Small islands look to cities for climate change ideas

Thomson Reuters Foundation,

By Sebastien Malo

EDMONTON, Canada - Small island nations are looking to cities for ideas to fight climate change, as they are dealing with problems on a similar scale, said a top minister for the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia on Wednesday.

Islands in the Caribbean Sea with populations comparable to mid-sized cities are increasingly seeking guidance from urban leaders rather than those at global gatherings of nations, said Gale Rigobert, St. Lucia's minister of sustainable development, in an interview.

Small islands, especially those of low-lying coral, are on the frontlines of rising sea levels that cause stronger and more frequent more storm surges, wash damaging salt deposits onto cropland and are submerging some land altogether.

"As small island states, it is easy for us to be lost in the wider discourse," Rigobert told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of a United Nations-backed climate summit.

Some 750 scientists and city planners from 80 countries are gathered in the western Canadian city of Edmonton to help chart a global roadmap for cities to battle climate change.

Small island nations such as Antigua, Barbados, Dominica and St. Lucia are tending to send delegations to such climate meetings for cities, finding them more useful for concrete ideas than nation-based meetings, Rigobert said.

As momentum grows behind initiatives by cities battling climate change separately from national governments, Rigobert said St. Lucia is finding solutions tailored to its size.

"The beauty of having a city or regional approach is that ... in terms of scale, it allows us for a more immediate comparison," she said.

Last year, agriculture in St. Lucia, a volcanic island in the eastern Caribbean, was badly hit by Hurricane Matthew. Hurricane Tomas in 2010 also caused serious damage.

St. Lucia's population of 170,000 people compares to that of Fort Lauderdale in the U.S. state of Florida, a city hard hit by Hurricane Irma last year.

The resemblance gives small islands access to new strategies by cities, Rigobert said, such as high-tech permeable pavements, vegetation-based flood prevention measures and shifts away from fossil fuels.

"In terms of practical, pragmatic solutions we're finding that a city-level engagement is proving to be very tangible, with more immediate results," she said.

"If you're in a country or state-centric space, maybe your voice might be lost. But if you look at a local comparison or city comparisons, then it allows for a great exchange of opportunities and ideas."

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