The time is now

Caribbean heads of government have been making a strong case for action against the effects of climate change during the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland this week.

In his address to the conference, Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis effectively communicated the plight of small island states such as The Bahamas, calling on industrialized nations which are the world’s major generators of carbon emissions to harness the courage required for necessary action on global warming.

Even as The Bahamas calls on nations to take urgent steps to scale back on carbon emissions, there remains a key policy position directly correlated with global warming and environmental sustainability that our country ought to settle on once and for all — that being oil drilling in Bahamian waters.

While as a panelist at a COP26 youth forum, State Minister for the Environment Basil McIntosh was asked whether the newly elected Bahamas government could give the young people of its country and abroad the assurance that it would not go down the road of oil drilling as occurred under the previous administration.

McIntosh responded, “I cannot answer that question directly right now because we do not know. We need to evaluate and see what was done prior to us getting into office. Once we understand what was happening, then we can make a decision as to the road we should take.”

Speaking to the Bahamian reporters at the conference, Davis did not rule out future exploratory oil drilling in our waters, and instead suggested that successful oil exploration could be a means of funding the country’s climate mitigation efforts, should the administration’s goal of monetizing carbon credits not yield sufficient enough revenue to finance mitigation initiatives.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has indicated that fossil fuel emissions are the dominant cause of global warming, with oil, when burned, said to be responsible for a third of the world’s total carbon emissions.

As sea level rise threatens the existence of countries including The Bahamas, carbon emissions from human activities “are causing ocean warming, acidification and oxygen loss with some evidence of changes in nutrient cycling and primary production”, according to the IPCC’s August 2021 special report on climate change.

The report added, “The warming ocean is affecting marine organisms at multiple trophic levels, impacting fisheries with implications for food production and human communities.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) points out that global sea temperature rise has led to “unprecedented mass coral bleaching events which – combined with growing local pressures – have made coral reefs one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth”.

The IUCN further notes that, “Coral reefs harbor the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem globally. Despite covering less than 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, reefs host more than one quarter of all marine fish species, in addition to many other marine animals.

“Additionally, reefs provide a wide variety of ecosystem services such as subsistence food, protection from flooding, and sustaining the fishing and tourism industries.”

While the impact of carbon emissions on the planet has been progressive in nature, the impact of a major oil spill in our waters meantime, would be immediate, potentially destroying in a relatively short space of time what global warming has taken many years to compromise.

Highlighting the devastating impact of Hurricane Dorian, Davis told the conference, “Your support by financing and technology-transfer are needed urgently, so we can rebuild for resilience.”

In its Blueprint for Change under “reconstruct for resiliency”, the governing party’s charter for building back better is scant on details.

We look forward to the administration providing more information on its resiliency plans, so that Bahamians can be clear on precisely how any mitigation funding achieved through meetings at COP26 or otherwise, would be earmarked.

Davis urged the world’s chief carbon emitters to, “Do what is needed, not what you can get away with” and to not “let the failures of the past limit our ambition for the present.”

As The Bahamas faces its own decisions and imperatives on environmental protection and sustainability, these are words government and citizenry must tangibly adopt as well.

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