Countering climate change

The climate crisis is here.

Higher temperatures are increasing droughts in many parts of the world, destroying crops in the field.

Glaciers are melting, not only at the polar ends of the earth but atop the world’s highest mountains.

Sea levels are rising not only because of ice melts but because heated water expands. And super storms, like Joaquin, Irma, Maria and Dorian, each of which impacted The Bahamas, have already gotten stronger, more frequent and more devastating.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis addressed the United Nations (UN) last week and renewed The Bahamas’ call for the world’s nations to address the challenges presented by the global climate emergency confronting all of us.

He repeated calls for a revision of criteria used by international financial agencies in assessing eligibility of states for concessionary assistance. And, citing the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian, he emphasized the urgency for vulnerable small island states like The Bahamas, to develop more resilient infrastructure.

Last week, we were impressed to read Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s address before the UN Climate Event Summit.

She noted that climate change, if not addressed, would create mass migration by climate refugees that could destabilize countries of the world not on the front line of the climate crisis.

Newspaper accounts of several thousand Bahamian residents seeking emergency shelter in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Dorian is testimony. Others have escaped farther away to the Mid-Atlantic States or still farther north to Canada.

Similarly, climate evacuees in the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Maria numbered in the thousands from Dominica, Barbuda, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Some residents of Ragged Island displaced to Nassau as a result of Hurricane Irma in 2017 still await the restoration of their home island.

Prime Minister Mottley placed Barbados among the members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) not only committed to but taking action to minimize global increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

She informed that Barbados was committed to becoming fossil fuel-free by 2030, changing both its transportation systems and electricity generation. And she committed Barbados to a long-term goal of net zero emission by 2050.

Among initiatives underway in that country was one to safeguard roofs and reefs from the vagaries of powerful storms, another to plant a million trees next year and another mapping the island nation’s vulnerable infrastructure and key assets like housing, roads, utilities and reefs so as to more efficiently apply limited resources to their safeguard.

The Barbadian prime minister gets it.

We need to take a page from her book.

The Bahamas has expanded the network of its national parks and committed to protecting 20 percent of its marine environment by 2020 in its efforts to protect biodiversity and slow environmental degradation.

Recently, we committed to a ban on single use, non-biodegradable plastics by 2020.

Hurricane Dorian demonstrated how vulnerable we are to the vagaries of climate change.

Increased access to financing for recovery is not enough. It is urgent for The Bahamas to adopt policies and programs that bolster international action to counter the environmental emergency that continues to unfold.

We might begin by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and by protecting our mangroves — nature’s best friend in countering climate change, most especially in absorbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Mangroves are excellent carbon sinks, absorbing and storing more per acre of greenhouse gas emissions than do large trees in rain forests; they protect coastlines from erosion, provide critical nesting ground for myriad marine life and assist in maintaining water quality by filtering out sediments and heavy metals.

Notwithstanding, there are no laws in The Bahamas that prohibit the backfilling and destruction of mangrove wetlands.

And at the same time we continue to expand national investment in and dependence upon fossil fuels as a source of energy to our own peril.

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