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News Date: September 27 2016

By Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh

Countries around the world are celebrating World Tourism Day under the theme ‘Tourism for all …Promoting universal accessibility’. This focus is quite fitting as the tourism industry, globally, is facing several challenges inclusive of climate change which could stymie access to the various destinations.

For many years, the United Nations (UN) recognised the importance of having dialogue about greenhouse gas emissions and subsequently established the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to facilitate discourse for protecting the climatic system. The dialogue has not changed, and each year since then this meeting dubbed Conferences of the Parties (COP) is held to further the discussion.

Seemingly, there is more urgency for discussions surrounding climate change, its causes and impacts, and seriousness in establishing mitigation and adaptive strategies. The paradigm has shifted from mere meetings and discussions to a regulatory action to reduce greenhouse gas emission to below 2°C by countries around the world and adaptive strategies to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Scientists have found that greenhouse gas emissions of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the main contributors are causing anthropogenic climate change (global warming). The aim to reduce greenhouse gas emission was at the forefront at the COP 21 Conference held in December 2015 in Paris, thus, the Paris Climate Change Agreement (PCCA).

For the first time, there is an agreement to seriously address this phenomenon. This agreement is the “world’s first legally binding plan” to deal with climate change with the goal of attaining a “low carbon, climate resilient future”. Already, 175 parties to the UNFCCC have signed the agreement at the opening for signature in April of this year. This will be opened for a year to allow other parties to do so. Despite this initiative, some populations remain doubtful, tardy and even oblivious of the climate change phenomenon. Some are still deliberating about climate change and this leads to the question: Is climate change a myth or reality?

In response to the threat of climate change, the USA is determined to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 per cent below 2°C by 2025. President Barack Obama posits global warming to be “one of the most urgent challenges of our time”. He declares the Clean Power Plan, where power-generation companies will be expected to reduce CO2 emissions by the year 2030. The aim is to make the USA the global leader in the fight against climate change. On September 2, 2016, the USA ratified the PCCA. This is rightly so as the USA is the world’s largest economy and correspondingly one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases.

In accordance with this initiative, President Xi Jinping of China likewise deposited their instrument of ratification to the UN. China is known for its coal economy, which although it supplies cheap electricity, produces most of the global CO2. Together both countries contribute 38 per cent of human emissions. Some critics believe that having the world’s two largest economies ratifying the Paris agreement is a show. The USA and China will also be collaborating in amending the Montreal Protocol to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are used in refrigeration systems, for example, air conditioners, and to have discussions with the International Civil Aviation Organization regarding the reduction of aviation emissions with the aim of decreasing its contribution to greenhouse gases.

September 2016 can be hallmarked as the month for ratifying the climate change agreement by large economies, as Brazil also took this step and pledged to reduce emissions by 37 per cent by 2025 and 43 per cent by 2030. Realisation of these goals could be highly beneficial since Brazil currently emits 2.5 per cent of the world’s CO2 and is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Latin America. As described, the ‘gala performance’ by the USA and China in ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement and the inclusion of Brazil in this initiative will influence other countries around the world to do likewise, especially the remainder of the BRICS union, that is, Russia, India and South Africa. Collectively, the BRICS countries comprise 42 per cent of the world’s population (three billion people). Their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions would have a major positive impact on the UN initiative. India has declared its unreadiness to make such commitment at this time due to lack of resources to implement the various strategies to achieve the climate change goal and to devise adaptive strategies.

If there is ratification of the agreement by 55 countries which represent 55 per cent of global emissions, then the PCCA can be enforced. There is an urgent call for the UK Government to ratify the agreement despite its focus on Brexit. The Australian Government is aiming to do so by the end of the year and has started its effort by imposing a clean air quality policy for motor vehicle manufacturers to produce vehicles that will not contribute to carbon emissions.

Despite the movements to address climate change, the USA Republican Party opposes regulations geared towards climate change as there is disbelief about global warming. In fact, a third of the US population believes that climate change is a hoax and 57 per cent disbelieve the UN scientists. If the Republican Party wins the upcoming general election, they plan to pull the USA out of this agreement.

With all this preamble and mixed views, what is the Caribbean’s position? Is climate change a myth or reality for this region? Though not a scientist or geologist, already there are changes in climatic and weather patterns, and corresponding environmental degradation. The year 2015 was confirmed by scientists as the hottest year on historical record and the year 2016 seems to be superseding this. In Jamaica there is evidence of receding shorelines on the south coast to include Little Ochi and Hellshire as well as Negril in the west and Port Maria in the north; prolonged drought; heavy rainfall resulting in flooding and change in rainfall patterns. In Barbados, the marine and coastal ecosystems are being destroyed. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2013) report, there is indication of rise in the ocean temperature and sea level as well as more dangerous and intense storm and hurricanes in the region. The biological productivity of the sea is also threatened. These are indicative of changes taking place with and within the natural environmental. What is worrisome is that countries in the Caribbean region seem to be highly sensitive to the impacts of climate change. The majority of them are small island developing states (SIDS) and by virtue of size and location, they are highly vulnerable.

Not only is the region at risk from climate change if it is real, but one of its most substantial and dependent sectors of the economy, tourism, is threatened. The Caribbean region highly depends on tropical tourism through its natural attributes of having ‘sand, sun and sea’. Interestingly, it is said that the smaller countries around the world emit less greenhouse gas, thus contributing to a lesser extent to climate change and global warming, yet they are the ones that are most vulnerable to these impacts due to their size, location and also inability to finance adaptive and mitigating strategies. This is understood as these countries have lower population counts and manufacturing capabilities when compared to larger ones.

The question that comes to the forefront is: What impact will climate change have on tourism in the region? It is a fact that countries in the Caribbean depend on the tourism economy for sustained growth and development. Tourism has become the “lifeblood” of these economies due to decline in agriculture and bauxite among other traditional industries. Tropical tourism is the main attraction for visitors to these destinations; therefore, any impact by climate change can be devastating to the region’s economy, as the resources on which tourism depends will be destroyed over a period of time.

Is climate change in the Caribbean myth or reality? Can the region afford to be complacent despite this probe? Some countries in the region have already signed the PCCA. These include Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Dominica, Dominica Republic, St Lucia, Haiti, Guyana, and Grenada. Will they be ratifying the agreement by the end of the year 2016? Although signing and ratifying the agreement are important steps toward the commitment to adaptive changes and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, what about the resources required for doing so? So far Jamaica has raised discussions about its response as indicated in the 2030 Vision. Guyana has been nurturing and expanding its forestry to absorb excessive CO2. However, where are the more comprehensive plans for the Caribbean to achieve this goal? The UN has already identified the lack of resources to be a major deterrent for developing countries and is seeking to have the more developed countries assist in funding and technologies. The UN World Tourism Organization is also calling for climate change mitigation and preventative strategies to assist member countries.

Another initiative is that on September 16, 2016, the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association joined forces through an agreement to provide climate change services solution in the region so as to jointly protect the tourism industry. This will be done through research and development. The intention is to have other bodies on board such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, Caribbean Public Health Agency, Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development Institute and the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association. As a combined force, their actions and decisions should be useful in addressing the issue at hand.

In conclusion, if climate change is a myth, then there is no need for concern. If it is a reality, then climate change will exacerbate economic and social challenges. Many natural attractions will no longer exist and revenue inflows from tourism will be drastically reduced. While we stand by to hear more from scientists, geologists, world leaders, politicians and the various global regulatory bodies, let us play our individual and collective roles in making the Caribbean accessible for tourism today and in the future. Let us also not lose sight of the other emerging issues such as Brexit that has the propensity to impact the region.

Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh, PhD, is associate professor at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management,University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or

News Source: Jamaica Observer

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