By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Government has estimated it faces a $900 million bill to mitigate climate change under the United Nations (UN) framework, with the Bahamas facing "accelerated vulnerability" to natural disasters.
The scale of the economic and environmental danger facing the Bahamas has been laid bare in an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report on a $35 million project designed to develop a system for managing, and building resilience to, threats to this nation's coastline.
Emphasising that the Bahamas is "highly vulnerable" to hurricanes and other natural disasters, the IDB paper on the Climate-Resilient Coastal Management and Infrastructure project warned that such storms were increasing in severity and frequency. With much of the Bahamas' key resort assets and public infrastructure located on or near the coast, it added that climate-related events posed a serious threat to this nation's economic future and well-being.
The IDB paper added that an emphasis on "engineering solutions", rather than ones informed by science-related analysis, meant that the Ministry of Works' efforts to protect the Bahamian coastline were failing in several Family Island locations.
And natural tourist attractions, together with coastline defences, were being steadily eroded with the Bahamas thought to have lost more than 50 per cent of "the live coral cover of its reefs".
"The Government of the Bahamas has recognised that future growth and diversification of its tourism-dependent economy depends on ecosystem services, maintaining biodiversity and enhancing the resilience of economic activities to coastal risks, including climate change," the IDB paper seen by Tribune Business says.
The IDB said that "given the strategic importance of the country's coastal zone to economic development", the Government had "made several advances towards climate-resilient coastal management" including its embrace of the Sustainable Nassau Initiative and National Policy for the Adaptation to Climate Change.
However, the IDB said most action to-date had been "small scale", and added: "Recently, the Government of the Bahamas estimated the cost of implementing mitigation actions related to the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be over US$900 million through 2030.
"A recent IDB study indicates that the probable coastal flooding exposed area in a one-in-a-50-year flood event in New Providence is projected to expand to 15 per cent by 2050 due to increasing precipitation caused by climate change.
"Nationally, one metre sea level rise (SLR) would place 36 per cent of major tourism properties, 38 per cent of airports, 14 per cent of road networks and 90 per cent of sea ports at risk."
The Bahamian economy remains highly dependent on tourism, whose $2.4 billion in direct visitor spend was equivalent to 27 per cent of total GDP in 2015, rendering this nation particularly susceptible to climate change.
"The tourism sector's potential future growth rests predominantly on continued investments in tourism infrastructure, and the uniqueness and health of the archipelago's coastal resources," the IDB added.
"The Bahamas is highly vulnerable to natural hazards, including hurricanes, which put at risk both economic activities and associated public infrastructure concentrated along the coast of New Providence and several of the Family Islands.
"From 1970 to 2016, the country experienced 18 major disasters including hurricanes, affecting 38,000 citizens. Seven, or 40 per cent, of these 18 major disasters occurred in the last 10 years, signifying that impacts from disasters have increased at an accelerating rate."
The IDB report said Hurricane Joaquin inflicted an estimated $104.8 million worth of damage when it struck the sparsely-populated southern Bahamian islands in 2015, and this was followed by $438.6 million in losses and damage when Hurricane Matthew hit New Providence and Grand Bahama one year later.
"These events underscore the socio-economic vulnerability of the Bahamas, with its small population spread in a large discontinuous area where informal or isolated settlements, housing and basic services located along the shore are not designed in accordance to adequate building codes," the paper added.
Warning that climate change threatens to exacerbate these problems, the IDB said: "A review of Bahamian coastal engineering structures constructed previously revealed additional issues such as lack of understanding of the impact of adjacent coastal construction and natural habitats on receding stretches of shoreline, and lack of design guidance for coastal structures under various climate change scenarios.
"Engineering solutions, such as seawalls and causeways, are failing in several locations in the Family Islands owing to lack of empirical data to inform science-based designs..... Although the Ministry of Public Works is currently building coastal engineering structures to protect roads and other public infrastructure from these risks, empirical data and modelling on the multiple causes of flooding (tides, wave overtopping, storm surges, inland flooding) and shoreline instability are needed to design lasting solutions."
The paper added that the degradation of coastal ecosystems was also exaggerating the Bahamas' vulnerability, finding: "Based on available data, the country has lost over half of live coral cover of its reefs.
"Mangrove wetlands of the Bahamas are threatened by land conversion for development, and estimates in New Providence indicate a 32 per cent decline in wetlands over the last 30 years. Throughout the Bahamas, invasive species such as casuarina (Australian Pine) cause sand dune erosion and inhibit the growth of native vegetation.
"These threats amount to losses in natural coastal protection that, increasingly, are being recognised as 'natural infrastructure' that, in suitable locations, has greater adaptive capacity and is often less costly than conventional solutions."