Cuba Faces Climate Change: Nature Strikes Back

Pilar Montes

cop 21 2HAVANA TIMES — The planet has laid its hopes on the COP 21 summit underway in Paris, aimed at coordinating a global plan to attenuate the effects of climate change, after centuries of damage to the environment.

The countries that have been most affected by the phenomenon are those without the resources needed to confront natural disasters, such as prolonged draughts, flooding and rising sea levels, caused by the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps.

US politicians – or those with deep pockets, at least – downplay the significance of these threats. They care little about the poor and underprivileged, social programs or the protection of the environment, because they believe themselves out of the reach of the coming storm.

I am not a pessimist, but the truth is that the richer countries have already warned those at the Paris Conference that they will not take on any commitments to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, the greatest producers of which are currently the United States and China.

The Case of Cuba

Experts at the Cuban Oceanography Institute believe that the most serious repercussions will take the form of morphological changes to littoral areas and river basins. Erosion will be the main force pushing back the coastline, where nearly 245 settlements currently stand.

The greatest risk of coastal flooding is faced by south-laying areas of the provinces of Habana and Pinar del Rio, which is located 176 kilometers from the capital. Studies conducted by Cuban experts claim that, over the past three decades, sea levels rose by 2.9 millimeters every year on average.

Research conducted by third-year journalism student Yohana Lezcano Lavandera, who consulted with experts in the field, revealed that changing precipitation patterns will lead to severe coastal flooding towards the west of the island, while east-laying provinces, where more than 25 percent of Cuba’s population lives, will be hit hard by worse and more widespread draughts.

Agriculture will also be affected, as nearly 15 percent of productive areas are already facing the effects of increased water salinity. Similar figures are reported for the soil’s organic matter content, which demands the use of biological or “green” products instead of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, an area where the country is already making progress.

Gisela Alonso Dominguez, chair of the Environment Agency of Cuba’s Science, Technology and Environment Ministry declared that Cuba is developing a pilot program to confront this climatological situation. This program includes the restructuring of the agricultural sector, water saving measures, the care of the water table, the restoration of beaches and the preservation of swamps, with a view to the implementing the needed measures.

Though Cuba’s strategy against global warming calls for sustainable development as a main element the country’s adaptation process, the island is far from being prepared to adopt the needed changes.

Adapting to climate change is one of the central issues facing the Caribbean island in the future, considering how vulnerable developing countries – and small insular states – are in this connection.

At the meeting, which began on November 30 and will conclude on December 11, 2015, Cuba will ratify the need to establish a new series of commitments in terms of rigorous emission reductions, particularly for developed countries, and the adoption of a package of actions to offer financing and technologies to developing countries.

Cuba’s Environmental Agency (AMA) recently reported that climate change will have a multi-million dollar impact on Cuban society.

The above is clearly illustrated by the more than 10 billion dollar losses caused by three hurricanes in 2008, the more than a million in damages caused by draughts in 2004 and 2005 and the more than 120 million in annual health expenses needed to combat the impact of climate change on a series of conditions.

The costs of climate change and adapting to its effects are very high and have not yet been fully quantified, the Cuban agency pointed out.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Nature continues to threaten the region with the currents of El Niño, which are expected to last until next spring. This climactic event is the most intense that has ever been reported. It is to be followed by the phenomenon of La Niña, whose effects will be felt as of next summer in North-western hemisphere.

In September, several institutions (CPC, IRI and RNSO) reported that there is a 95 percent chance that El Niño – a phenomenon caused by the warming of Pacific Ocean waters – will continue through the winter and weaken gradually during the spring of 2016.

El Niño is not an isolated storm affecting a specific area at a given moment. The warmest waters in the tropical Pacific lead to changes in global atmospheric circulation patters, resulting in different meteorological phenomena worldwide.

Accelerated warming patterns such as those we are seeing today are unusual for the planet’s history. Scientists warn that, as a result of this, sea and ocean levels have risen and are threatening islands and lowlands.

Over the past century, greenhouse gases and other atmospheric pollutants have resulted in severe changes, such as global warming, holes in the ozone layer and acid rain.

The phenomenon of La Niña and the increased activity being observed in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea could lead to natural disasters, such as intense downpours, tropical storms and hurricanes and, consequently, to flooding, heavy seas, landslides and other phenomena.

Those leaders who refuse to acknowledge the gravity of climate change and do not at least contribute to aid the more vulnerable countries will soon be proven to be suicidal.

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