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Top gdf officer details climate change impacts, consequences

Colonel Julian Bruce Lovell of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF )

By Wendella Davidson

THE effects of climate change on the CARICOM region will not onlyproduce environmental hazards but spawn conditions that would generate profound security implications.

And, while the Caribbean Community possesses some resident capabilities to respond to the latter, its size, underdevelopment and low adaptive capacity would require bold and imaginative approaches if new generation climate change security threats are to be addressed.

The observation was made by Colonel Bruce Lovell, second-in-charge of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), with overall responsibility for general staffing, in a presentation themed ‘Climate Change:Challenges to Security in CARICOM’, at Regency Hotel last January 19.

He contended that the main stay of any approach should be in the crafting of a Regional Climate Change Strategy (RCCS) that must include a regional security input that fully integrates the consequences of climate change.

Additionally, the RCCS must boost the region’s organisational and response capacity and have an active foreign policy, said Lovell, who described climate change as a long wave event which, because it is a distant threat and not fully understood, the political will to reduce it is absent.

According to him, climate change is also a phenomenon with high probability and consequences that will create multiple and long term conditions of instability throughout the region and require bold, imaginative and decisive steps to have it mitigated and adapted.

But he cautioned against a slothful approach in addressing the issue, pointing out that, should the threats be allowed to develop, unwarranted consequences can be the end result.

It is for those reasons and others that establishing an RCCS is necessary and the absence of any such plan runs the risk of a fractured regional response in an eventuality, Lovell asserted.

In his opinion, such a strategy will have to utilise the full range of the region’s instruments of power - diplomatic, informational, military and economic, to deal with security implications.

Eminent role
He also said it is necessary, with such a strategy, to have the military playing a pre-eminent role, with the aim of boosting its capability to respond to disasters from extreme weather conditions, pandemic disease outbreaks and other new generation climate change security threats.

“These threats require a rapid response capability and, currently, the region is deficient of the aerial platforms and, to some extent, the naval platforms, to facilitate this.

“Air and sea assets apart, the region’s military will also require equipping with the kind of material to cope with widespread disasters. Heavy earth moving equipment, sniffer dogs and water purification units for self-sustainment in austere conditions are but some,” Lovell added.

He reminded that the absence of disaster response type equipment limits the role of any CARICOM contingent in the rescue and recovery phase of a disaster, using Haiti as an example.

Lovell said the security strategy must take account of and assess the impact climate change will have on the region’s critical infrastructure and facilities to make them more resilient or have them relocated should its military bases be damaged or destroyed.

Acknowledging that the effects of climate change, while being primarily environmental in nature, can also serve as a lubricator for other consequences, he said all CARICOM States, with the exception of Guyana, Suriname and Belize, are small, developing island States.

He said the smallness in size, the proneness to natural hazards and external shocks aid in heightening the vulnerability of the region, making it more acute.

But it is the rise in sea levels, the result of the warming of ocean temperatures that allow the waters to expand, that is viewed as the most obvious effect of climate change.

Contributing to the rise in sea level, as well, is the melting of land based ice and snow, as distinct from sea based ice and such rises result in flooding of low-lying areas, erosion of coastal areas and damage to critical infrastructure and facilities, such as

roads, airports and seaports, energy and telecommunication facilities, Lovell said.

Given that more than 50 per cent of the Caribbean’s population live within 1.5 kilometres of the shore, he said the consequences to their socio-economic well-being will be incalculable.

Lovell maintained that the rise in sea levels and the surface temperature will impact on coral reefs, fish stocks and other marine based resources and it is anticipated that the coral reefs will be irreparably destroyed, resulting in fish stocks and marine resources migrating.

As a consequence, the economic well-being of the region’s many fisher folk will be affected and climate change will also adversely affect agriculture, as the rise in sea levels will facilitate salt water intrusion into agricultural lands, leading to soil erosion and lands becoming unsuitable because of salinisation.

Lovell said, in highland areas, changing precipitation patterns will induce conditions of drought and exceedingly high rainfall, which will have negative effects on agriculture and, ultimately, food security will be threatened.

He said rising global temperatures will impact many of the Earth’s natural systems

and result in extreme weather conditions in the region, that will be prompted by the El Nino and La Nina phenomena, while rainfall patterns will be radically altered, resulting in more frequent and severe weather related disasters, like droughts, floods and hurricanes.

Lovell said fresh water supplies for the region, more particularly the islands, will become threatened by climate change as rainfall changes would be more pronounced, while the basic human needs for water, such as for drinking, sanitation and irrigation will be compromised as the region experiences water stresses, due to inadequate resources.

Alluding to an Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, he said it identifies health and tourism as two other areas that climate change will affect in the region.

Tropical zone
He posited that, because the region is located in the tropical zone, the weather serves as a facilitator to the transmission of malaria, dengue, filaria, food and water borne and diarrhoeal diseases, heat stress, skin ailments, acute respiratory infections and asthma.

In his opinion, the increased incidence of these has been attributed to poor public health practices, inadequate infrastructure, poor waste management practices, increasing global travel and changing climatic conditions.

Other negatives that will impact on the region’s inability to attract tourists include erosion of beaches and degradation of coral reefs, loss of cultural heritage sites and artifacts due to inundation.

Lovell said the greatest security implication is the multiplicity of conditions in the region to the extent that instability could occur.

He mentioned migration of CARICOM citizens internally, regionally or internationally, as a result of environmentally induced problems, such as flooding, drought or political pressures and said the migrating should be of concern as it could give rise to violence, particularly in conditions of the scarcity of resources.

Then the pressure exerted on regional governments, as their populations grapple with the ill effects of climate change, coupled with the damage of critical infrastructures and facilities, such as electricity, water, telecommunications and sea and airports of entries, once destroyed or damaged have significant security and economic ramifications, while the loss of health amenities can cause treatable injuries to become life threatening.

Source: Guyana Chronicle