We have to plan for climate change in the same way that we plan to benefit from climate change mitigation

Dear Editor,

Worldwide, there is a groundswell of calls to take mitigative action to stem climate change.  In this respect, Guyana appears to be taking the initiative to preserve its forest cover and hopefully reap the economic bounty that this brings. This is a noble effort and equally noble is Norway’s commitment to facilitate Guyana’s approach to mitigating climate change. 

I would like to caution that as much as mitigation against climate is important, equally so is adaptation to climate change.  Based on the Guyana Chronicle report on the Conference on Guyana Climate Change Strategy, the threat to Guyana was acknowledged through reference to the Great Flood of 2005 but there was no concern that Guyana has not yet begun planning/adapting for the inevitable impacts. These impacts have the potential to stymie all of the plans to cash in on climate change mitigation.

If all nations, or at least the most significant contributors to greenhouse gases, reduced their emissions to pre-industrial age levels, the earth would still have a hangover for at least another hundred years.  Climate change has a momentum and it is likely to get worse before it begins to get better, at least so all mankind hopes. Therefore, in parallel with our mitigative initiatives we should also prepare to manage the adverse effects that climate change brings.  Sea level rise, adverse temperature, and adverse precipitation or lack thereof are anticipated throughout the world. Associated with these changes are potential impacts to ecology, human health, agriculture, recreation, transportation, etc.   Do we have any idea what to expect in Guyana?  If we do not know then how are going to plan for the consequences?

It is important that Guyana begin to  take steps to forecast the effects of climate change to the year 2100.  We have to prepare a sustainable future for our descendants in the same responsible way our foreparents did for us.  This process has already been accomplished in some countries and is underway in many others.  The United Kingdom, for example, started this effort in 2000 through the Thames Estuary 2100 or TE 2100 project. New York City is following suit and has just begun to formulate its planning, locally and regionally.  We do not need to reinvent the wheel as we can learn much from the nations that have already embarked upon this process.  However, we have to tailor the forecast model(s) to match our conditions to understand what is in store for us. There are at least 16 universally accepted Global Climate Models (GCM) that Guyana can use to peer into the future. 

I am not sure that we have that level of experienced climatologists and computing hardware to pursue this forecasting effort, but I suggest that we capitalize on the connections we have established with Norway to seek help from their Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Bergen (http://www.bjerknes.uib.no). 

The Bjerknes Centre Global Climate Model is one of 16 GCMs being used by the New York City Panel on climate change.  Alternatively, we can use the proceeds for the mitigative efforts to hire the right outfit such as the UK Met Office (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/) which has one of the best consulting services in this area.  We can also pursue a regional effort through the Caribbean Meteorological Institute (CMI) and thus share the cost of this undertaking.

This is a long-term effort as these models have to be maintained and reassessed as often as climate science evolves. There is uncertainty as we have all been hearing, but this uncertainty is only related to the magnitude of the changes.

Mitigation is a relatively painless bandwagon to ride on and thus easy to embrace.  Adaptation needs stomach as it carries significant economic, social and political impacts.  Adaptation will require a truly national effort as all of us are going to be equally affected.

There are risks and cost to a programme of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and cost of comfortable inaction (John F. Kennedy). 

Yours faithfully,
Derek A Braithwaite


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