Earth Day Panel Drives Message of Climate Action
23rd April 2020
Nassau, THE BAHAMAS — Global warming is a grim reality that humanity has been moving rapidly towards for years. For small island developing states (SIDS) like The Bahamas, that are facing this existential threat, there is an undeniable urgency for climate action.
That was the message from six local scientists and environmental advocates during the virtual Earth Day panel discussion presented by University of The Bahamas on Wednesday 22nd April.
“Is the Earth’s temperature really changing? I can say without the shadow of a doubt, yes,” noted meteorologist Wayne Neely. “I am a 29-year veteran. The temperatures that I’m seeing now didn’t exist when I started 29 years ago. And many of the records that were long-held records, most of them have been broken within the last five years or so.”
Climate change is caused by the rapid increase of greenhouse gases, or carbon dioxide gases, in the atmosphere, principally from the burning of fossil fuels. China, the United States of America, and India are ranked as the top three largest emitters of greenhouse gases. However, emissions from every country accumulate in the atmosphere regardless of origin.
If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, seasonal temperatures are expected to increase by about 1.7 degrees Celsius, Mr. Neely said. Most models project a modest increase in hurricane intensity; an increase in maximum winds by two to 13 percent over the next century, and a hike in rainfall levels by 10 to 31 percent, a real problem given that the highest point in The Bahamas is just 206 feet above sea level.
“Now, two to 13 percent doesn’t seem like much, but that can mean the difference between a Category 3 intensity hurricane and a Category 5,” explained Mr. Neely. “And we’ve seen the results of a Category 5 on Abaco and Grand Bahama with [Hurricane] Dorian.”
Dr. Nicholas Higgs, Director of the Cape Eleuthera Institute, said reducing consumption and waste and securing clean energy sources are steps in the right direction. However, for real momentum, citizen activism coupled with government action is needed, he said.
“I’m very much a believer that this action needs to happen at all levels, especially from the top down,” said Dr. Higgs. “So while we as individual citizens have a responsibility, governments and those that we put in power have a serious onus on themselves to take responsibility to manage this.
“So really as citizens, as individuals, we need to ask governments, what are your plans? How are you planning for this? And individual Members of Parliament, speak to people.”
The Bahamas National Trusts’ Director of Science and Policy Ms. Shelley Cant-Woodside called for an ecosystem-based adaptation, or nature-based adaptation, as one of its key strategies in combating the effects of global warming. That method focuses on managing ecosystems to reduce the vulnerability of human communities to the effects of climate change.
“By simply including nature into our planning, by using the natural and very resilient ability of ecosystems like coral reefs and mangroves, but also countless more seagrasses etc., we could actually engineer our coastlines to help remove excess energy out of the waves,” she explained. “These ecosystems are also pretty good at trapping sediments, etc. and are really good natural defense mechanisms against a lot of the threats, particularly coming from things like hurricanes.”
Another way to reduce the effects of global warming locally is through the preservation of trees and forests. The Bahamas established the Forestry Unit via the Forestry Act, 2010 to ensure that the valuable natural resources of The Bahamas are managed in a sustainable manner. However, Hurricane Dorian impacted virtually all of the Forestry Unit’s proposed National Forest sites in Grand Bahama, as well as 86 percent of the National Forest Estate in Abaco.
Latonya Williams, Forestry Assistant and a UB Small Island Sustainability student, acknowledged that the efforts of the Forestry Unit are not enough.
“What we recognize is that the Forestry Unit cannot do it alone,” she said. “It requires partnerships, it requires planning; it requires commitment and execution.”
But for Dr. Vikneswaran Nair, Dean of Graduate Studies and Research and Professor of Sustainable Tourism, the fight against climate change has already been aided by a very unlikely ally: the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Nair noted that satellite images show that nitrogen dioxide air pollution levels have plummeted across cities and industrial areas in Europe since the global pandemic.
“There is no established link between COVID-19 and climate change,” Dr. Nair said. “Nonetheless the COVID-19 pandemic is painfully showing us that our challenges are increasingly global in nature and require systemic solutions. Hence for climate change, we need similar committed global actions. Emissions from every country accumulate in the atmosphere independently of where they are released. Therefore cuts will only be effective if all nations are on the same trajectory which is to move towards net zero emissions by at least 2050. That should be the global commitment by every country on this planet.”
Earth Day is celebrated annually on 22nd April. The first Earth Day was celebrated in the United States in 1970. Since then, the commemoration of Earth Day has spread to more than 192 countries around the world. This year’s Earth Day marked the 50th anniversary of the Earth Day movement. This year’s theme was “Climate and Action”.
Dr. Carlton Watson, Dean of Pure and Applied Sciences, said UB plays a critical role in ensuring that annual events like Earth Day are better recognized nationally and topics that emerge from such commemorations are constantly a part of the national discussion.
“As a national university, I think it’s very important that the university be seen as a point to make connections,” he said. “We have lots of institutions in the country that are doing tremendous work and the various ministries. And sometimes, getting everyone to connect, to communicate, to have conversations, can be difficult because everyone is so busy doing the work that they need to do. But it is important to have a university that then can act as a hub, or create the hub to ensure that the work is continuous.”
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Chartered on 10th November 2016, University of The Bahamas (UB) is a beacon for national transformation. Approximately 5,000 students are enrolled in the University of The Bahamas system which includes campuses and centres on New Providence, Grand Bahama, San Salvador and Abaco, as well as UB online education. UB’s diverse academic programmes, research engagements, athletics and leadership development experiences equip our students to become global citizens in a dynamic world.