Aiming to be the first climate resilient nation is being unrealistic, like trying to reach an unreachable star
Since Hurricane Maria of 18 September 2017 Dominica, or more precisely Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, has determined that it wants to be the world's first climate resilient nation.
If you recall: Prime Minister Skerrit told the world in an address at the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on November 16, 2017 in Bonn, Germany: "We have publicly committed to the international community that we will rebuild ourselves as the first fully climate resilient nation in the Anthropocene. Our small island will shine the torch for others to follow".
Earlier, in the presence of the United Nations General Secretary here in Dominica, Mr. Skerrit said: "Our devastation is so complete that our recovery has to be total. And so we have a unique opportunity to be an example to the world, an example of how an entire nation rebounds from disaster and how an entire nation can be climate resilient for the future". (Our emphasis).
But Dominicans need to appreciate that we must temper our dreams with pragmatism rather that echo buzz words that we recognize are not meant to be taken literally. Undoubtedly, we have to prepare ourselves to withstand the impact of increasing numbers and frequency of hurricanes that come at us with shocking ferociousness but setting idealistic goals, in our view, is preparing ourselves for frustration.
For instance, the notion that Dominica will become the "first" climate resilient nation is unreasonable because many countries are already decades ahead in their attempts at being climate resilient.
Take Bangladesh, for example.
Since 2011, "Bangladesh has invested more than $10 billion in climate change actions – enhancing the capacity of communities to increase their resilience, increasing the capacity of government agencies to respond to emergencies, strengthening river embankments and coastal polders (low-lying tracts of lands vulnerable to flooding), building emergency cyclone shelters and resilient homes, adapting rural households' farming systems, reducing saline water intrusion, especially in areas dependent upon agriculture, and implementing early warning and emergency management systems", states The World Bank in an article entitled "Bangladesh: Building Resilience to Climate Change"
So, in the Dominican context we have to define what we mean by being first; how will we know that we have achieved our goal; how long will it take for Dominica to be climate resilient- is it one hundred years, two decades, five years? Do we have to move villages close to the sea because of the expected rise in sea levels? How many villages do we have to relocate? Do we have to replant our forests? Do we have to eliminate poverty?
Given that we may experience another active hurricane season, shouldn't our first order of business (like right now) be an active concentration on the measures that we can take in six months (or less) so that we can be better prepared?
We note that soon after Mr. Skerrit publicized that he wants Dominica to be the first climate resilient nation other Caribbean leaders jumped on the truck and declared that they too want their countries to be climate resilient. These leaders have conveniently forgotten that the region has been talking about resilient since 2009 and not much has been achieved.
"Natural disasters and climate change impacts are felt frequently in the Caribbean region, which is composed of a number of small island states," says a document entitled: "Building Climate Resilience in the Caribbean: the Story of Collaborative Climate Action in the Caribbean (2007-2015)."
It continued: "As a joint response, the Governments of fifteen Caribbean nations initiated the development of a strategic framework for achieving sustainable development resilient to climate change in 2009".
The point we need to emphasize is this: islands of the Caribbean, especially Dominica (one of the poorest in the region), cannot claim to be resilient to any extent unless we significantly confront social problems such as the high levels of poverty, youth and general unemployment, stagnating economic growth, increases in crime and poor governance.
In other words, we cannot imagine that poor people, who can hardly afford to buy food, clothing and shelter, to strive meaningfully towards climate resilient, unless government provides lots of assistance to a large majority of the population.
And, similarly, poor countries, like Dominica, perennially suffering from meagre growth levels of less than four percent per annum, would require high levels of assistance and investments from overseas.
And we need to be clear that climate resilience is not only building drains and dredging rivers. According to Dennis Bours, a Bangkok-based climate consultant, resilience to climate change is much more than improving the reliance of infrastructure.
"Instead," Bours contends, "you must look at a complete picture including policies, governance and management structures on a national and community level, and a combination of hard and soft measure that you look at as a complete package. It's not just about one intervention."
Finally, the dream of Dominica becoming climate resilient cannot be realistic unless all of Dominica supports that vision. Given the following recent statement by the opposition, we believe a large section of Dominica will have to be convinced to cooperate, at national and community levels, towards social and political changes that will make resilience measures viable in the short, medium and long term.
In his New Year's message Lennox Linton, the leader of the opposition said:
"For make absolutely no mistake about it, there will be no climate resilient Dominica in the absence of government of the people, by the people, for the people that is resilient to the destructive forces of corruption and incompetence".
It is our view that the dream of being the world's first fully climate resilient nation in the world should be a near total national goal and in the current climate of party political discord, that dream is obviously unattainable.
Though desirable, it is our view that Dominica's goal of being a totally climate resilient nation, in the current situation, is like trying to reach an unreachable star.