Learning from the lessons of the past, committing to a blueprint for development, and taking serious action now were among the key recommendations from a panel of experts that recently addressed the topic: Resiliency and the Sustainable Development Goals, a discussion facilitated by the Government and Public Policy Institute (GPPI) at University of The Bahamas (UB).
The discussion which aired on the “Z-Live: Off The Record” radio talk show hosted by the Executive Director and Senior Policy Fellow of GPPI, Zhivargo Laing, centered on the action needed to support, achieve and preserve clean water; affordable energy; climate action; life on land and life below water.
The message was clear from the outset.
“Sustainable development planning, long-range planning [is needed], not a five-year rotation, but a 25-, 40-year plan to deal with these issues and so everybody can see what we’re trying to achieve in the long-term,” said Mr. Christopher Russell, Director of Forestry in the Ministry of Environment and Housing. “Because our children are going to come back behind us and say ‘look, our parents didn’t do a very good job’.”
Hurricane Dorian, a monstrous super-storm, has been one of the most poignant manifestations of climate change, or global warming, driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Given The Bahamas’ seemingly fetal dependence on fossil fuels, taking alternative action for affordable and clean energy is crucial.
“The whole issue with climate change comes about because we are using an extensive amount of fossil fuels to support and supply our energy needs, and we really should be diversifying our energy needs a little bit more,” noted Ms. Kelli Ashley Armstrong, Project Manager of BRON Limited.
The emission of greenhouse gases worldwide is a key contributor to global warming; rising ocean temperatures, in turn, fuel stronger North Atlantic hurricanes like Hurricane Dorian. The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season is one of the most hyperactive on record so far with 23 named storms including eight hurricanes. With the official listing of storm names having been exhausted, future storms will be named after the Greek Alphabet.
A national response that features adaptation and mitigation strategies is clearly needed, Ms. Armstrong said. Adaptation would incorporate a reformation of present behaviors and systems from the individual to the institutional level, while mitigation would entail decreasing the sources of climate change.
“So in that case that would mean, for example, our forests are very important systems to protect and we know that we get our oxygen supply from our trees, from our vegetation,” shared Ms. Armstrong. “So if we can save forests we can mitigate some of the impacts of climate change because they will absorb some of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. And then decreasing the sources means that if we use more alternative energy systems as opposed to those with more fossil fuel emissions, we’ll be able to diversify our energy mix—use less fossil fuels and use more alternative means.”
For Mr. Guildan Gilbert, Vice President of Alternative Power Sources (APS) Bahamas, the country’s investment in alternative energy sources should have happened long ago. He said The Bahamas is lagging behind its regional counterparts in the implementation of viable renewable energy technology, which is baffling given that The Bahamas has an ample supply of solar energy almost year-round.
“The use of renewable energy obviously reduces fossil fuels,” said Mr. Gilbert. “If you reduce the fossil fuels, you reduce emissions into the air so you reduce the carbon footprint. Renewable energy is just that. The sun comes up every single day and I see no reason why The Bahamas is still so heavily reliant on fossil fuels when the sun is there.”
He added that implementing renewable energy and consequently reducing The Bahamas’ carbon footprint is an easy fix which requires simply taking the first step.
“Let’s face it, our big issues with energy are heating and cooling, so there’s your air conditioning and hot water,” he said. “If you can take care of those through solar means, then you reduce significantly the demand for fossil fuel. So what I would like to see The Bahamas take advantage of is the 365 days of sunshine and power this country.”
Access to clean and affordable water sources is another Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) that requires action.
Retired Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) consultant and a hydrologist Dr. Richard Cant added that The Bahamas’ leaders would do well to take the achievement of SDG’s seriously, particularly because issues like global warming and sea level rise can also have disastrous impacts on the availability of clean water resources in The Bahamas.
“Our water resources, as they exist, are only good on three islands: Andros, Abaco and Grand Bahama,” explained Dr. Cant. “And there are big sections of those islands where there is inadequate provider supply. And in the future as we lose our freshwater resources because of rising sea levels, as the water table comes up, atmospheric conditions will destroy them.”
Dr. Cant said a proper national development plan is promptly needed, one that takes into account and offers a mitigation plan against the grim, impending realities The Bahamas faces without it.
“We’ve never had a proper development plan,” he said. “We really need it now, because we’re actually building or have maintained airports in areas that are going to be under water before we got the value out of those airports. I mean, the one at Nassau, they have to pump that area all the time. That’s our main airport in this country. I’m just saying, that’s why we need a development plan. And you’ve got to have it fluid because we’re learning more about sea level rise.
“Grand Bahama’s airport is in a storm surge zone and we’ve got to learn these lessons. We need some good minds working on it and thinking about it because there are unknowns that are going to pop up too. And we’re learning about them rather late.”
In a report entitled, The Bahamas Voluntary National Review on the Sustainable Development Goals, dated July 2018, The Bahamas was recognized as having “fully embraced” the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by ensuring that the SDGs were aimed at: (a) ensuring inclusive and sustainable economic growth with quality job creation and decent work for all; (b) ensuring social inclusion to facilitate access to quality education and health care; and (c) promoting safe and resilient communities and environmental protection – all of which have been incorporated in the draft national development plan.