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Climate Change – A Global Trend Affecting the Caribbean

“Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceansin recent decades and its projected continuation,” says Wikipedia of this phrase that’s becoming a household word on many international conferences and seminars.  That was also the case at the CHTC, the annual conference of the joint Caribbean Hotel Association and Caribbean Tourism Organization in the Convention Center in Miami’s Hyatt Regency from June 17-19. Tailored to their industry, both organizations launched an eight-page joint position paper on global climate change and the Caribbean tourism industry last March, which was used as a frame of reference at the conference.

The program of the conference, which also included the well known culinary contest “Taste of the Caribbean,” was packed with workshops and educational lectures about the new trends that can affect or influence tourism in the wider Caribbean Region. Delegates from 36 participating countries heard about and critically discussed new topics and global travel trends, underscoring the issues, the challenges and the opportunities for the industry in the region. Climate change was a much-discussed subject.

Concern about the environment

“Well substantiated reports indicate that there is a significant shift in the preferences of vacation travelers world wide,” CHA president Peter Odle said in his opening speech referring to undercurrents of concern. “We need to be aware of what’s going on in the global market and to prepare ourselves. The indicators point to the average traveler from Europe and North America being much more concerned about the environment. The word “green” is the latest buzz word. And it does not refer to the color of the American dollar!  It is all about how to reduce carbon emissions or green house gases.

“To combat the threat of global warming, concerned travelers have figured out that they can play a role in controlling the damage to the environment. So they are now engaging in what is called slow or low-carbon travel, choosing forms of transportation that are less damaging. The best way to do this is to avoid jet travel with its very high levels of greenhouse gases and to travel domestically. Consequently millions of North Americans and Europeans are boarding trains and boats and traveling more slowly. Despite these growing global trends we can rest assured that vacation jet travel will be with us for a while and the Caribbean will continue to attract those who are still willing to travel here by plane,” Odle said.
 
“Environment-conscious travelers are demanding low carbon accommodation which offers solar powered cooling systems and natural ventilation and wind- generated electricity.” Odle referred to another challenge concerning the tourism industry which is more and more confronted with increasing taxes and regulating carbon emissions from airlines and hotels. ”Green measures” is the ability of the industry in the region to respond and remain competitive.”

How can we find a balance?

The second day of the conference, environmentalist and hotelier Ewald Biemans was introduced as the example to hoteliers throughout the Caribbean for his extensive and successful sustainable tourism business model for his hotels, the Bucuti Beach Resort and Tara Beach Suites in Aruba. Biemans explained why and how Bucuti Beach Resort is a leader in the sustainable movement in the region.

Meeting the ISO 14001 certification for the fourth consecutive year and the Green Globe 21 certification for the sixth year, the resort’s guest rooms and suites are designed to preserve energy and water and are equipped with recycle bins, energy saving lamps, insulation systems that retain cool air, and water saving toilets, showerheads and taps. All sink and bath water is collected in a grey tank recycling system, where ultraviolet light destroys bacteria so the water can safely be reused to irrigate the grounds. Waste water from the toilets flows to a government treatment plant for reuse by businesses and the two golf courses on the island.

Those are some examples but there are many more—like light and air conditioning sensors, environmentally friendly products, and solar heated water. “It’s not only about being and acting consciously,” Biemans stated. “All together we can count on a benefit of several hundreds of thousands dollars a year and a positive respond from our guests.”

The CHA/CTO position paper also calls for these actions to prepare for and combat the recognized negative environmental, social and economic impact of climate change.

Why Caribbean action?

An increase in global temperatures can in turn cause other changes, including sea level rise, and changes in the amount and pattern of rainfall resulting in floods and drought. The effect of a more intense hurricane season, sea level change, and reef and beach erosion physically threatens the tourism industry. There may also be changes in the frequency and intensity of these extreme weather events in the region, though it is difficult to connect specific events to global warming. Globally seen other effects may include changes in agricultural yields, glacier retreat, reduced summer stream flows, species extinctions and increases in the ranges of disease vectors.

The future

Remaining scientific uncertainties include the exact degree of climate change expected in the future, and how changes will vary from region to region around the globe. There is ongoing politicaland public debate regarding what, if any, action should be taken to reduce or reverse future warming or to adapt to its expected consequences.

Els Kroon is a Dutch former teacher who now lives and works as an award-winning free-lance photojournalist on Curacao.

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