Climate Change – The Bahamas’ Reality

The following post is a guest blog by Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, Waterkeeper Bahamas Executive Director. She was part of a Waterkeeper delegation in Paris for the COP21 Climate Talks in December 2015. 

Waterkeeper Bahamas Executive Director Vanessa Haley-Benjamin conducting academic fieldwork in Andros.

Waterkeeper Bahamas Executive Director Vanessa Haley-Benjamin conducting academic fieldwork in Andros. Photo (C) Waterkeeper Bahamas

The Bahamian archipelago of islands extends some 50 miles from East Florida to about 50 miles Northeast of Cuba. We are a low-lying nation. The highest point in the country is at 63m above mean sea level; New Providence Island, our capital, lies at 38m above sea level. Much of the land area in the country is much lower – merely a few feet above the sea.

Thus, with a population of about 386,000, we face the significant challenge of preparation in the face of climate change’s rising tide. Like the Pacific Nation Kiribati, purchasing 20 sq. miles of land in Fiji in the event of dramatic relocation, low-lying island nations such as ours are forging radical adaptation strategies to ensure our continued existence, proving that climate change is indeed changing the course of island life on earth.

There was much debate at COP21 about the target for the global temperature rise. Bahamian coastlines have been severely eroded by climate change impacts, and curbing the pace of change is critical. The difference between 2 and 1.5 degrees Celsius makes a big difference to low lying nations: with the latter, the rise of global sea levels would be 1.5 mm slower.

The success story of COP21 is significant; and now for the Paris agreement to work, each nation must walk the walk – some more quickly than others. Yes, 186 nations pledged to curb carbon emissions through 2025/2030. But what will The Bahamas look like in 2030? Do we even have half that much time?

Waterkeepers Bahamas is in a unique position to translate these international talks and negotiations into on the ground actions at home. As a small island nation, vulnerable to the effects of climate change, we should not place our hopes only in other countries to save or slow the progress of the inevitable. We can take control of our own fate and plan based on scientific projections.

Waterkeepers Bahamas has the opportunity to advocate for environmental laws and effective governance to build a more resilient Bahamas. It is time to protect our home, at home. Until now it has been an after thought. For instance, local developmental decisions are made irrespective of climate change threats. We must integrate climate proof into existing policies.

Through its global network of 260 organizations, we can make sound recommendations and concrete plans to safeguard our future. Our attendance at COP21 allowed us to project our voices on the world stage and discuss the issues that threaten our future existence. It is with great optimism that we take the necessary steps to safeguard our future and bring the issue of climate change to the forefront.

We encourage you to follow Waterkeeper Bahamas progress and activities in 2016 on Facebook and Twitter. We will be monitoring and reporting on initiatives, policies, and work from the front lines. It’s bound to be an exciting – and critical – year for the climate.

Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, WKA Bahamas Executive Director

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