The Gleaner

Kgn projected to lose landmass to sea level rise by century end


Sashana Small/Staff Reporter

WITH KINGSTON listed as one of 10 cities globally that is projected to lose landmass due to rising sea levels by the end of the century, urban planning and public policy expert Dr Carol Archer is renewing calls for the Government to urgently establish a national spatial plan.

In a report released on Tuesday by Human Climate Horizons – a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Climate Impact Lab – scientists are warning that countries without shoreline defences could permanently lose five per cent or more of their cities to rising sea levels by the end of the century.

While stating that the information is in line with other estimations, Archer expressed concern that not enough attention and priority are being given to how cities and towns are designed. She said the last national spatial plan was done in the 1970s, and as the impact of climate change on the environment becomes more intense, an updated version is needed.

“What it is saying is that things are getting worse, not better, because we would have had this information – detailed studies – about 10 years now. And even before the data confirming, we would have heard and seen both scientists and city planners and others signalling,” she told The Gleaner.

She outlined that a spatial plan, which refers to the planning systems used to influence the distribution of people and activities in various spaces, would enable the Government to better plan and mitigate the impact of issues such as rising sea levels.

“With a national spatial plan, we would have been able to look to see, ‘Okay, where are our settlements? How are they growing? Because there are some areas that are declining for various reasons … and so with the national spatial plan, you get to access where the settlements are, look at historical data and say these are the changes that we need to make,” she said.

Archer added that this may include moving settlements further inland. To do this, she noted that an organised system is crucial as most of Jamaica’s cities and towns are located along the coast.

In 2019, then Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Daryl Vaz, announced that a draft of the national spatial plan was to be completed by the end of the year. He stated at the time that the spatial plan will support long-term development that promotes more sustainable land use patterns.

According to the Human Climate Horizons report, the extent of coastal flooding has increased over the past 20 years as a result of sea level rise. As a result, 14 million more people worldwide now live in coastal communities with a one-in-20 annual chance of flooding.

Using hyperlocal data maps, authors say the platform makes it possible to see where sea-level rise impacts may most threaten homes and infrastructure. They said hundreds of highly populated cities will face increased flood risk by mid-century, relative to a future without climate change.

Flood risk exposure is anticipated to double to 10 per cent of the population by the end of the century.

“The effects of rising sea levels will put at risk decades of human development progress in densely populated coastal zones, which are home to one in seven people in the world,” said Pedro Conceição, director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office.

“The displacement of millions of people and the disruption of economic activity in major business hubs could introduce new elements of instability and increase competition for resources. Our new research from UNDP and Climate Impact Lab is another reminder to the decision-makers going to COP28 that the time to act is now,” he added.

Meanwhile, climate scientist Professor Michael Taylor noted that globally, sea level is rising approximately 3.2 to 3.4 millimetres per year, but said that “there seems to have been some acceleration in this century for the Caribbean region”. He highlighted that the projection is for sea levels to continue to accelerate as global warming takes place. Taylor stressed that adaptation is critical for small states like Jamaica to survive.

“You have to think about how it’s going to impact. So if it’s going to be roadways, … you would have to put in seawall defence and that kind of thing, if you’re dealing with roadways and land loss, you could do natural defences as well, like mangroves, those things would break water,” he said.

Like Conceição, Taylor also rued the potential of rising sea levels to cause displacement and disruption of livelihoods, especially in coastal communities. “You have to now deal with a range of adaptations from hard infrastructure to soft infrastructure to creating new livelihoods to creating policy to prevent people from building directly on the beach, to establishing no-building zones,” he said.





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