Protecting Nature's Hotspots for people and prosperity

Climate Change Assessment

Caribbean Islands

Climate Change Assessment

Although Small Island Developing States (SIDS), including those of the Caribbean, are responsible for less than 1 percent of total annual greenhouse gas emissions, they are among the most vulnerable in the world to the projected impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, intensifying storms, mass coral bleaching events and potential water and food shortages (UNEP 2008, Lewsey et al. 2004).

Climate in the Caribbean has already begun changing following the pattern observed globally and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Temperatures and the frequency of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and droughts, have already increased in the region (Futuro Latinoamericano 2008), and there is particular concern over predicted sea level rise. Given that the Caribbean states contribute insignificant amounts of greenhouse gases to the global total, their main priority in addressing climate change is to formulate and implement appropriate strategies for adaptation to minimize the social and environmental impacts of climate change. Adaptation may be defined as adjustments of natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli, or their effects or impacts, that moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities associated with climate change (IPCC 2001).

Climatic History and Projections

Climatic History

The Caribbean’s past climatic history has been a significant influence in the evolution of its biota. During the Pleistocene ice ages the environmental conditions in the Caribbean were dominated by arid savannah, grassland, and xeric scrub forests, which is quite different than the present mesic conditions. Sea levels were about 125 m lower than they are today (Fairbanks 1989). The Caribbean islands had substantially greater land masses with islands much closer together or even connected by land bridges. As a result, there was probably much more movement of terrestrial species between islands than occurs today. However, as sea levels rose following the ice ages, populations became isolated and ranges contracted, resulting in genetic differentiation among populations and eventually speciation (Pregill and Olson 1981). Thus, these periodic changes in sea level resulting from natural global warming and cooling have been a factor behind the high diversity of species and levels of endemicity that exists in the Caribbean islands today.

Projected Climate Change at the Hotspot Scale

Climate change is projected to have profound effects on the Caribbean Islands Hotspot in terms of increasing air temperature, changes in rainfall patterns and quantities and rising sea-levels. The projections for each of these variables (mostly presented in the form of ranges with probability factors attached) are outlined below.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that temperatures in the Caribbean will rise between 1.4 ºC and 3.2 ºC by the end of the 21st century. Other estimates give a similar range e.g. the PRECIS Caribbean Climate Change Project predicts an increase of 1ºC to 5ºC in the Caribbean by the 2080s (Futuro Latinoamericano 2008). The north-western countries (Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic) are likely to experience the greatest warming. CANARI estimates that there is a two-thirds probability of drought in the Greater Antilles in June, July and August (Day 2009). In general, rainfall is anticipated to decrease throughout the Caribbean, particularly in the summer wet season, except in the southern Bahamas and western Cuba. At the same time, hurricanes are predicted to become more severe with increased precipitation and higher peak wind speeds (Day 2009).

Projections of sea-level rise in the Caribbean range from 0.18 to 0.59 m (Day 2009) to 0.5 to 1.4 m (Rahmsdorf 2007) by the end of the 21st century (Day 2009). Sea-water temperatures are also expected to continue to increase (Futuro Latinoamericano 2008). The IPCC expects a rise in temperature of 1.4ºC to 3.2 ºC for the Caribbean by the end of the 21st century (IPCC 2007).


Several areas in the Caribbean are considered to be especially at risk from the impacts of climate change. These include the hillsides of Hispaniola, particularly Haiti due to the threat of land and mud slides; coastal areas of island states such as Jamaica; and low-lying areas that are particularly flood-prone, including the island of Grenada and small islands that lack economies of scale, which includes many of the Lesser Antilles (Futuro Latinoamericano 2008). Changes in biodiversity and ecosystems in response to climate change are predicted to be considerable in the Caribbean, as a result of sea-level rise, increased temperatures, the greater severity of hurricanes and decreased precipitation (UNEP-WCMC 2009a, Lee and Jetz 2008).

Impacts on Montane and Forest Ecosystems

Montane habitats are expected to be reduced in size as they shift upwards in altitude due to temperature increases, or to disappear completely if they are unable to shift any further in elevation (UNEP-WCMC 2009a). Predicted decreases in precipitation will also impact montane systems, such as the Caribbean’s elfin forests that are dependent on high moisture levels (UNEP-WCMC 2009). Caribbean elfin forests, or cloud forests, generally occur above 1,500 meters in elevation and are characterized by heavy rainfall and moist conditions. The Blue and upper Port Royal mountains of Jamaica, the upper elevations of Puerto Rico’s El Yunque, Mt Scenery in Saba, and mountain peaks such as Pico Duarte (Cordillera Central Corridor) in the Dominican Republic all support elfin forest.

Increased storms, particularly more intense hurricanes that damage or bring down trees, and predicted increases in the frequency of droughts and/or flooding that cause changes in soil-water availability, are likely to significantly impact Caribbean forest ecosystems (Lewsey et al. 2004). Higher temperatures and greater periods of drought could also lead to increased risk of fires, which pose a threat as most Caribbean forest types are not fire-adapted (Lewsey et al. 2004). While hurricanes are natural events in the Caribbean and native forests are adapted to these events to some extent and usually eventually recover, any increased intensity of hurricanes may reduce the resilience of the region’s forests (Walker and Salt 2006, Day 2009). For example, gaps in forests resulting from storms increase susceptibility to further wind damage. Future storms may have a devastating impact from which forests may find it difficult to recover, especially given that most Caribbean forests are already degraded and fragmented (Suárez et al. 2008).

Impact on Coastal Ecosystems and Wetlands

Coastal biotic zones, including estuaries and coastal lagoons, beaches and sand dunes, and mangroves and other near-shore habitats, are likely to be highly impacted by sea level rise and/or saltwater intrusion, and as a result are expected to lose productivity and suffer species loss. For each centimeter of sea level rise, thousands of hectares of land are predicted to be lost as the shoreline retreats by several meters (Lewsey et al. 2004). This is a problem throughout the Caribbean, though the Bahamas, where more than 80 percent of the land surface is a meter or less above sea-level, may be particularly impacted. Increased hurricane intensity will only add to the problem, as greater storms surges and severe flooding will further erode coastal shorelines and habitats. Saltwater intrusion into freshwater ecosystems is another predicted consequence of climate change, and is likely to be a particular problem on the smaller low-lying islands.

Many coastal areas and wetlands in the Caribbean are likely to be impacted by multiple effects of climate change. For example, in Cuba the Ciénaga de Zapata wetland, the largest wetland in the hotspot, may be reduced by up to 20 percent by the end of the century due to sea-level rise (Grogg 2008). Hurricanes, which are expected to increase in intensity as a result of climate change, greatly impact the wetland, and a 30 centimeter rise in sea-level would also threaten freshwater areas in the wetland due to saltwater intrusion (Grogg 2008).

While many areas of natural habitats have already been severely degraded and fragmented, which reduces their resilience, responses will vary according to species, habitat type and location. Some mangroves may be able to withstand sea-level rise, depending on sediment accretion and tidal range, while others may not if coastal development restricts their movement inland (UNEP 2008, Day 2009). Red mangroves account for about 50 percent of the mangrove coverage in the Caribbean, and require an average of 10 years to regenerate from storm damage. An increase in the frequency of tropical storms due to climate change could mean that the mangroves will potentially no longer have the time they need to regenerate between two weather events. While some mangrove species may expand their geographical range in the Caribbean as temperatures increase (Day 2009), in general mangroves are considered at risk and 10-15 percent of mangroves could be lost as a consequence of climate change (UNEP-WCMC 2009a, Alongi 2008). With a 1-meter sea-level rise, 3 percent of Cuban mangrove forests and 100 percent of the Port Royal wetlands in Jamaica are projected to be lost (UNEP 2008). Ironically, mangroves provide numerous benefits that reduce the impact of climate change on coastal and other habitats, including reducing storm surges and flooding impacts, and stabilizing soils and sedimentation.

Climate-Sensitive Species and Biotic Consequences of Shifting Climate

Caribbean montane species are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they cannot adjust by moving to higher altitude beyond a certain point (i.e. the summits of the few Caribbean mountain peaks). Shifts in species ranges to higher elevations have already been observed in North America, Asia and Europe (UNEP-WCMC 2009). Specialized ridge-forest tree species along the ridge of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, for instance, could face extinction with climate change. Studies have concluded that some montane-specialist amphibian species have become extinct due to climate change, and such extinctions are predicted to increase. Indeed both reptiles and amphibians, which show very high levels of endemism in the Caribbean, are likely to be at particular risk from warming and drying trends due to their low tolerance of thermal changes, and in the case of most amphibians their need for moist environments (UNEP-WCMC 2009). Species with existing small distributions will be at high risk. For example, endemic parrots on several islands, whose numbers had been sharply reduced by loss of forest due to clearance for agriculture and timber extraction, have been brought to the edge of extinction following hurricanes that further destroyed forest cover (notably Hurricane David in 1979 which destroyed much of the habitats of the two endemic parrots of Dominica—the Endangered imperial Amazon (Amazona imperialis) and the Vulnerable red-necked Amazon (Amazona arausiaca)—nearly extirpating the former and reducing the latter to a fragment of its former range) (Suárez et al. 2008). However, it is not only restricted-range species that will be affected by climate change in the Caribbean. Sea turtles, which are already threatened by pollution, hunting and fishing throughout the Caribbean, are predicted to lose nesting habitat (beaches) due to sea-level rises and erosion from storms and hurricanes (Day 2009).

Climate change, particularly changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, may also lead to the establishment of new diseases in the region or exacerbate existing ones that previously were not a problem (Ostfeld 2009) and poses a potential threat to native biodiversity. For example, there is evidence from Puerto Rico that climate change, particularly drought, will worsen the impacts of the emerging infectious disease chytridiomycosis on amphibian populations in the Caribbean (Burrowes et al. 2004). Researchers suspect that drought conditions cause the normally territorial frogs of the genus Eleutherodactylus to clump together into humid retreat sites, which are sparse during periods of drought, facilitating disease transmission and more lethal infections.

Just as changes in biotic zones have an effect on the species that live within them, changes in species compositions impact ecosystems and even climate change. Reductions in species richness can influence ecological processes that sustain biotic zones and ecosystem resilience, and can impact processes such as carbon storage, which subsequently affects climate change (UNEP-WCMC 2009a, Bunker et al. 2005, Walker and Salt 2006).

Existing Protected Areas in the Context of Climate Change

Protected areas are the primary repositories of terrestrial biodiversity in the Caribbean and provide essential ecosystem goods and services for human populations including ameliorating some of the impacts of climate change. Forested protected areas provide clean water supplies, micro-climate regulation and sequestration of carbon, while also preventing flash floods and reducing soil erosion and mudslides. Mangrove areas protect coasts from storm surges and reduce soil and sediment loss. Studies have shown that more intact and diverse ecosystems are more resilient to climate change (CAN International 2009, Walker and Salt 2006).

Well-managed terrestrial (and marine) protected areas can improve the state of biodiversity and increase its resilience to climate change and other disturbance and therefore have been promoted as a key adaptation strategy (Day 2009). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment also cites climate change as one of the most important direct drivers of global biodiversity loss and changes in ecosystem services, and that biodiversity, which underpins ecosystem services, provides a critical climatic regulating function, thus benefiting human well-being.

Many of the 262 key biodiversity areas identified for this region are at risk due to climate change, while others may help to ameliorate the effects of climate change. Areas at high elevations, such as peaks in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Cuba, St.Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis, are likely to be severely impacted by climate change, as it will be difficult or impossible for species living in these mountain areas to migrate upwards in elevation. Examples of key biodiversity areas with high-elevation elfin forests include the Blue Mountains Key Biodiversity Area in Jamaica and the Armando Bermudez National Park Key Biodiversity Area in the Dominican Republic (within the Cordillera Central Corridor). Coastal key biodiversity areas (for example, those identified as important sea-turtle nesting beaches) are also at risk, primarily due to sea-level rise. In some areas infrastructure may not allow for any species movement, while in others coastal key biodiversity areas and the species within them may be able to migrate inland. The establishment of corridors may help to alleviate some of the impacts of climate change for coastal key biodiversity areas.

Expected Impacts on Human Populations

Climate change is expected to cause significant impacts to human societies in the Caribbean, with small economies especially vulnerable (UNEP 2008). Like other SIDS, the economies of the Caribbean islands are heavily tied to natural resource-based activities, notably tourism, fishing and agriculture, and climate change is therefore likely to heavily impact these sectors (see Table 13, UNEP 2008).

With populations, agricultural lands and infrastructures tending to be concentrated in the coastal zone, any rise in sea-level will have significant and profound effects on settlements, living conditions and island economies. As agriculture is forced to move inland and uphill, there is a potential for huge negative impacts on the remaining biodiversity in these new agricultural areas. The very survival of some low-lying islands is threatened. A measure of their vulnerability is given by the ranking of six Caribbean states among the top 40 countries in the world affected by extreme weather events such as hurricanes and floods in 2007 (Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index, 2009). In another study of 80 developing countries by the World Bank, four of the top 10 countries most impacted by climate change (in terms of land area impact) were in the Caribbean (World Bank 2007). The Bahamas ranked number one, followed by Puerto Rico (fifth), Cuba (sixth) and Jamaica (ninth) (World Bank 2007). The Bahamas also ranked in the top 10 countries for climate change impacts on populations, GDP and urban areas (World Bank 2007). Both Jamaica and the Bahamas are in the top 10 countries with wetlands predicted to be most impacted by climate change (World Bank 2007).

The impact of the four consecutive tropical storms/hurricanes that affected Haiti and Cuba in 2008 demonstrated the region’s existing vulnerability to weather-related hazards, and illustrates the importance of good environmental management and adaptation in dealing with climate change. The striking difference in the scale of the human loss and damage to infrastructure in these two countries reflects Cuba’s more extensive adaptation planning and forest conservation measures (Suárez et al. 2008, Day 2009). Similarly, Hurricane Jeanne hit several Caribbean islands in 2004, but the number of flood-related deaths was more than 3,000 in Haiti versus 20-30 in all other impacted countries, due in large part to Haiti’s highly degraded and flood responsive watersheds (The World Bank 2009).

Additional pressures from growing human populations and the very limited areas of available land suitable for economic activities contribute to the socioeconomic vulnerability of the Caribbean region. Specific socioeconomic impacts (UNEP 2008) are likely to include:
  • Deteriorating coastal conditions, such as beach erosion and coral bleaching, are expected to adversely affect local resources (e.g. fisheries) and reduce their value as tourist destinations.
  • Increased floods, storm surges, erosion and other coastal hazards, exacerbated by sea-level rise and that threaten vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities.
  • A reduction in freshwater resources due to reduced precipitation, saltwater intrusion and sea-level rise, to the point where they cannot meet demand during low rainfall periods.
  • Economic losses from reduced agricultural yields through a shortened growing season, drought, floods, increased erosion and increasing storm damage.
  • Increase in the distribution and incidence of diseases, particularly insect-borne diseases such as dengue fever and water-borne diseases such as cholera, and malnutrition resulting from interruptions in agricultural production and food distribution.

Table 13. Summary of Key Issues and Impacts in the Face of Climate Change in the Caribbean
Issue or Resource Vulnerable to Climate Change Potential Effect of Climate Change Impact on Global Commons Sectors at Greatest Risk Comment on Impact
Freshwater availability Reduced precipitation; increased evaporation and saline intrusion from sea-level rise Endemic coastal and near coastal habitats Water resources; tourism; agriculture; forestry Water supply is anticipated to be a bottleneck for economic activity and a serious health concern. All water-using sectors would be affected.

Groundwater salinization is likely in low-lying areas.
Degradation of marine and coastal ecosystems Sea-level rise, changes in sea temperature and pH can affect ecosystems such as mangroves, fishing grounds and coral reefs. Coral bleaching and changes in ecosystem composition likely Mangroves (and coral reefs of global importance) Fisheries; tourism Fisheries account for a sizable share of GDPs and sport fishing is important to tourist industries.

Tourism accounts for high proportion of GDP and is highly dependent on the marine ecosystem.

Coral bleaching is becoming more frequent and severe.
Flooding Sea-level rise will result in flooding of coastal areas Unique coastal wetlands and inter-tidal areas Tourism; agriculture; forestry Most tourism activities are located in the coastal zone.

Significant capital investment assets and infrastructure could be affected.

Loss of beaches and submergence will impact coastal breeding ground for species such as marine turtles.
Land degradation Climatic extremities. Heavy rainfall increases tpotential for pest and diseases and causes excessive erosion. Drought affects productivity Regional and globally significant species and ecosystems Agriculture; tourism Erosion will impact on coastal land developments, particularly tourism infrastructure. Agriculture sectors are limited in scope but land tourism is an important element of GDP.
Increased climate variability Climate change may increase extreme events such tropical storms or droughts Regional and globally significant species and ecosystems Multi-sectoral The cost of hurricanes and other natural disasters in the Caribbean have been estimated at hundreds of millions. These costs continue to increase and will affect tourism.
Adapted from DFID (2007) and Vegara (2005)

The biggest economic impact of climate change in the Caribbean is likely to be on tourism, the Caribbean’s economic base, and the region’s infrastructure (houses, hotels, industrial and commercial buildings, roads, etc.), which are predominantly situated along the coast. Approximately 70 percent of the Caribbean’s human population lives along the coast along with most of the region’s infrastructure, making them vulnerable to storms, sea-level rise and other coastal impacts of climate change (UNEP 2008). Already, the economic cost of natural disasters in the Caribbean has risen over the past 50 years, with the highest losses of $8 billion coming in 2004 (UNEP 2008). Tourism, which accounts for more than 15 percent of total employment in the Caribbean (UNEP 2008), will also be heavily impacted economically. More than 70 percent of the hotels in Barbados, for instance, are within 250 meters of the ocean at high tide (UNEP 2008), which along with their beaches makes them susceptible to storm surges, and sea-level rise. In addition, the loss of 80 percent of the corals in the Caribbean during the past two decades is also likely to reduce tourism in the region (UNEP 2008). The loss of tourist infrastructure will have profound effects for the Caribbean as a tourism destination.

The costs of inaction can be huge based on hurricane damages, tourism losses and infrastructure damages. For instance, in the case of Cuba (the country with the longest coastline in the Caribbean and with a land mass big enough to be hit by hurricanes travelling along several different storm paths), the cost of global climate inaction is put at nearly $5 billion/year by 2050, growing to more than $10 billion/year by 2100 (Bueno et al. 2008), and amounts to 12.5 percent (at 2050) and 26.8 percent (at 2100) of Cuba’s GDP. The costs of inaction could reach an astonishing 75 percent or more of GDP by 2100 in Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis and Turks and Caicos, and a possible 22 percent of GDP for the Caribbean as a whole by 2100.

The economic and social consequences of climate change on the Caribbean islands, including loss of infrastructure, reduced tourism, beach erosion, increased flooding and storms, health risks, and agricultural damage, underscore the importance of protecting biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem services in the region (UNEP 2008) as part of adaptation strategies that Caribbean countries need to develop in the face of climate change (Day 2009).

Climate Change Mitigation

Mitigation is an essential component of climate change strategies. There are mitigation strategies that the Caribbean can benefit from, in terms of reduced impacts from climate change, sustainable development, job provision, and environmental and biodiversity benefits.

Actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as an increased focus on renewable energy, may benefit the Caribbean through reduced air pollution, lower negative effects of fossil fuel pollution on the environment, and job creation as the Caribbean shifts away from its dependence on fossil fuels, most of which are imported at high cost in the Caribbean (UNEP 2008). Recognizing these potential benefits, some Caribbean countries are moving toward increased use of cleaner fuels. Another way in which the Caribbean may benefit economically from climate change mitigation is in the tourism sector. Some tourism sector representatives have discussed the idea of the Caribbean becoming a “zero-emission tourism destination,” which would allow tourism operators to advertise the region to environmentally conscious travelers (Futuro Latinoamericano 2008).

A strategy aimed at encouraging climate change mitigation globally is the maintenance of stored carbon by reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) (UNEP-WCMC 2009b). As current emissions due to deforestation are roughly 1.5 GtC per year, REDD is considered to have great potential in mitigating climate change (UNEP-WCMC 2009b). Though the mechanisms of REDD are still being worked out, it will likely be organized at the national level and measured relative to a baseline (UNEP-WCMC 2009b). While forests in the Caribbean are small, REDD may still have the potential to offer Caribbean nations an opportunity to participate in climate mitigation efforts while conserving habitats and the species that depend upon them. Other benefits include the maintenance of ecosystem services and the receipt of payments for protecting forests.

In general, climate change mitigation has not been a top priority in the Caribbean. As a region expected to be highly impacted by the effects of climate change, the Caribbean region may work to increase pressure on the global community to reduce emissions (Day 2009). Strengthening the Caribbean’s voice in global climate change mitigation discussions is a key need as the region faces impacts from a problem it had little role in creating (Day 2009).

Major National and Regional Climate Change Policy Initiatives in Preparation or implementation

The IPCC considers SIDS to be among the most vulnerable to the projected impacts of climate change. Various international, regional and national initiatives have been developed recently to try to address the challenge. Regional programs that have sought to develop an informed and structured approach to climate change in the Caribbean Include the following:
  • Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change (CPACC)
  • Adaptation to Climate Change in the Caribbean (ACCC)
  • Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change (MACC)
  • Special Programme for Adaptation to Climate Change (SPACC)
The CPACC initiative (1997 to 2001, funded by GEF) was the first step in a comprehensive, long-term program of adaptation to global climate change. It served to build capacity for vulnerability assessment and monitoring, prepare national climate change adaptation policies and implement plans, and formulate technical assistance and investment projects.

The ACCC project (2001 to 2004, funded principally by the Canadian Climate Change Development Fund), which was built on the results and experience of the CPACC, focused on the development of risk management guidelines for climate change adaptation decision-making, further capacity building, and political endorsement for the establishment and of the business plan of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (see Box 3). The ACCC also published a climate change handbook for Caribbean journalists, which provides an excellent overview of climate change and how it affects the region from a political, economic, ecosystem, climatic and country-specific (CARICOM countries) point of view. In addition, the ACCC developed guidelines for incorporating climate change adaptation in environmental impact assessments.

The MACC Project (2004-2008, funded by GEF) was mainly aimed at mainstreaming adaptation into sectoral strategies (public and private) and national development planning. The participating hotspot countries were: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St.Kitts and Nevis, and St.Vincent. Apart from mainstreaming, outcomes of the project included the development of a strong public education and outreach program and a comprehensive communication strategy. Following on from these projects, a Regional Climate Change Strategic Plan has been drafted by CCCCC for endorsement by heads of government.

Together, the CPACC, ACCC and MACC projects generated significant outputs for the Caribbean region, particularly raising awareness of climate change among decisionmakers and have enabled more unification among regional parties and better articulation of regional positions for negotiations under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. However, there appears to have been relatively little focus on terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Box 3. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC)
In 2002, the Caribbean Heads of Government endorsed creation of a permanent facility in the region to address climate change. CCCCC, based in Belmopan, Belize, became functional in 2004. CCCCC coordinates much of the region’s response to managing and adapting to climate change, and is responsible for advising regional governments on related policy matters. It is the official repository and clearing-house for regional climate change data, and coordinates sharing and accessing of information by a variety of stakeholders. CCCCC also plays an important role in quality assurance and ensures the standardization of procedures for the application of methodologies for vulnerability and risk assessments, national greenhouse gas accounting and climate modeling, and provides training in interpretation and use of the outputs. In addition, CCCCC is responsible for coordination and mobilization of funding and other resources for climate change activities in the region. It provides climate change-related policy advice and guidelines to the CARICOM member states through the CARICOM Secretariat, and in this role, is recognized by UNFCCC, UNEP and other international agencies as the focal point for climate change issues in the region. It has been recognized by the UN Institute for Training and Research as a Centre of Excellence.

A Special Programme for Adaptation to Climate Change (SPACC) project (2007-2011), supported by GEF, which was heavily influenced by the outcomes and experiences of the above projects, provides support to three CARICOM countries (Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines) for the assessment, design, implementation and monitoring of various measures to minimize the impacts of climate change on coastal and near-coastal biodiversity and land degradation in order to promote climate resilient development policies. Other important regional initiatives include the Climate Change and Biodiversity in the Insular Caribbean project being implemented by CANARI with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, which aims to develop a regional research agenda, assess the requirements to address identified knowledge gaps, and to consider how protected area management, biodiversity protection, and conservation policy might address climate change in the region. This has resulted in a series of important reports on climate change models and scenarios for the islands of the Caribbean, and climate change impacts on marine, coastal biodiversity and terrestrial biodiversity in the islands of the Caribbean (Cambers et al. 2008, Chen et al. 2008, Suárez et al. 2008, Day 2009).

Also at the regional level, UNDP established the Caribbean Risk Management Initiative in 2004 as an umbrella program designed to build capacity across the Caribbean region for the management of climate-related risk, and the World Bank has also proposed an Action Plan for the World Bank in Latin America (Vergara 2004), which includes activities to improve the knowledge base for key ecosystems. IUCN’s Programme of Work for 2009-2012 for the Caribbean region under its IUCN Caribbean Initiative includes a thematic priority area addressesing climate change, with a focus on integrating biodiversity considerations and opportunities into climate change policy and practice. Other projects include the joint University of Oxford-CCCCC CaribSAVE initiative that aims to tackle the challenges of climate change and its effect on tourism in the Caribbean region. Part of the seed funding from the U.K. Department for International Development will be spent on six-month pilot studies on Eleuthera in the Bahamas and Ocho Rios in Jamaica.

However, to date only a few species-specific adaptation plans have been developed in the region, one example being for marine turtles (Hawkes 2008). In terms of training and research, the University of the West Indies is an important regional center, and has recently created a Master of Science program in climate change at its Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), at the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados.

Projects at National Level

At the national level, initiatives have been more limited so far. Cuba is participating as a pilot country in the Capacity Building for Stage II Adaptation to Climate Change in Central America, Mexico, and Cuba project (UNEP 2008), which aims to demonstrate how adaptation policy can be integrated into national sustainable development efforts in at least four human systems: water resources, agriculture, human health, and coastal zones. There is also a proposal to construct a Climate Change facility on Montserrat, on the summit of Silver Hills in the north of the island, which would serve as a center for applied research on key socioeconomic issues that may be impacted by climate change in the Eastern Caribbean region. In Jamaica, a national public education campaign and communication strategy on climate and its impacts is being conducted by the National Environmental Education Committee and Panos Caribbean, involving popular Jamaican entertainers as climate champions.

Implementation of adaptation measures at the local level and community involvement in climate change adaptation projects is still in its initial stages in the Caribbean, and there have been few projects. With regard to biodiversity and ecosystem services these include a limited number of habitat restoration projects, including mangrove restoration projects. Restoration and management of mangroves are being promoted as key tools to build resilience to climate change in tropical coastal states. See McLeod and Salm (2006), Managing Mangroves for Resilience to Climate Change. In addition, Cuba has developed beach restoration technology to restore ecological and functional value of the coasts. Although reforestation projects in the region have been promoted as helping to decrease vulnerability and increase resilience to climate change and have the potential to qualify for future REDD funding, most restoration projects to date have focused on the marine environment, particularly coral reef restoration.

All independent Caribbean islands states have ratified the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol and are listed as non-Annex I Parties, and all have produced their first National Communication, which identifies critical vulnerabilities to climate change and recommended adaptation options to address them, but none have yet finalized their second National Communication.

Under the ACCC Project, nine countries in the hotspot (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St.Vincent and the Grenadines) prepared national climate change adaptation policies. In Dominica, St.Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia, the policies were tabled in parliament and approved. Haiti, as a Least Developed Country, has produced a National Adaptation Plan of Action that has 14 priority projects, six of which are concerned with watershed restoration and/or reforestation, and two with improving natural resource management or sites (in Northeast Province and Artibonite Province). However, most policies do not give adequate attention to natural resources management or conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services as an integral tool for adaptation.

Adaptation to climate change in the overseas countries and territories had received less attention and funding than in the independent states until recently. The European Union hosted a major conference in 2008 to discuss climate change and biodiversity loss in its Overseas Entities (www.reunion2008.eu) and produced a background paper “Climate Change and Biodiversity in the European Union Overseas Entities,” which contains a review of threats to their biodiversity from climate change in the Caribbean region EU entities. In March 2007, the CCCCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UK government (through DFID) for the Enhancing Capacity for Adaptation to Climate Change project for activities in the Caribbean U.K. Overseas Territories (Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos). The aims include enhancing national capacities to undertake vulnerability and risk assessments in key environmental and socioeconomic sectors, among other things. The project seeks to link the five territories with the CCCCC regional programs, broadly follows the MACC project, and draws on the SPACC project. However, the funding available (£300,000) is not substantial.

Integration of Biodiversity into Policies

A number of biodiversity-related conventions to which most of the Caribbean states are signatories, including the Ramsar Convention and the CBD, have adopted decisions concerning biodiversity and climate change. Chief amongst these is the integration of climate change into most of the programs of work of the CBD and particular vulnerability of islands to the impacts of climate change is acknowledged in its program of work on island biodiversity that includes a number of priority actions, such as:
  • Research and implement adaptation and mitigation measures in land-use and coastal zone planning and strategies to strengthen local-level biodiversity resilience to climate change.
  • Create, where feasible, viable national systems of protected areas which are resilient to climate change.
  • Consider afforestation and reforestation projects that enhance island biodiversity, noting that it may be possible for these projects to be eligible to generate certified emission reduction units under the Kyoto Protocol Clean Development Mechanism.
  • Develop models to understand the vulnerability of island biodiversity to climate change.
These aim to strengthen local-level resilience to climate change, but also means that pursuing national climate change adaptation strategies provides an opportunity for Caribbean islands to meet their obligations under the CBD. However, only three countries in the region (Barbados, Cuba and Dominica) have national plans with specific objectives or actions to link biodiversity and climate change. A capacity-development workshop to enhance the integration of climate-change considerations in national biodiversity strategies and action plans and implementation of the CBD was convened in Trinidad and Tobago in 2008. Two important documents dealing with biodiversity and climate change in the Caribbean and their mainstreaming into government policy have been produced in relation to this workshop (UNEP/CBD 2008, UNEP/CBD 2009).

As mentioned previously, there have been calls to improve existing measures to protect biodiversity as a key critical aspect of adaptation policy and the need for the region to re-examine its conservation strategies and adopt a more pragmatic approach (Day 2009). The planning and effective management of protected areas need to be made more “climate proof” (most current management plans do not take climate change into account). However, in most cases, addressing the region’s existing environmental problems through active management will not only improve the resilience of the ecosystems and well-being of communities today, but will also place them in a better position to adapt to climate change. Adaptation to climate change can therefore be viewed as a “no regrets” strategy for sustainable development (IPCC 2007).

Although many of the current national adaptation strategies and plans, such as those for St. Lucia, do promote conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services as a key tool to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience to climate change, these are not yet well integrated into broader national planning and development programs and practical implementation projects are still scarce. For instance, Jamaica has a variety of policies and plans that are relevant to adaptation and mitigation (including the Forest Policy and the National Forest Management and Conservation Plan; the National Land Policy; the Watersheds Policy; the National Energy Sector Policy; National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan; and the National Hazard Mitigation Policy) but there is no overarching framework for addressing climate change, and adaptation measures have not been integrated into these plans, although a Task Force on climate change and hazard reduction has been established.

Needs and Opportunities for Strengthening Integration of Biodiversity into Climate Change Adaptation/Mitigation Planning

Despite the large number of past and current climate-related projects and programs in the region, there remain a number of major challenges and needs, especially in regard to ensuring more effective integration of biodiversity into climate change adaptation policy and planning.

Lack of capacity: Like many SIDS, the Caribbean islands have a limited pool of professionals with expertise in multiple disciplies (such as meteorology and the biosciences), and few with the necessary skills to effectively assess and/or examine climate change issues.

Lack of climate change considerations in management plans: As previously mentioned, networks of protected areas are seen as critically important to the preservation of biodiversity under climate change and key elements of national adaptation plans, but their management is often inadequate or non-existent in the Caribbean and current management plans for protected areas do not take climate change into account (Suárez et al. 2008).

Lack of information: There appears to be a lack of research focusing on how climate change will affect terrestrial biodiversity (Day 2009). Research in this area in the Caribbean is considered to be in its infancy, and existing data has not been adequately transferred to maps or geo-referenced databases, or used in climate-related modeling. Information is particularing absent for the potential economic impact of climate changel linkages between ecosystem services, human well-being and climate change; resilience and restoration; agro-biodiversity; protected areas; vulnerability assessments; and communication and outreach (Day 2009).

Limited civil society engagement: At present there is mimimal participation by civil society in the adaptation policy debate. Consequently, national and regional climate plans may not have the support of individuals, communities, or stakeholder groups, and therefore may have limited success (Walling undated).

Limited private sector engagement: The business sector has had a relatively minor role in promoting or implementing adaptation programs in the region. However, awareness of the impact of climate change on specific economic sectors is increasing and there have been some interesting initiatives, including the promotion and uptake of the Green Globe Certification (e.g. by some hotels in Jamaica), which encourages resource conservation within the hotel industry. Also, the insurance sector has become more engaged with climate change in the Caribbean, and a briefing document on the implications of climate change, adaptation and risk management has recently been produced by the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF 2009).

In sum, although there are some gaps in how climate change is being addressed in the Caribbean Islands hotspot, there are many pertinent actions being undertaken by a wide variety of national, regional and international organizations and entities. Climate change is well-acknowledged by national governments, and the issue is receiving funds on many levels.
Document: The Caribbean Islands Ecosystem Profile, January 2010
English (PDF - 1.63 MB) / Français (PDF - 2.6 MB)