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Editorial | Tackle climate change at the grassroots | Commentary – Jamaica Gleaner

Matthew Samuda encapsulated the issue quite succinctly. Jamaica faces existential dangers from global warming and climate change.

But the real risks are not from the uber events, like, say, “cataclysmic category-five hurricanes”, although those are to be worried about.

“It is the slow events that eat our beaches alive, kill our coral reefs, and diminish our fish populations” and so on, that are likely to pose the most danger, Mr Samuda, the minister with responsibility for the environment, told a recent investment conference.

The minister’s immediate focus might have been on the island’s coast-based tourist industry, but the sentiments are applicable to the entire country. And, in any event, the vast majority of Jamaican citizens live in coastal regions, where its major cities and most economic activities are located.

Moreover, implicit in the minister’s argument is that, even though they might be more frequent and severe than before, after the big events pass, we may well remain tolerant of the emerging new normal of higher seas and longer droughts and other effects of climate change. The question, therefore, is, what is Jamaica doing about it?

We agree with Mr Samuda’s observations about the need for robust, effective and long-term plans to address these threats.

On the macro level, Jamaica is taking action. It has, for example, a climate data and information management programme to help it plan resilience projects. Last year, it became one of the first countries to begin developing a predictive, climate risk-assessment planning tool for major infrastructure areas under the global private sector-led Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment. Despite contributing relatively little to the emissions that cause global warming, the island has committed to cutting back on its release of greenhouse gases.

But there is a tendency to conflate policy with action, or believe that the flow and processing of information is the same across all segments of the society. Yet, often, different groups hear and interpret messages differently. Sometimes the message, as packaged, on the face of it, bears little relevance to the short-term interests and welfare of some people, especially if their immediate concern is survival.

It is imperative, therefore, that the messages reach not only people at the higher echelons of the economic food chain, but the grassroots and vulnerable communities, underpinned with assistance to help them mitigate the impacts of climate change.

At the same time, Jamaica has to initiate a new conversation on how it plans development and organises its tourist industry. Which, happily, we sense is a matter appreciated by Mr Samuda.

“We have to invest in a way that understands that our footprint cannot continue the rate of degradation, because, at the end of the day, sea level rising will eat our beaches, and sewage discharge will destroy our reefs and fish populations,” he said at the investment conference. “We have been selling sun, sand and sea for the past three decades, so we need to protect that sun, sand and sea.”

And we would explicitly add our hillsides, plains and forests, which we take as being implicit in the minister’s observation.

In that respect, focus on eco and community tourism and empowering people with the care of, and accountability for, the product they manage should be on the industry’s agenda. Ideas for sustainable farming, including the rediscovery and expansion of techniques that were once the norm in the parish of St Elizabeth, should be part of the discussions.

The point, policies and programmes around the effects of climate change will hardly make sense without talking to, and getting the involvement of, the people who are being directly impacted by global warming. There are too many examples of failed projects and initiatives because there wasn’t this type of partnership from the start.

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