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From “MUNRO maimed” to “Adelphi struggles to rebuild after hurricane,” the headlines after Hurricane Beryl ripped through the Caribbean last week are grim, shedding light on the devastating destruction already wrought, but also predicting what is to come given the realities of climate change.

This is exactly what Indi Mclymont Lafayette, a long-time climate justice advocate, gender specialist and poverty reduction consultant, feared and has dedicated years of her professional life – through communications and advocacy – to helping solve this problem.

“I saw a comment on social media yesterday (last Monday, July 1) about climate change saying that this is one of those things that you don’t want to be right about when it comes to the impacts of climate change that we are currently experiencing. For Beryl to become a Category 5 storm so early in the season is unusual. It is really moving through the region,” she said.

McLymont Lafayette spoke with The Gleaner last Tuesday as she and thousands of other Jamaicans braced for the heavy rains expected to hit Jamaica from a storm that brought winds of up to 233 kilometers per hour and rainfall of 10 to 20 centimeters.

“It’s scary… and it’s a new reality – the reality we as climate activists have been talking about for 20 years,” she added.

Mclymont Lafayette was once the head of the regional communications NGO Panos Caribbean, which has spearheaded lobbying efforts to get world leaders, especially those of developed nations, to shoulder their responsibilities on the prevailing climate issues, as their heavy use of fossil fuels is fuelling the warming of the planet and triggering a cascade of impacts.

And it is precisely events like Hurricane Beryl that are caused by climate change – “which is directly or indirectly due to human activities that alter the composition of the global atmosphere and is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”

Such events, as well as extreme droughts, come on top of other manifestations of climate change, including rising global temperatures, which cause a range of health problems, increased sea surface temperatures, which affect marine life, and coastal erosion, which lead to loss of lives and livelihoods, among other things.

These threats have for years led activists like Mclymont Lafayette and scientists like Professor Michael Taylor of the University of the West Indies to call for a rise in global temperatures of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. This requires a complete course correction in human consumption of fossil fuels such as oil and gas, which in turn fuel the emission of greenhouse gases, which in turn cause planetary warming.

The advocates have found favor with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the main scientific body for climate research, of which Taylor himself was a member. The IPCC has advocated for significantly increased mitigation and adaptation action through its work, and in particular through a series of assessments and special reports on the state of climate change.

SLOW PROGRESS

The call is for developed countries to take the lead, reducing their emissions while opening their coffers to provide the billions promised to enable adaptation and overall resilience in small island developing States and other parts of the developing world least responsible for the emissions that have brought the world into the current climate crisis. But so far, progress has been slow, and small island developing States insist that continued inaction could well spell their end.

“My activism and my realism are fighting. I pray for the best, but prepare for the worst,” Lafayette said.

“The reality I see now is that Beryl has pushed back at least three or four of the islands – Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and others. Regional organizations that work on poverty alleviation have also been pushed back,” she said.

“Many livelihoods would have been impacted by the impact on the islands and recovery will take time. It will impact GDP and if we have even two more of these storms this season, there will be trouble. So we talk about it, but for those who experience it, it’s a different matter. There must continue to be calls for climate action,” Lafayette said.

“I think realistically and as a practical person, we as SIDS should look at the survival skills we can develop, because help may not come from the responsible countries,” said the woman, who has worked in climate action for 19 years and has participated in the annual global climate negotiations, among other things.

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