Write us!

July/August 2003 • Vol 3, No. 7 •

Scientists Sound Alert on Climate Change

By Patricia Grogg

Island nations are especially vulnerable to climate change, which means Cuba should begin taking precautions now, local scientific researchers said in interviews with Inter Press Service (IPS).

Significant changes will be seen in Cuba’s climate by 2050, according to forecasts by experts at the Cuban Institute of Meteorology and the Economy Ministry’s Institute of Physical Planning.

“The fact that our nation is an archipelago makes us one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change,” said Carlos Rodríguez Otero, the head of a team that designed a project financed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to study drought.

Projections indicate that temperatures in Cuba will rise, droughts will become even more frequent and longer-lasting on the eastern part of the island, and the rise in sea level caused by the melting of the polar ice caps will have a direct impact on tens of thousands of people in southwestern Cuba.

The researchers pointed out that the biggest threat of permanent flooding of coastal areas was faced by the southern part of the provinces of Havana and Pinar del Río, 176 kilometers west of the capital. Adopting efforts to adapt to climate change and prevent damages is the best that developing countries can do to mitigate the impact of a global phenomenon for which they are not principally responsible, said Carlos López Cabrera at the Cuban Institute of Meteorology.

Developing nations are not the biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, nor do they have much weight when it comes to solving the problem, he pointed out.

“Poor countries need resources not only to cut emissions, but also to adapt their economies, agriculture and human settlements to the changes that lie ahead,” said López Cabrera.

Global warming is blamed on emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, that is produced by the burning of fossil fuels.

The Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which was signed in 1997, would require 38 industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent on 1990 levels, with deadlines between 2008 and 2012.

The European Union member states ratified the Kyoto Protocol on May 30, 2003. But the United States, which is responsible for 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, announced in 2001 that it was withdrawing from the treaty.

“Even without the United States, it would be a great stride forward if the mechanism went into effect, because now the process has been brought to a halt, and emissions continue to grow,” said López Cabrera.

Rodríguez Otero commented to IPS that “climate change is a long-term phenomenon, but signals are already being reported that indicate what we will be exposed to, what kind of world humankind will live in within 80 to 100 years.”

Research by the Cuban Institute of Oceanology found that in the last three decades of the 20th century, sea level rose 2.9 millimeters a year on average.

Scientists predict that the gradual rise of sea level caused by climate change will lead to the permanent flooding of the lowest-lying coastal areas around the world and an increase in the depth of the oceans.

In Cuba, the effects will be felt in the transformation of the seaboard and the mouths of rivers, and erosion will be the biggest factor in the process leading to a receding shoreline.

An estimated 1.4 million of Cuba’s 11.2 million people live in the country’s coastal areas, in 245 human settlements, of which 181 are rural and 64 urban.

These populations are exposed to the danger of flooding as the oceans rise, whether due to climate change or severe weather. “That is why we have to begin taking precautionary measures, so the phenomenon does not take us by surprise,” stressed Rodríguez Otero.

The experts said the increasingly severe and lengthy droughts in eastern Cuba, a region that is home to more than 25 percent of the population, are especially alarming.

Official reports indicate that desertification and the degradation of soil, as a result of the misuse and poor management of land, affect nearly 1.6 million hectares in Cuba, or 14 percent of the total territory.

Rodríguez Otero and other Cuban experts will apply their experience in the project “Human Settlements, Land Use and Global Change in Cuba,” financed by the UNDP to study drought in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, a neighboring Spanish-speaking Caribbean island nation.

The program, in which the Dominican Republic’s French- speaking neighbor Haiti will take part as an observer, will focus on three municipalities north of the city of Las Tunas, around 700 kilometers east of Havana, and on a Dominican region with similar characteristics.

“We will investigate the behavior of drought and its effects,” explained Rodríguez Otero. “Our work will be based on a diagnosis of land use, population distribution, and economic activities.”

In the Cuban region under study, the rainy season has been shortened, soils have deteriorated, and water shortages have become severe over the past few years.

As part of plans that have begun to be adopted to mitigate the impact of drought, more resistant crops have begun to be grown, and efforts are being made to rehabilitate eroded, salinized soil.

Inter Press Service, June 16, 2003





Write us