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09 July, 2009 - Published 13:32 GMT

Climate challenge for Caribbean

The figures are daunting.

Annual economic damage from climate change in Caribbean Community (Caricom) member countries has been estimated at around US$11 billion by 2080, or 11 percent of the grouping's gross domestic product.

Nearly a fifth of the losses is likely to be linked to the specific effects of sea-level rise - loss of land, and damage to tourism infrastructure, housing, buildings, and other infrastructure.

That estimated bill from the World Bank is one the factors that led Caricom leaders to issue a lengthy statement on climate change after their 2-5 July summit in Guyana.

The Caribbean region is among the regions said by scientists to be most at risk from the effects of global warming.

A report by the bank last year said the top 10 countries, in terms of population affected, that could experience the most serious damage include Suriname, Guyana and the Bahamas.

Coral reefs

The Caricom statement delivered a grave warning that the effects are already being felt, citing "increasingly frequent and intense" weather events, damage to biodiversity, coral bleaching, coastal erosion and changing rainfall patterns.

About 65 percent of all species in the Caribbean depend to some extent on coral reefs, so the collapse of these reefs may have widespread impact on fisheries as well as the ecologies of the area.

"Many SIDS (small islands and low-lying coastal developing states) will cease to exist without urgent, ambitious and decision action by the international community to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions significantly...," the Caricom statement said.

It also called for rich nations to support SIDS with financial and technical support in adapting to the adverse effects of climate change.

To expand on those World Bank projections, the loss of tourism expenditure alone is projected at $4 billion, and climate change-related disasters such as hurricanes and floods at $5 billion.

UN summit

The Caribbean heads of government are therefore planning to lobby for the headquarters of the United Nations fund to help nations adapt to climate change to be sited in Barbados.

St Lucia's Prime Minister Stephenson King, who has lead responsibility within Caricom for sustainable development, announced plans for a meeting in Guyana to further discuss the region's position ahead of the UN Summit on climate change in Copenhagen in December.

"These are tough negotiations and we need all hands on deck," Mr King said.

For its part, Caricom is pushing for targets above what the industrialised world is likely to accept.

The grouping proposes that:

• Long-term stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at levels which will ensure that global average surface temperature increases be limited to well below 1.5° C of pre-industrial levels

• Global greenhouse gas emissions should peak by 2015

• Global Co2 reductions of at least 45 percent by 2020 and greenhouse gas emissions be cut by more than 95 per cent of 1990 CO2 levels by 2050.

Danger threshold

But the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has criticised the leaders for failing to make deeper commitments to combat climate change.

Mr Ban said big cuts were needed sooner rather than later.

The G8 leaders said they had agreed to try to limit global warming to just 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels.

That is the level above which, the United Nations says, the Earth's climate system would become dangerously unstable.

The G8 leaders also said rich nations should cut emissions by 80% by 2050 while the world overall should reduce them 50% by 2050.

But correspondents say emerging nations appear reluctant to sign up and tough negotiations lie ahead.

The Caricom summit also backed Guyana, which has campaigned for funding to keep its forests intact because of their potential contribution to reduced emissions.