Editorial

Only action will give us a fighting chance against climate change adversary

Friday, November 01, 2019

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We hope that the authorities in Jamaica, and indeed the wider Caribbean, will not overlook the latest report by scientists stating that coastal areas will be vulnerable to flooding by 2050 — made worse by climate change — no matter how aggressively humanity curbs carbon emissions.

Although the report, published in the journal Nature Communications, pointed to countries outside of this region as being at the greatest risk, our governments, we feel, should take note of the information and strengthen climate change mitigation strategies here.

Pointing out that destructive storm surges, fuelled by increasingly powerful cyclones and rising seas, will hit Asia hardest, the researchers tell us that more than two-thirds of the populations at risk are in China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand.

“In each of several dozen major cities — including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taizhou, Surabaya, Dhaka, Mumbai, Ho Chi Minh City, and Osaka — millions will find themselves in flood zones,” the researchers have said.

A report from Agence France Presse (AFP) tells us that the scientists used a form of artificial intelligence known as neural networks which corrects ground elevation data that has, up to now, vastly underestimated the extent to which coastal zones are subject to flooding during high tide or major storms.

Mr Ben Strauss, co-author of the report who is also chief scientist and CEO of Climate Central, is reported as saying that sea-level projections have not changed. However, he pointed out that when the team used new elevation data they found “far more people living in vulnerable areas than we previously understood”.

The scientists' projection grows even more frightening when one considers that the global population is set to increase by two billion by 2050 and another billion by 2100 — mostly in large coastal cities.

The study found that, as it now stands, more than 100 million people live below high tide levels and, as the AFP story pointed out, 300 million people live in coastal areas.

We are given even more cause for concern after last month's report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change stating that, since 2006, the waterline has gone up nearly four millimetres a year — a pace that could increase 100-fold going into the 22nd century if carbon emissions continue unabated.

Given the geographic layout of Caribbean countries, no one can doubt the economic and social importance of coastal areas to our existence. In Jamaica, for example, more than 50 per cent of our economic assets — among them air and sea ports as well as tourism infrastructure — are concentrated in coastal areas. And, at last check, we are told that approximately 70 per cent of the population live in coastal areas.

Strengthening our mitigation efforts, as we suggested above, will give us a fighting chance against an adversary that respects neither size nor wealth. For, as the scientists have pointed out in this latest study, the choices made now will determine whether the global coastlines on maps today will remain recognisable to future generations.


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