Nature , in the form of mangroves, sea grass beds, coral reefs and their habitats, can provide as much or even more protection against climate risks, such as erosion, flooding and storm surges, than seawalls, breakwaters, or other hard-engineering solutions.
That is the underlying premise of a new project being championed by The Nature Conservancy, Jamaica Red Cross, and International Federation of Red Cross, and Red Crescent Societies, with funding by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.
Called Resilient Islands, the four-year, €6-million project is seeking to protect the shores of Jamaica, Grenada and the Dominican Republic against the impact of climate change by promoting the uses of coastal habitats. The goal is for communities to prioritise nature or ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approaches and for Government to incorporate them in national policy.
Work started on the project a year ago, but the formal launch took place at Knutsford Court Hotel last week Thursday.
In a presentation there, climate adaptation specialist at The Nature Conservancy Dr Natainia Lummen said nature-based strategies could be cheaper than hard infrastructure and are more sustainable over the long-term. In addition, she said they could reduce the projected economic loss the country stands to suffer at the hands of climate change.
“If we use ecosystem-based adaptation strategies, the 65 per cent projected economic loss as a reuslt of climate change could be reduced,” she said, referencing reports by the World Bank, The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
She explained: “If we do nothing to mitigate against climate change, in addition to the recurring expenses from natural distaters on a yearly basis, there is going to be a 65 per cent increase in the economic loss that we’re going to (experience) in the long-run. But if we use ecosystem-based strategies, that 65 per cent could be reduced.”
Jamaica’s vulnerability profile developed by climate scientists predicts that the island will experience increases in extreme weather such as flooding, rain, drought, and hurricane intensity as a result of climate change. This has implications for the island’s economic infrastructure — the majority of which lies on the coast and which generates 90 per cent of gross domestic product. There are also implications for the population, 25 per cent of which lives in coastal areas. According to the profile, over 5,000 km of Jamaica’s roads could be susceptible to climate change, and the agriculture sector is sensitive to changes in precipitation, increased temperatures and extreme weather.
As far as The Nature Conservancy and its partners are concerned, the best form of protection against the risks is one based in nature.
“Hard infrastructure is good, but it doesn’t serve any economic or ecological purpose. EbA grows in no time, it provides habitats for crab and fish and lobster, so it provides livelihood for the people,” Dr Lummen told the Jamaica Observer.
Still, she concedes that in the context where hard infrastructure does already exist, the best adaptation approach might be a combination of strategies.
“In some instances, EbA is not necessarily cheaper in the beginning, but it’s more sustainable over the long term. It’s aesthetically more appealing as well, and it serves the community.
“If you have to go with hard infrastucture, we would recommend using grey infrastructure and incorporating ecosystem-based infrastructure as part of that. It’s not one or the other. It’s a matter of saying ‘Let’s see how EbA could complement what you have and if possible, don’t spend millions on these hard infrastructure that don’t serve another purpose other than just being physical barriers, but consider alternative structures that could provide the physical barrier and provide economic and ecological benefit over the long-term’,” Dr Lummen said.
Director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Major Clive Davis said: “I would love to do more of this; more green infrastructure, but if an organisation comes and is offering me hard infrastructure, such as seawalls, I have to go with it.
“It’s unfortunate, (but) what happens is that countries’ and organisations’ agendas change from time to time, and sometimes that change it is not matching with our agenda,” said Davis.
Already, the Resilient Islands project has developed an interactive mapping website and mobile app to help stakeholders prioritise habitats for restoration by visualising socio-economic, ecological and hazard data alongside models of physical protection. It allows users to, for example, calculate the protective benefits that reefs and mangroves provide to people.
Among its other planned outputs is a checklist and guide for integrating EbA into vulnerability assessments, national policies and investments. It is also expected to identify vulnerable communities and help them understand the hazards they face, select nature-based actions to reduce their risks, and develop community action plans.
The project is expected to come to an end in 2021.
By: Kimone Thompson