Similar to other parts of the world, the Caribbean has experienced climatic changes over the past few decades, and recent studies project that these changes will continue in the future (Centella, 2010; Christensen et al., 2007; Meehl et al., 2007; Mimura et al., 2007). Centella (2010) estimates that mean annual temperatures in the Caribbean will increase by between 1° and 5°C by the 2080s. Warming is projected to be greater in the northwest Caribbean territories (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica) than in the eastern Caribbean island chain (Taylor et al., 2007, cited in Centella, 2010).
Temperature increases are expected to be much larger over land areas then over the sea (Mimura et al., 2007). In regards to precipitation, climate change projections generally predict that various regions of the Caribbean will become drier (Mimura et al., 2007; Centella, 2010). Most models indicate the greatest decrease in rainfall will occur in the summer, particularly around the Greater Antilles (Mimura et al., 2007). Sea levels are also anticipated to rise due to global warming. Determining the degree to which this increase will occur in the Caribbean is challenging, however, as it is highly influenced by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and volcanic and tectonic crustal motions. When combined with model limitations, the resulting large deviations between simulations make estimating the rate of sea level rise across the entire Caribbean region uncertain (Mimura et al., 2007).
Uncertainty also remains regarding potential changes in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, with few models having been developed that simulate hurricanes in the context of climate change.
These changes in the region’s climatic conditions are anticipated to adversely affect a number of its key resources and economic sectors. Of particular concern to countries in the region are the projected impacts of climate change on coastal zones, the quantity and quality of freshwater resources, and agricultural systems. These concerns include:
- Coastal Zone Management: Most of the population of the Caribbean lives within the coastal zone, which is also the location of most of the region’s tourism infrastructure—a main source of employment and foreign exchange earnings. Climate change is projected to lead to: coastal erosion; risk of displacement for coastal communities; loss in touristic attractions; eutrophication and sedimentation of coastal waters; and coral bleaching.
- Freshwater resources: Water resources are already stressed in many states as a result of forest and wetland depletion and degradation (which also compromises water quality), coupled with high water consumption to meet tourist needs. Climate change is anticipated to lead to: contamination of water supplies through salt water intrusion; further forest and wetland depletion and degradation; and decrease in water quality.
- Agriculture: Generally, the second most important source of employment and foreign exchange earnings in the Caribbean, agricultural production is also critical to meetingsubsistence needs and ensuring the food security of island nation. Climate change could lead to a reduction on agricultural productivity, resulting in: a loss of employment and foreign exchange earnings; loss in local food production; and increased risk of food insecurity.
Identified adaptation needs and priorities
Through their National Communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Haiti’s National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) and other national reports and strategies, Caribbean countries have identified priority sectors for adaptation as being coastal zones, freshwater resources and agriculture. Other important overlapping sectors that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are tourism, human health, biodiversity and fisheries. A wide range of measures to reduce the vulnerability of Caribbean countries to the impacts of climate change have been identified, including the following:
- Coastal Zone Management: Restoration and conservation of coastal ecosystems (mangroves and coral reefs); investments in infrastructure development (i.e., artificial breakwaters, erosion control) and coastal zone planning.
- Freshwater Resources: Integrated watershed management; revision of water pricing; water harvesting and storage infrastructure; use of advanced technology to increase water supply in response to climate induced drought; energy-intensive technologies for water purification (such as reverse osmosis); and water production (such as desalinization).
- Agriculture: Research into the impacts on key export crops; cultivation of drought-, heat- and salt-resistant cultivars; agricultural diversification; planting of short-cycle crop varieties; recuperating degraded lands; wider application of integrated pest management; ensuring greater efficiency in water use for crops; and installing water storage facilities .