Even as it dwindled to a tropical depression, Hurricane Ida was still powerful enough to inflict catastrophic damage in New York and other parts of the Tri-State area in the United States on Wednesday night.
After making landfall and wreaking havoc in Louisiana last Sunday at Category 4 strength, the remnants of Ida pushed further north, triggering tornadoes and leaving a trail of destruction.
Supercharged by climate change, the worst cyclonic event of the 2021 hurricane season so far brought unprecedented flooding to New York, New Jersey and other areas in the northeastern section of the US, on a scale never seen there in the history of that country.
Therein lies a cautionary tale for T&T, where matters of climate change and the environment urgently need to be brought to the forefront of national affairs.
Here, with the twin perils of being small island development states and heavily industrialised, this country is not only at high risk from human-caused climate change but is also a contributor in terms of activities that release greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere.
Therefore, it defies logic that such matters are on the backburner, relegated to a tiny portion of the Planning and Development ministerial portfolio.
At a time when the impact of climate change is being experienced in real-time in several parts of the world, the environment is not a full-fledged ministry, as it was under past administrations.
This is a country where even a tropical depression can trigger destructive landslides and flash floods, so it is no stretch that an event on the scale of Hurricane Ida could have catastrophic consequences here. Complacency about climate change could be our worst enemy.
The forecast from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for T&T and the Caribbean region is an increase in temperature of between 0.94 to 4.18 degrees Celsius, changes in rainfall of between -49.4 to 28.9 per cent by 2069 and sea-level rise of 15 to 95 cm by 2100.
More intense and frequent disasters are coming our way, including increased coastal flooding, heatwaves and drought, higher rainfall in the wet season and more regular, powerful storms and, worst of all for us, altered hurricane tracks that will put our twin islands in the direct path of powerful storms.
Urgent efforts must be made to mainstream climate change issues into government policies. That requires a dedicated ministry, not the current arrangement where it competes with other planning and development issues.
Our climate change shortcomings are many.
Not enough has been done to promote the use of clean technologies, alternative fuels and recycling initiatives. The authorities have not invested sufficient resources for formal educational programmes to increase public awareness of climate change. There hasn’t been a serious push toward renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and wave.
The historic flood in the northeast US is another warning to us that we are doing too little too late.
Climate change maps show that heavily populated areas along the East-West Corridor, Penal-Debe, Mayaro-Rio Claro and the vulnerable southwestern peninsula would get the brunt of deadly natural disasters caused by sea-level rise and storm surges.
Much more needs to be done to avert this looming crisis.