent cycle of dangerous storms began presenting themselves in the Caribbean during the 1990s.

More recently, Hurricanes Joaquin in 2015, Matthew in 2016, Irma in 2017 and now Dorian in 2019 provide graphic evidence of the havoc and destruction that climate change is bringing to our country.

Minister for the Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira’s declaration that a green alternative for Grand Bahama and Abaco’s electricity generation is not feasible because “…there’s substantial infrastructure already on the island, larger population, bigger economy…” is of the vintage of the developed world political and industry leaders who stall and protest against efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on economic grounds.

The economic destruction of Hurricane Dorian puts a lie to the argument.

Similarly, the government’s decision to address Bahamas Power and Light’s (BPL) electricity generating shortfall by purchasing 132 megawatts of diesel-fueled generators from Wartsila rather than pursuing cleaner fuel burning alternatives was shortsighted and not in our national interest.

That decision, now being compounded by Cabinet’s decision, announced by Minister of Works Desmond Bannister last Friday, to further invest “in another general electric engine which is going to bring 30-megawatts of power…” is folly.

Such a decision is not in our national interest. It is inconsistent with our stated position on climate change. It contradicts our international pronouncements and commitments regarding support for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It exposes us as guilty of saying one thing and doing another.

We strongly recommend that it be revisited.

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