THE release earlier this week of a new landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes grim and gloomy reading. This United Nations body has now declared time is running out to avert disaster precipitated by climate change unless drastic action is taken to phase out fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions.
The IPCC calculates that, given the recent rate of increase of global warming, there are only a dozen years left for such warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Revolution levels; and, if this is exceeded, the result will be a world plunged into extreme heat, droughts, floods, rising sea levels and widespread poverty.
Despite the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change which has been ratified by most nations - though the US has withdrawn - some people remain sceptical about the scientific evidence on which the judgments about climate change are based. But this time the IPCC has declared unequivocally that it has high confidence in its predictions.
Since its conclusions have been reached by people claimed to be the world’s leading climate scientists, it is hard for the layman not to take this latest IPCC warning seriously. Observers are not in a position to question the detailed figures used. But most people are aware some sort of change in climatic conditions is happening constantly and it can be reasonably inferred that excessive carbon emissions being pumped into the atmosphere are more likely than not to be having some sort of damaging effect.
So it is now generally accepted climate change is real and poses a threat. Many Bahamians are aware our country – classified as a Small Island Developing State - is particularly vulnerable to its effects because of the likely, if not inevitable, rise in sea levels from global warming and the likely damaging effects on coral reefs as well as flooding of coastal areas where people live.
The islands of our archipelago are for the most part low-lying and, even if the rise in temperatures is limited to the earlier international target of less than 2 degrees Celsius, this could be disastrous for The Bahamas because so much of our landmass is already threatened by higher sea levels and flooding. Such effects could be worse than those in the aftermath of hurricanes and would not only damage the living conditions of thousands of Bahamians and the natural resource of our coral reefs but would also seriously hamper our major industry of tourism.
The scientific advice is that to control continuing temperature rises it is essential to reduce global carbon emissions. A small country like ours is a “low emitter” of CO2 and we have an interest in making the developed nations accountable through the Paris Agreement for taking action to reduce their much heavier emissions.
We should surely coordinate such efforts with other CARICOM countries in a similar position to ours. But we also need to improve our energy efficiency and to expand alternative energy sources in cooperation with others in world organisations like the International Renewable Energy Agency which is focused on increasing the use of such energy.
Meanwhile, the Government will no doubt continue to advance its “national energy policy”. Clearly, in a country like The Bahamas with its abundant sunshine and offshore winds we should do all we can to develop our local renewable energy potential.
At the same time, we should promote the conservation of our natural resources while encouraging individual environmental responsibility including the Youth Environmental Corps. Removal of tariffs on solar systems and panels has already happened and we hope that comparable measures in relation to other sources of energy are also being considered. Perhaps a formal programme for the development and utilisation of renewable energy, with imaginative input from the general public, could be considered.
Many people will have taken note of the press statement in November, 2016 by the Minister of the Environment and Housing in the then PLP government in which he committed The Bahamas to taking action on climate change following our ratification of the Paris Agreement.
In light of the latest IPCC report, we hope today’s FNM government will be reviewing the progress of such action and, in particular, how the nation is meeting its international obligations.
An official public statement about such an important issue would be widely welcomed -- and we hope there is a good story to tell that people will find reassuring.