NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Bahamas is already experiencing the impacts of climate change and is approximately 30 years away from irreversible effects if holistic interventions are not undertaken, a University of The Bahamas (UB) climate change expert has warned.
According to Dr Adelle Thomas, UB director of the Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Research (CCARR) Centre, it is a reality that, if left unchecked, could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in losses and other detrimental human impacts for a country that would literally be fighting to keep its head above water.
“In comparison to the rest of the Caribbean, we are heads and shoulders above other countries in terms of people and land at risk to sea level rise,” she said during a panel discussion on “National Emergency Management Perspectives and Options” at the 2021 Bahamas Business Outlook (BBO) held last Thursday and Friday.
“[The year] 2050 is not that far away.”
Thomas, a human-environment geographer, cautioned that The Bahamas’ current efforts to address climate change are far from sufficient.
“We are focusing mostly on our risks to extreme events, particularly hurricanes, and we are unfortunately not holistically addressing the many other risks of climate change,” she noted.
Adding context to the urgency, Thomas said: “It is within the timeline of a 30-year mortgage being taken out today.
“A family or a business could be investing in an area that may be flooded annually, while also being at risk to hurricanes. Insurance in these areas is likely to increase substantially before being discontinued. The value of properties and real estate in these areas is likely to decline.
“So, these are very real effects that we can expect to see in the years to come.”
To prevent such crises, Thomas said there needs to be a significant investment in coastal protection measures.
Global estimates show that up to several percent of the country’s annual GDP would need to be dedicated to coastal protection alone. But with the numerous amounts of towns and settlements spread throughout the Bahamian archipelago, the concern relates to the country’s capacity to provide comprehensive coastal protection against sea level rise.
Otherwise, Thomas warned, the country “must start to plan for a future where some areas of our islands will be uninhabitable”.
“We need to address what that means, including the potential need to relocate communities and not continue to invest in areas that we will be unable to protect,” she said.
Besides the potential need to relocate communities given the obvious risks associated with sea level rise, Thomas said what is needed going forward are evidence-based national climate change strategies that consider how each of the country’s sectors and settlements will be affected and how the nation should respond.
Further, from a foreign direct investment perspective, assessments of each development project to identify how they may affect The Bahamas’ vulnerability to climate-related shocks are also needed.
“We have quite a lot of work to do and it requires cooperation between government, the private sector and civil society,” Thomas said.
“The very future of our islands is at risk. And unfortunately, our focus on hurricanes combined with short-term thinking and planning is inadequate to prepare us for the risks that we are facing.”