Small island nations in the Caribbean are among the countries in the world most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and stronger and more frequent hurricanes in the Atlantic hurricane corridor, says a recent article published by the Council on Foreign Relations, an “independent” American think tank.
The Caribbean is one of the regions of the world most vulnerable to climate change.
Its large coastal populations and exposed location leave it at the mercy of rising sea levels, stronger storms, and worsening drought. Increasing temperatures, meanwhile, threaten its unique biodiversity.
Despite their meager contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions, the Caribbean’s thirteen sovereign nations are already bearing the brunt of these climate disruptions, putting many of these tourism-dependent countries deeply in debt and spurring increased migration across the region.
Scientists say that without immediate action, the Caribbean could eventually become nearly uninhabitable.
Countries such as Barbados and Dominica have implemented a range of mitigation and adaptation measures, including increasing public spending on resilient infrastructure, and many have set ambitious targets for emissions reductions.
But with the region requiring significantly more help to stave off the worst effects, some leaders in particular are pushing for fundamental reforms of global development aid and climate financing.
The United Nations considers the Caribbean to be “ground zero” in the global climate emergency.
Classified as small island developing states (SIDS) along with twenty-six other countries, Caribbean nations face particular risks due to their exposed location, relative isolation, and small size. Some of these include:
- more pronounced sea-level rise;
- increased frequency of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and tropical storms;
- increased rainfall and flooding;
- dangerous high temperatures;
- coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion; and
- longer dry seasons and shorter wet seasons.
Experts say some Caribbean islands could eventually become uninhabitable. A common feature among SIDS—including those in Oceania and the Indian Ocean—is a high coastline-to-land ratio, meaning that any rise in the sea level is likely to have an outsized impact on the agricultural lands, infrastructure, and populations located along a country’s coast.
Some of the most at-risk countries include low-lying islands in the Caribbean Basin, such as the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago, whose surfaces are only a few meters above sea level.
Several other islands, including Barbados and Dominica, lie inside the so-called “Hurricane Alley” in the Atlantic Ocean. In the nearly two decades between 2000 and 2019, the Bahamas and Haiti ranked among the top ten countries and territories globally that were most affected by extreme weather events.
“The Caribbean islands are essentially a microcosm of the challenges we’re all facing,” says Stephen E. Flynn, founding director of Northeastern University’s Global Resilience Institute.
Compared to the rest of the world, SIDS face unique financial constraints that increase their vulnerability to climate-induced economic shocks.
Their economies are generally smaller and less diversified, characterized by a high dependence on imports, tourism, and remittances, and they often struggle to raise funds for infrastructure development and climate measures. I
In many cases, they are forced to take on massive debt to recover from natural disasters; Caribbean nations are among the most highly indebted in the world.
Energy prices in the Caribbean are already among the highest in the world, with several countries depending on imported oil to meet approximately 90 percent of their energy needs. Poor urban planning, substandard housing, and large coastal populations can magnify the impact of these disasters.
Tourism. The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world. In 2021, the travel and tourism sector contributed more than $39 billion to the region’s GDP. However, analysts say that climate effects such as reduced rainfall, prolonged heat waves, and the loss or deterioration of natural attractions are already impacting the Caribbean’s tourism industry.
A 2022 study found that sea-level rise alone could result in a 38 to 47 percent reduction in tourism revenue by 2100.
Migration. . In 2020, the Caribbean had one of the highest emigration rates in the world, with the number of migrants leaving the region more than doubling since 1990. Most head for the United States, and others go to Europe and South America.