Climate Risks Negatively Impacts Economic Tourism Engine for St. Kitts and Nevis; New Report from Stimson Center, TaiwanICDF, and Taiwan Ocean Affairs Council Finds Pressing Climate Risks on Key City of Basseterre

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WASHINGTON, DC – December 6, 2022 – Travel and tourism—the primary industry and employer in Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis and its surrounding area—is at high risk from climate change, according to a new assessment from the Stimson Center. Working with the St. Kitts and Nevis Ministry of Environment and Climate Action, TaiwanICDF and the Taiwan Ocean Affairs Council and experts throughout the community, the Stimson Center conducted an in-depth study to identify and address the most pressing climate dangers faced by the city and island nation, and it outlines specific steps and opportunities that can be taken to mitigate these risks.

Working in partnership, the four organizations collected data on the extent of climate and ocean risks in Basseterre and its surrounding area, including increased heat events, loss of mangroves, poor fisheries management, and more intense hurricanes. To prioritize local action, almost 70 local experts were surveyed to utilize their knowledge to help generate recommendations to strengthen climate resilience given Basseterre’s social, economic, and ecological characteristics. These recommendations, together with key findings from the report, were released at COP27 at the St. Kitts and Nevis Pavilion. 

“Island states are least responsible but most impacted by climate change, particularly across cities whose economies rely on tourism as their main lifeline,” said Sally Yozell, Senior Fellow, Director of the Stimson Center’s Environmental Security Program, and project lead for CORVI. “In Basseterre, the lives and livelihoods of city residents, the capital government, and local businesses who sit at the water’s edge are being threatened by more intense weather events— which can cause dual threats of flooding from the mountains and dangerous storm surges from the ocean during a tropical storm or hurricane.”

“This is further exacerbated by its aging infrastructure,” Yozell continued. “At the same time, unplanned development paired with coastal erosion and the loss of corals, sea grasses, and mangrove coverage are reducing the natural buffers to these storms.” 

The CORVI assessment has identified some of the most serious risks while outlining reasonable actions to help mitigate those risks in the Basseterre area.  

“Part of what makes CORVI unique is that it works closely with experts in the community to understand the local climate issues which demand on the ground solutions.” Yozell added. 

“As a Small Island Developing State, it is critically important that the strategies required to respond to the impacts of climate change in St. Kitts and Nevis be done through an integrated and comprehensive approach,” said Sharon Rattan, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action. “Access to the CORVI Tool and its associated outputs positions the Government to address climate change in a more comprehensive manner by identifying and assessing the relationships and the inter linkages across sectors.”

“The climate crisis has continued to deteriorate. According to the journal Nature Climate Change, it is now inevitable that at least 3.3 percent of the Greenland ice sheet will melt, there is no stopping this, and that the world ocean level will increase by at least 27cm, almost a foot. It is not a matter of if, but when,” said Amb. Timothy Hsiang, the secretary general of the TaiwanICDF. “While we continue to pursue climate mitigation action, we must also invest in adaptation measures, such as risk prevention and management, to save lives from predictable disasters. CORVI is one of the innovative ways to combine stakeholders’ capabilities to assist developing coastal cities in identifying climate and ocean risks for better urban risk prevention planning. Our investment in climate risk reduction shows our solidarity with and support for St. Kitts and Nevis and other SIDS around the world.”

Actionable Recommendations

Based on the assessment of the ecological, financial, and political climate risks that Basseterre faces, the CORVI risk profile includes three concrete, prioritized recommendations to strengthen the city’s coastal climate resilience. These recommendations are targeted towards the government of St. Kitts and Nevis, the private sector, civil society, and international funders:

Increase coordination and planning between the government and private sector to improve preparation and response for climate risks such as sea level rise, storm surge, coastal erosion, and heat waves. The government could establish a permanent climate coordinating  committee across the multiple ministries and with the private sector who meets regularly to work together to prioritize necessary actions annually to proactively address the most pressing climate risks, including those identified in this assessment; improve waste treatment infrastructure and stormwater management, prioritize reducing impacts on vulnerable populations, and establish a city- or island-wide business resumption plan to ensure a swift restart of services and business activity after a hurricane or other disaster.
Promote renewable and distributed energy across the country, including solar, wind, and geothermal energy. Such an effort could reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels, improve grid resilience during extreme weather events, and facilitate post-disaster recovery efforts. The government could work with the St. Kitts and Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the St. Kitts Electricity Company, and other stakeholders to increase awareness, streamline regulations, implement financial incentives, and establish microgrids. 
Support a sustainable blue economy founded on healthy marine and coastal ecosystems. The government of St. Kitts and Nevis could work with private partners and civic society, such as the Sustainable Destination Council, to enhance and expand efforts to increase coverage and health of native mangroves, seagrasses, and corals, actively implement fisheries and ecosystem management regulations, improve wastewater management, and mitigate erosion from cruise ship terminals. All of this would help improve the long-term viability of Basseterre’s key economic sectors, protecting jobs and livelihoods. 

Key Findings

Notable risks identified include:

A high reliance on climate-vulnerable industries—especially travel and tourism, which accounted for over 52% of gross domestic product (GDP) and accounted for almost 60% of total employment in 2019. Basseterre is the center of tourism in St. Kitts and Nevis, including Port Zante, which can accommodate the largest cruise ships in the world.
Vulnerable marine and coastal ecosystems—which are being harmed by the destruction of mangroves due to tourism industry development, coral bleaching, stony coral tissue loss disease, dredging, wastewater discharge, plastic pollution, and runoff from hillside development projects. Marine and coastal ecosystems are an important tourist attraction, provide habitat to marine wildlife, and provide protection from erosion and storm surge.
Growing risks from extreme weather events—most notably hurricanes and terrestrial and marine heatwaves. Although no hurricanes have made landfall on St. Kitts and Nevis since Hurricane Georges in 1998, the country has suffered significant losses from several storms, including nearly $20 million from Hurricane Irma in 2017. The frequency of strong hurricanes in the eastern Caribbean is projected to increase by 25-30%.
Elevated levels of unreported fishing—which some estimates put at over 75% of total fishing. St. Kitts and Nevis has been on a European Union list of (‘yellow card’) nations warned about non-cooperation in fighting Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing since 2014.

Reliance on imported fossil fuel energy—which accounts for 95% of national electricity generation and 98% of total energy consumption. Spending on imported fossil fuels accounted for 4% of GDP in 2015 and leaves the country vulnerable to price swings in the global oil market.

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