World Bank study paints damning picture for A&B’s coastline amid climate change projections

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne (left), and Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Kausea Natano, at the signing ceremony that established the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law in Edinburgh, Scotland (photo courtesy Caribbean News Global)
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By Kadeem Joseph

[email protected]

If sea level rise over the next 29 years goes unmitigated, Antigua and Barbuda’s coastline could be unrecognisable, causing a major blow to the country’s bread and butter industry – tourism, and coastal settlements and other coastal developments, according to a recent report.

The report titled ‘360° Resilience: A Guide to Prepare the Caribbean for a New Generation of Shocks’ explained that the region has a history of dealing with major shocks from both economic and natural hazards, adding that the region’s specialisation in tourism and commodity exports disproportionately exposes islands to economic cycles due to changes in demand in the tourism industry and commodity prices.

“In the absence of adaptation, by 2050, countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia, and the Bahamas will see a large proportion of hotels unable to profit from proximity to a sandy beach,” the report said.

The World Bank report explained that erosion to the sandy beaches that many countries in the region like Antigua and Barbuda are renowned for, “directly affects” the tourism sector’s profitability, adding that “even under a moderate CO2 emissions pathway, 13 percent of nearshore hotels will experience beach loss resulting in a 17 percent decrease in tourism revenue for the region by 2050”.

The report puts hotels in the twin island state at high risk of experiencing beach loss by 2050 under a moderate climate change scenario, however, it noted that while some areas may suffer erosion, sand build-up will be seen in other areas, which could benefit some hotels.

“The priority for adaptation should therefore focus on areas that are threatened by both increased coastal flooding and sandy beach erosion,” the study said.

The study also warned that there is expected to be an increase in the number of areas at risk of flooding due to sea level rise depending on the topography each country, adding that countries like Antigua and Barbuda with relatively flat topography are more susceptible to the effects of “static sea level rise” compared to islands like Dominica, which have steeper shorelines that limit mainland flooding.

“In Antigua and Barbuda, on the other hand, with its relatively flat coastal zones, a higher mean sea level could permanently flood a large area, increasing the probability of flooding during extreme events over the course of the 21st century,” the 403-page report said.

The study also projects that by 2050, sea level rise under a moderate climate change scenario, which increases the share of population exposed to storm surges and erodes the land where coastal communities build their homes, cultivate their crops and run their businesses, will increase the share of people exposed to these threats by 21 percent.

Last weekend, Prime Minister Gaston Browne noted that evidence of the negative impacts of sea level rise is already being seen in Antigua and Barbuda.

“… Look at Runaway Bay about two and a half decades ago, compare it to today, and you see that we would have lost a significant portion of our shoreline,” he said, referencing photos of the area.

“In fact, many of our beaches are getting smaller, we may not necessarily observe them now, but over time, we will recognise that many of our beaches are getting smaller because of sea level rise.”

The Prime Minister, who was speaking on his radio programme, also highlighted the possibility of mining sand offshore with equipment already in the country and using it to potentially replenish the country’s eroded beaches.

This is not the first time Browne has suggested a foray into offshore mining, with environmentalists warning of the possible dangers such a venture could pose to the marine environment, due to sediment build-up choking coral reefs, and other disruptions to the habitats of marine life.

However, Browne is adamant that should such a venture be employed, the government would ensure that the requisite environmental studies are carried out first to assess the country’s ability to mine sand offshore “sustainably”.

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