Sun, wind and water: climate change in the Caribbean

The empire strikes back against global warming - what the Caribbean region is doing to adapt to and minimise the effects of climate change

A house with a solar energy panel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, St Joseph, Barbados. Photograph by Adrian GriffithMembers of the Fondes Amandes Community Re-Forestation Project planting seedlings on a hillside in St Ann`s, Trinidad. Photograph by Wendy Ann Duncan

“All we used to get here was razor grass, bamboo, cocorite palm and of course, fire,” says Akilah Jaramogi, advancing with energetic surefootedness up the precipitous, rocky track ahead of me.

“You couldn’t come up here at certain times of the day because it was too hot, there was no shade. It really was a harsh environment, now we have beautiful trees interspersed with organic crops,” she adds glancing over her shoulder and throwing out an arm at the surrounding vegetation.

Five minutes from downtown Port of Spain, Trinidad, and 750 feet up in the mountains of the Northern Range, this is the Fondes Amandes Community Re-Forestation Project (FACRP), started by Jaramogi and her late husband Tacuma in 1982. More than 7,000 trees have been planted on the site of this multi-award-winning agro-forestry scheme, which began as a response to the annual bushfires that ravaged the hillsides.

Jaramogi pauses so that I—breathing heavily and making a mental note to renew my gym membership—can catch up.

“We started on 15 acres of WASA (Water and Sewerage Authority) land and now protect over 115; we employ 36 paid members, and have been forest-fire-free for over 10 years.

“Our goal was to halt the degradation of the Fondes Amandes Watershed and also to empower people back into indigenous agriculture. We’ve achieved that through practices such as tree planting, cutting fire traces, developing proper drainage and terracing, the introduction of hillside farming and intercropping with fruit and hardwood trees.”

The footpath traces a circuitous route to the summit and along the way we pass abundant evidence of the workers’ labours: bamboo-walled vegetable beds, a recently-constructed aquaculture pond, cleared fire traces and a series of deep trenches—dug into the hillside to trap and divert erosive rainwater.

The FACRP is an example of what can be achieved by a community taking responsibility for its own environment. It also shows what can be done, on a relatively small scale, to combat deforestation, which accounts for a whopping 25 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

The community’s success has seen it expand to encompass projects such as organic gardening/permaculture, community eco-tourism, community recycling/composting, a plant nursery, craft and cottage industries, and music, culture and community empowerment.

“It’s about sustainable living and living in balance with your particular landscape and watershed,” says Jaramogi. “We can lobby for institutional change all we like but we’re not going to tackle climate change unless we all take responsibility for our own watersheds.”

The FACRP embodies the mission statement of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, established in August 2005. Its mission is to improve the ability of communities at risk to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.The centre’s deputy director, Carlos Fuller, says the language in scientific communities has recently shifted emphasis from “mitigation” of the impact of global warming to “adaptation”—because some degree of climate change is unavoidable.

“On a practical level, we are facilitating a co-ordinated response, which means all the Caribbean nations are negotiating with one voice, and that makes our position much stronger.”

Its other responsibilities include implementing major regional projects such as Mainstreaming and Adaptation to Climate Change (MACC). This three-year, US$5 million project’s achievements include the installation of 11 sea-level monitoring stations across the region, from Guyana to the Bahamas.

“In St Lucia and St Vincent, we have championed regulations to stop development taking place in certain fragile watersheds,” says Fuller. “This would include such things as cutting down forests to make way for development.

“In Dominica, retrofitting of buildings is taking place so that they can withstand the stronger hurricanes predicted.”

Fuller says it’s also important to continue to educate the Caribbean population and provide home-grown scientific professionals.

“We are supporting a master’s degree course at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. Each year we are getting five–10 graduates who are well-briefed on the issues of climate change and going out to work on the islands. This is invaluable.”

Individual governments are taking action to combat anticipated issues such as sea level rise (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes there could be a 77cm rise in oceanic levels by 2100).

Along Trinidad’s east coast, a 1.5 km-long, TT$18 million sea defence, scheduled for completion this year, is being constructed at Manzanilla. Studies to investigate the need for defences around the country’s entire coastline are currently being put out to tender.

An infrastructural redesign of Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, which is prone to flash-flooding, is also under way. All the plans incorporate a tidal mark a metre above the current level.

 

Whilst preparing for the anticipated effects of climate change is obviously prudent, so is a move away from dependency on the fossil-fuel-driven energy sector—the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

To this end the St Lucia-based Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Programme (CREDP/GTZ), a project funded by the German government, was established in 2003.

But Natalie Da Breo, communications consultant at CRDEP/GTZ, bemoans a lack of consistent political will amongst a number of Caribbean countries.

“The potential for renewable energy development in the territories varies widely,” she says.

“Guyana, for example, stands out for its phenomenal potential for hydropower development, and there is possibility for expansion of hydropower facilities in St Vincent and Dominica. St Lucia and St Kitts may also be able to exploit geothermal energy resources, to name but a few.

“The omnipresence of wind and solar energy in all Caribbean nations make these by far the most potentially viable sources of energy.”

So in September 2005, CREDP/GTZ set up the Caribbean Wind Energy Initiative (CAWEI). Its first major proposal is to help establish wind farms, to produce a total of approximately 30 megawatts of power, in St Vincent, Barbados and St Lucia.

This will increase the Caribbean’s wind-power capacity of by over 50 per cent, from a 2006 estimate of 57 megawatts.

The issue of climate change and its impact is an often complex one, overflowing with statistics, politics, hyperbole and supposition—but one thing seems relatively clear. Its resolution, or at the very least its mitigation, will require the combined shouldering of state, private-sector and personal responsibility.

Back at the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project, where one community has taken on its responsibility, my breathing is just returning to normal. Akilah Jaramogi smiles and implores me to acknowledge the contribution of British Gas—part of the fossil-fuel-energy sector that dominates Trinidad and Tobago’s economy—in helping fund the project’s work with an annual grant. She says it is an example of what can and should be happening.

“It’s very important that they (the energy companies) honour their responsibility to take CO2 out of the atmosphere—and back into the forests.”

Jamaica

In Jamaica, the government heralded its desire to move away from fossil-fuel dependency with a policy goal of 15 per cent of energy supply from renewables by 2020.

Solar water heaters have been installed in 20,000 Jamaican homes
Eight mini-hydro plants utilising river power are generating 21.4 megawatts
Two photovoltaic villages, of 45 homes, were developed in 1999
Use of the sugar cane by-product bagassse, for bioethanol production, continues to be developed.

The Centre of Excellence for Renewable Energy (CERE) was established in November 2006 to “diversify Jamaica’s energy base by encouraging a selection of indigenous energy options.”

The Wigton Wind Farm Project represents Jamaica’s largest investment in renewable energy. The project, in the parish of Manchester, comprises 23 turbines, producing 20.7 megawatts of power, and will displace the annual emission of up to 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

So successful has it been that proposals are being considered to double the size of the scheme.

Guyana

By far the largest Caribbean renewable energy project on the table is the proposed US$4 billion Guyana Hydropower Project on the Mazaruni River, close to Turtruba Falls.

A development team, headed by ENMAN Services of Trinidad and Tobago, aims to construct a hydroelectric plant with a capacity of 1,100 megawatts, which will transmit power by landlines to Brazil and by submarine cable to the Caribbean islands.

ENMAN believes that Guyana has a hydropower potential of 7,000 megawatts, which means, theoretically, it could help reduce electricity costs in territories as far north as the Dominican Republic.

The power transmission grid envisaged will also be able to take excess renewable energy generated from Caribbean islands, such as that from wind and geothermal plants, creating an integrated network. Construction is scheduled to begin in two years, and to be completed in 2016.