Caribbean countries weather climate extremes and hope richer states deliver on promised funding

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This week:

  • Caribbean countries weather climate extremes and hope richer states deliver on promised funding
  • Greenwashing the World Cup
  • How climate change has helped greener energy businesses take off in Canada

Caribbean countries weather climate extremes and hope richer states deliver on promised funding

(Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)

The climax of the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this past weekend was the establishment of a loss and damage fund for countries most affected by climate disaster. 

But the pledge was short on many key details, including how much money would be raised and which countries would actually contribute.

The conference came at a time when countries in the Caribbean are again seeing some of the worst effects of climate change. Just this month, Hurricane Lisa tore through Belize, flooding its districts with a storm surge measuring 1.2 metres and higher. 

Hurricanes were a staple of my childhood in Jamaica. While I now live in Canada, tropical cyclones remain a visceral reality for my family and everyone else in the Caribbean. My brother, who lives in Belize, experienced the impact of Lisa first-hand.

“I’ve lived through a lot of hurricanes, and that to us did not feel like a Category 1,” my brother, Wayne Piper, told me. “It might have been where we were in proximity to the eye … but [Lisa], I think in all my life of riding out hurricanes, that one was scary.”

The hurricane tore off parts of Wayne’s roof, flooded the ground floor of his home, knocked down trees and power lines and generally wreaked havoc on the country. After 24 hours, Lisa was downgraded to a tropical depression and moved onto Guatemala and upwards to Mexico, before raining itself out.

Like Belize, Jamaica has seen extreme weather for years. Wayne and I have vivid memories of growing up there: dry, yellowed crops during an extended drought; the cacophony of whistling winds and pounding rain during a major hurricane; the rich, earthy smell of the soil after a downpour; eroded infrastructure after a merciless flood; and the scorching heat against your skin on an abnormally hot summer day.

These effects are felt everywhere in the Caribbean. According to the International Monetary Fund, the damage from these disasters — when measured as a ratio to GDP — was six times higher for Caribbean countries than for larger ones. This damage makes it painfully difficult for people to contend with the unpredictability of climate.

While Jamaica hasn’t been directly hit by a hurricane in the last 20 years, “that does not mean it has not been impacted by hurricanes that have gone nearby,” said climate scientist Michael Taylor, who is based in the capital, Kingston. “And every time a hurricane passes by, it causes significant costs for infrastructure.”

Taylor, who is also a professor at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, said that climate disasters affect every aspect of society: schools, roads, power, agriculture, food, water supply and, ultimately, the economy. 

He calls it “the recurrent cost of always having to recover,” which ultimately sets Caribbean countries back years. 

Caribbean leaders have called for oil and gas companies to share their profits and asked for additional financial assistance to help adapt to the climate crisis and rebuild after disasters.

“We won’t be able to meet the capital expenditure that will allow us to sufficiently change out our national fleet to [electric vehicles], allow us to sufficiently change out our energy production at the rate we need to, to meet our mitigation targets without outside assistance,” said Matthew Samuda, Jamaica’s minister without portfolio for economic growth and job creation, in an interview before COP27. 

“The assistance we’re interested in is larger grants. We actually need genuine investment in our survival.”

The loss and damage fund negotiated at COP27 comes on the heels of a broken promise — that is, a financial pledge from rich countries to pay into a $100-billion US fund on an annual basis from 2020 to 2025 to help poorer countries mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. 

That initiative was conceived 13 years ago at the climate summit in Copenhagen. Canada was asked to help establish the delivery plan, detailing when and how those funds would be raised. However, developed countries won’t reach $100 billion until 2023. 

Similar to post-tropical storm Fiona’s rampage in Atlantic Canada in October, cyclones in the Caribbean are getting wilder, deadlier and costlier. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, climate change is likely making these cyclones stronger, which means heavier rainfall and more flooding. 

My brother and his family count themselves lucky to have survived Lisa and privileged to be able to recuperate safely and quickly. While the world waits for more details about the loss and damage fund, people in the Caribbean are coping in the only way they know how: by turning every loss into an opportunity and looking for solutions on a local and human level.

“One thing that we have found going through our stuff while we try to clean out the house,” my brother said, is “we have so many more things than we need, and you can donate them. There are people who may have use for those things, because people have lost everything.”

— Dannielle Piper

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Also, check out our radio show and podcast. The federal government has just released its long-awaited climate adaptation plan. This week, What On Earth asks whether Ottawa is doing enough to help Canadians cope with more extreme storms, flooding and heat waves. What On Earth now airs on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. Subscribe on your favourite podcast app or hear it on demand at CBC Listen.


The Big Picture: Greenwashing the 2022 World Cup

From the day it was announced back in 2010, the staging of the 2022 World Cup in the Gulf state of Qatar has been the subject of harsh criticism and defensive hand-wringing. The headline issues have been the country’s criminalization of homosexuality and the deaths of thousands of migrant workers involved in building the stadiums necessary to host the planet’s biggest sporting event. As it turns out, people are also questioning organizers’ claims of sustainability

Prior to the first game, soccer’s scandal-plagued governing body, FIFA, announced that the 2022 World Cup would be “fully carbon-neutral” — a claim environmentalists noted you can only accurately make after the event. The group Carbon Market Watch has cast doubt on the tournament’s green bona fides by citing the embedded carbon cost of building seven new stadiums to accommodate the World Cup, some of which are likely to be dismantled or left stranded afterwards, given that the country does not have a fanatical soccer culture like countries in Europe, South America or Africa. 

Given the number of foreign footie fans expected to make the trek, Qatar is also expecting 1,300 daily flights in and out of the country. Hard up for visitor accommodations in the capital, Doha, organizers suggested that some fans might want to stay in neighbouring United Arab Emirates and then take the one-hour flight to Doha on game day.

Then there’s the grass itself. The seeds had to be flown in by plane from North America, and each pitch requires about 10,000 litres of water a day. And because Qatar has so little fresh water to draw from, the water has to be desalinated — another energy- and emissions-intensive process.

(Lars Baron/Getty Images)

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How climate change has helped greener energy businesses take off in Canada

(Ben Nelms/CBC)

Many Canadian businesses have been hit hard in the last few years by everything from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine to climate change.

But for some, climate change has been a boon, in part because of government grants meant to increase energy efficiency as Canada aims for net-zero emissions by 2050

It’s all part of a global shift to greener energy options. Solar energy now provides the most renewable energy jobs in the world — 4.3 million jobs by the end of 2021 — according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in collaboration with the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO).

An estimated 700,000 new renewable energy jobs were created worldwide in the past year, bringing the total jobs in this sector to nearly 13 million, according to the IRENA report.

A rush to find greener ways to beat the heat waves and cold snaps that result from extreme weather is driving unprecedented demand for solar and electric options, according to those who sell and install solar panels and heating and cooling systems, including heat pumps.

A heat pump is an electric device that uses many of the same components as a fridge or air conditioner — like a compressor, condenser, expansion valve or evaporator — and can be used to both heat and cool a home.

On Monday, Canada announced details of the Oil to Heat Pump Affordability (OHPA) Grant, designed to help low- to median-income households switch from oil to heat pumps. The grant will offer up to $5,000 to cover costs including the purchase and installation of heat pumps and the safe removal of oil tanks. 

But even before that announcement, heat pump installers were busy.

Toronto-based Ricardo Ramberansingh runs Heatpumps.ca, Ductless.ca and the Boiler Shoppe. He says he sells hundreds of heat pumps in Ontario, as customers are “ripping out gas furnaces” over concerns about climate change, fuel costs and the environment. 

Business, says Ramberansingh, has been spectacular. For competitive reasons, Ramberansingh won’t say exactly how many heat pumps he’s installed, but he says sales are up 300 per cent in the past few years.

Kaleb Rodgers of Rikur Energy Inc. in Burnaby, B.C., says solar sales really soared once the pandemic hit. The company went from installing about 30 systems per year to about 75. Each system costs between $15,000 and $30,000, but Rodgers says the Canada Greener Homes initiative, launched in May 2021, helps people offset the “hefty price tag up front.”

The Greener Homes initiative from Natural Resources Canada offers grants of up to $5,000 and interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for energy-conscious home retrofits. 

Rodgers says customers have told him they’re not only doing good for the environment but also for the general population because they are “pushing clean energy back into our hydro grid.”

B.C. Hydro allows customers to use any surplus energy their solar systems produce to offset future energy bills, so that is also an incentive.

To help Canada hit its zero emissions target by 2050, federal and provincial grants — including the Greener Homes and OHPA grants and rebates offered by B.C. Hydro — are in place to help people retrofit their homes. 

According to the federal government, as of September, the Greener Homes program has received more than 196,000 grant applications, with more than 38,000 coming the first week the program was launched. The program has issued $69 million in grants to almost 19,000 homeowners

As of Nov. 14, the program had issued 3,202 grants for solar panels, 8,572 grants for heat pumps and 11,123 grants for window and door upgrades. 

The program has helped kick-start changes, according to Chris Palliser, a spokesperson for Shift Energy Group in B.C. 

Shift Energy started designing and building solar energy storage systems in Western Canada, but is now expanding to the East Coast.

Palliser says the cost of solar panels has decreased dramatically over the past decade. But he says the falling price of solar panels isn’t the only reason business is booming.

“Climate change is playing a huge role,” Palliser said. “It’s the heat domes, the atmospheric rivers that are happening in our face. I think people are taking note and thinking something has to be done.”

He said that high energy costs and changes in weather have coalesced for a variety of groups, including frugal investors, climate activists, energy-independence seekers and tech trend-setters.

Since 2020, Palliser says Shift Energy’s rate of solar system installation has increased sixfold and that they have hired 35 new employees in the last six months.

“Demand is there,” he said. 

— Yvette Brend

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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