Partnerships vital in addressing climate change in the Caribbean

Published: 27 February 2008 0:00 CET

Allison Ali, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

The global climate is changing, and the Caribbean region is feeling the change. Higher global surface temperatures, sea level rise, changes in rainfall patterns, and higher frequency and intensity of extreme events such as floods, droughts and heat waves all threaten the Caribbean with its many small island states.

The potential implications of these climatic changes are enormous, not only from the perspective of risk reduction but also with regard to regional development. However, the magnitude of the challenges ahead will be too big for a single actor to address effectively.

These were some of the views expressed at the just-concluded Climate Change Adaptation, Development and Disaster Reduction workshop, which was held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. The meeting was organized by the ProVention Consortium, in collaboration with the International Federation’s Caribbean Regional Representation Office.

Fifty representatives of the Red Cross, civil society organizations, local government, regional organizations, the private sector and academic institutions met for two days under the theme: Strengthening Community Resilience in the Caribbean. They discussed ways of working together to identify adaptation strategies to deal with the impact of climate change in vulnerable communities.

The main aim of the workshop was to engage concerned partners on these issues and involve the  communities themselves in addressing the consequences of climate change, specifically in the areas of human development and livelihood.

Bruno Haghebaet of ProVention underlined that a multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approach was necessary. “From grassroots to policymakers, each individual has a specific role to play.” He explained that research carried out by academic centres will lead to a better understanding of the risks while the media will have an important role to play in communicating these issues to the general public.

“Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have important responsibilities in the field of awareness-raising and advocacy work,” he continued. “Donors play a key role in resource development and capacity building; governments in developing legislative frameworks and implementation of disaster risk reduction measures and the private sector in protecting their work force.”

However, he warned, only involving multiple actors was not sufficient.  A mixture of climate adaptation measures and sustainable development strategies, as well as poverty reduction initiatives and disaster risk reduction efforts in the region will be required if one wants to deal not only with  the symptoms but also address the root causes of vulnerability and increase adaptive capacity.

Bruno Haghbaet noted that it was also essential to discuss ways of injecting and integrating lessons learned at the community level and priorities expressed by local voices into the decision-making processes as it relates to climate change.

Ms Delia Chatoor, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross (TTRC) said it was heartening to see that the “man-in-the-street” has become aware of climate change and its impact. She said there have been growing concerns expressed, from the grassroots level to civil society and governments. “It is no longer ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘you’. It is ‘we’ and ‘us’. The key word is ‘partnership’, she said. “We are all being called upon and encouraged to play some part in influencing and shaping policies.”

Mrs Lois Hue, deputy director general of the Jamaica Red Cross (JRC), agreed that governments play a central role in disaster risk management, sustainable development and climate change. She too alluded to the fact that it was also important to have a mixture of climate adaptation measures and sustainable development strategies, as well as poverty reduction initiatives and disaster risk reduction efforts in the region.

“While the focus at the community level should be the mitigation of the humanitarian consequences of climate change, there also exist social and moral responsibilities, which we must keep in mind in our work. It is also important to understand that we cannot apply the science and theory of climate change at the community level,” she added. “Climate change for the Red Cross must not be a ‘Top Down’ issue. The incorporation must be within the context of helping communities understand what they are experiencing and seeing.”

Dr Allan Bachan of the TTRC said there were several issues that the region needed to focus on. Firstly, he said, we need to concentrate on behavioural change and specific adaptation actions by all stakeholders. Secondly, there is a need to help people understand the uncertainty of the future and the certainty of climate change. He added that we need to emphasise that we can do something as individuals, as communities, as a country and a region.

“I urge all of you International Federation – let us talk, let us work together and let us plan. To be ready we have to start today.”