Today Minister Bartlett delivered his keynote address at the Latin American and Caribbean Development Bank ( CAF) session, making it official in his speech suggesting:
We are Caribbean, we are the Solution:
Transcript: Hon. Edmund Bartlett speech:
As the disruptive impact of climate change is projected to intensify for economies dependent on tourism, particularly in the Caribbean—the most tourism-dependent region in the world — there is widespread acknowledgment that an urgent shift in the values, attitudes, and behaviors of all involved in the tourism chain is imperative.
This collective reorientation of purpose is necessary to steer tourism toward a more balanced, resilient, and sustainable trajectory. This vision will be achieved by redressing current practices and trends in the industry that contribute to the imprudent use of limited natural resources and contribute to the misalignment of economic growth with the conservation of both land and ocean and marine ecosystems.
Ultimately, the thrust toward sustainable, resilient, and balanced tourism emphasizes the integration of environmentally sustainable and climate-resilient practices into every facet of the tourism product —from building design, construction, accommodation, and other room services to transportation marketing, recreational activities, energy use, food production, customer service, waste management, maintenance, water supply, and utility consumption.
The Caribbean region has been specifically recognized by the United Nations Secretary-General as ground-zero for the global climate change emergency as he emphasized that small island low-lying coastal states in the Caribbean are exceptionally susceptible to what he described as the “most significant challenge confronting our world today”- the climate crisis.
Similarly, the UNDP recently projected that the Caribbean will become the world’s most vulnerable tourist destination between 2025 and 2050. This prediction stems from the observation that the impacts of climate change and global warming will continue to produce dire consequences for the fragile and undiversified economies of the Caribbean.
Indeed, although Latin America and the Caribbean account for only 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the region is at the forefront of global efforts to tackle climate change due to its disproportionate impact which includes a higher occurrence of the most intense tropical cyclones (TCs), storm surges, droughts, changing rainfall patterns, sea-level rise (SLR), warmer temperatures, biodiversity loss, flooding, saline intrusion into aquifers, food and water insecurity, beach erosion coastal degradation, mangrove loss, coral bleaching, and the growth of invasive species.
Climate change constitutes a major threat to coastal and marine tourism which is the backbone of Caribbean countries, accounting for a quarter of the total economy, and a fifth of all jobs.
Admittedly, the relationship between tourism and the environment in the Caribbean is complex since the tourism industry presents both a challenge and an opportunity for achieving environmental sustainability. Healthy marine and coastal systems are critical assets to the region’s tourism competitiveness.
The region’s tourism product that has been traditionally built around the sun, sea, and sand” concept relies on the environmental resources or natural endowments of the region to attract international travelers.
This is against the backdrop that coastal and marine tourism is the largest economic sector in the Caribbean with over 80 percent of tourism occurring along coastal towns and cities. Healthy coastal and marine ecosystems also serve as vital sources of food, income, trade and shipping, minerals, energy, water supply, recreation, and tourism for these small island economies.
The coral reef-mangrove-seagrass complex also brings increased safety to coastal communities and infrastructure such as hotels and resorts as these systems act as a natural barrier, decreasing the impact of floods and storms.
On the other hand, marine and coastal ecosystems are also significantly threatened by tourism development.
WEF estimated that the global tourism industry is responsible for a staggering 8% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including flights, hotel construction and operation, air conditioning and heating, and land and maritime transport.
The areas that attract tourists have been coming under increasing pressure from the damage and pollution caused by tourist facilities and the supporting infrastructure.
At the same time, the impacts of climate change, overfishing, other unsustainable practices, and even some marine tourism activities damage marine ecosystems such as coral reefs which are vital for maintaining ecological diversity and regulating climate.
The United Nations has estimated the cost of reduced tourism due to coral bleaching at $12 billion annually.
Given the context outlined, there is now a greater imperative among Caribbean tourist destinations to improve the management of vital marine and ocean ecosystems.
This can be achieved through the adoption of the blue economy pathway.
The World Bank defines the Blue Economy as “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.”
This definition imposes moral responsibility on all industries, especially those that significantly harness or exploit ocean and marine resources in their value chains, to make greater efforts to protect fragile and gradually depleting ocean and marine systems that have become increasingly susceptible to man-made phenomena such as ocean pollution, shipping and transport, dredging, offshore drilling, deep-sea mining, over-fishing and the degradation of coastal and marine ecosystems linked to sea level rise/global warming.
Caribbean tourist destinations can take the lead in global efforts that champion the blue economy and climatic resilience.
They are uniquely positioned to achieve value creation through differentiation and diversification of their tourism product since the region offers significant opportunities for the development of potentially lucrative niche tourism segments that balance environmental sustainability and ecological conservation with economic development.
These include health and wellness, medical, culture and heritage, eco-tourism, and wildlife or nature tourism.
The creative and cultural industries that Caribbean destinations are renowned for can be leveraged to not only bolster the regional economy but also to reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance imports.
There are also significant opportunities for Caribbean tourist entities to incorporate sustainable energy sources that are naturally available in the region such as solar power, wind, geothermal, or biomass into tourism infrastructure to reduce the sector’s reliance on fossil fuels, contributing to a more climate-resilient energy framework.
Many Caribbean tourist destinations have already been at the forefront of implementing solutions that actively support the preservation and health of ocean and marine ecosystems.
Through a multifaceted approach, some destinations have championed initiatives such as coral reef restoration projects and mangrove conservation efforts.
Partnerships with local communities, governmental bodies, and conservation organizations have led to the establishment of marine protected areas, fostering safe havens for marine life to thrive.
Collaborations with local communities and NGOs have led to beach clean-up campaigns and waste management programs, significantly reducing marine debris and pollution.
Furthermore, education and awareness initiatives integrated into tourism experiences have raised visitors’ consciousness about the importance of preserving these ecosystems, encouraging responsible behavior, and fostering a deeper appreciation for the oceans’ health and biodiversity.
Encouraging sustainable diving and snorkeling practices, promoting responsible tourism guidelines that safeguard delicate marine habitats, and advocating for reduced plastic usage have also been integral parts of their strategies.
In Jamaica, the government’s ban on single-use plastic bags, straws, and polystyrene has set a precedent for responsible environmental stewardship that has positively influenced conservationist attitudes in the tourism industry.
In closing, I want to reiterate that preserving the marine and ocean ecosystems and fortifying resilience against climate change is not just a choice for Caribbean destinations—it is a priority.
These actions safeguard not only the region’s natural assets but also the livelihoods and cultural heritage intertwined with these ecosystems. By taking proactive measures and fostering sustainability, Caribbean destinations can pave the way for a resilient future, inspiring global efforts toward environmental conservation.
The significance of these endeavors extends far beyond local borders, shaping a world where harmony between humans and nature is paramount for a sustainable tomorrow.
What is COP28?
The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, more commonly referred to as COP28, is the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, being held from 30 November until 12 December 2023 at Expo City, Dubai.