The Caribbean has a lot at stake as world leaders and technical experts meet for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. While the urgency of climate action is dire across the world, the livelihood of the Caribbean region continues to be threatened by global warming.
“The outcomes from the November 1-12 COP26 can have profound impacts on our earth as we know it, and many view it as the last best chance for political leaders to avert a climate catastrophe, which would be unavoidable if global warming exceeds 1.5°C,” says Professor Michael Taylor, Climate Scientist at The University of the West Indies (The UWI).
Professor Taylor is Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at The UWI Mona Campus and co-leads the Climate Studies Group at Mona (CSGM). Over the past few months, he and Professor Tannecia Stephenson, who is Head of the Department of Physics at The UWI Mona and co-lead for the CSGM, have been the lead technical experts among a CARICOM team preparing the key issues and positions that the 15-member grouping will highlight at the upcoming COP26. Professor Stephenson will also present on Small Island Science at the COP26 Science Pavilion Event being organised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In a recent presentation to the CARICOM contingent, entitled “Countdown to Zero”, Professor Taylor described COP26 as a “politically significant moment.” He quoted the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which states that “global warming of 1.5°C and two degrees Celsius will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades”. Professor Taylor cautioned that heading to 2°C is too much for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as the Caribbean, noting that even at 1.5°C, “we are only guaranteed half a chance of a liveable future.”
Another UWI Environmental Scientist, Dr Hugh Sealy will have particularly significant roles at COP26. He will serve as the technical lead of the Barbados delegation. He is also the lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), charged with coordinating AOSIS positions on matters related to raising the mitigation ambition of all countries to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, and a co-facilitator of the negotiations under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. Article 6 is one of the most complex concepts of the global accord that could help the world avoid dangerous levels of global warming or let countries off the hook from making meaningful emissions cuts. How to implement Article 6 is one of the outstanding issues to be resolved since the Paris Agreement was established in 2015. Dr Sealy will have a direct responsibility to attempt to bring all of the parties to a consensus on how to advance it.
Other UWI experts scheduled to participate in virtual events related to the COP26 summit include Professor John Agard, a leading scientist at The UWI St Augustine, Professor of Tropical Island Ecology and Executive Director of the University’s Global Institute for Climate-Smart and Resilient Development, as well as Dr Donovan Campbell, a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Geography and Geology at the Mona Campus.
Providing the best scientific research to tackle climate change has long been a priority for The UWI; the regional university’s scientists have been sounding the alarm for almost five decades. Thirteen UWI scientists have contributed to the IPCC Sixth Assessment cycle to produce the three-volume global assessment report, known as “The Sixth Report” and “Three Special Reports”, which will be presented at COP. As the Caribbean’s leading university, The UWI has a distinctive strategic role in providing the technical expertise and amplifying the advocacy needed for the region.
According to Dr Stacy Richards-Kennedy, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global Affairs at The UWI “Strengthening research, innovation and the science-policy interface so that knowledge produced by universities can be translated into policy and practice is one of the most significant contributions that The UWI makes to advancing SGD-13 (Climate Action). We have heard the clarion call of our UWI scientists and our governments. Our region is on the frontline and faces disproportionate levels of vulnerability and risk, but we cannot solve the climate crisis alone. What is urgently needed is moral and decisive leadership, increased financing for small island developing states and, demonstrated collective action.” she said.