Jamaica’s most famous son, Usain Bolt, is currently competing in the Olympics and the island is also racing against the clock in the battle against climate change.   In recent years, it has experienced increased natural disasters including more flooding, tropical storms, severe hurricanes, harsh periods of wildfire and drought as well as episodes of massive coral bleaching.    

Climate change poses a significant threat to social and economic progress in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Jamaica.  Most of the SIDS account for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but face disproportionately high impacts of climate change.  They are on the frontline and climate change is already being felt in countries like Jamaica. 

A 36 megawatt wind farm has received US$63 million in funding from the
World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and other donors in Jamaica
(Credit: The World Bank)

Jamaica is particularly vulnerable because four-fifths of its GDP is generated in coastal areas where over 60 percent of the 2.8 million population live.  So activities crucial to the country’s economy – including tourism and farming – are at the mercy of extreme weather.

As Deputy Director General of the Planning Institute of Jamaica Claire Bernard puts it: “Our economy is very linked to the environment – two of our main sectors are tourism and agriculture.  Sea-level rises and heatwaves could make our country not particularly attractive to tourists.  If you look at the agriculture sector, it is primarily rain-fed so instances of drought mean agricultural productivity falls significantly.” 

Jamaica’s economic growth could have been approximately 4% a year without tropical cyclones but instead it averaged about 0.8% for the past 40 years.  Adapting to a changing climate is crucial so they can face the future with resilience and resources.

That’s where the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) comes in, with its $1.2 billion Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR.)  The PPCR uses a two-phase, programmatic approach to fi­rst, assist national governments in integrating climate resilience into development planning across sectors and stakeholder groups. Second, it provides additional funding to put the plan into action and pilot innovative public and private sector solutions to pressing climate-related risks.  It’s second in the world in terms of the support it provides to SIDS and nearly $200 million of that is going to expanding user-friendly climate services – a critical pillar for increased resilience.

Children at Chandler’s Pen Primary School in Southern Jamaica (Credit: IADB)

This includes a $6.5 million project to improve climate data and information management in Jamaica. The aim is to make this more accurate, timely, wider in coverage and easier to access and use by coastal communities, particularly farmers and fishermen. PPCR funding contributes to Early Warning Systems, improved equipment and observations – all of which lead to better forecasting.  The project will contribute to Jamaica’s effort to integrate climate change into decision-making processes and adapt to its effects.

Combining finance for adaptation with strategic planning for development reduces risks and PPCR’s Financing Water Adaptation in the New Urban Housing Sector project, with funding approved by the PPCR’s governing body, will aim to do just that.  By introducing adaptation measures into new private sector housing development and increasing awareness of the practical and competitive advantages of building climate-resilient housing, it will help Jamaican communities and businesses not just survive but thrive.

Jamaica is also part of the Caribbean Regional Track for PPCR and its capital, Kingston, recently hosted a number of countries for a workshop on Monitoring and Reporting to promote capacity building and knowledge exchange. This allowed for vibrant and detailed exchanges between all PPCR country representatives, academia, NGOs and the private sector from the Caribbean Region.  As a ‘living laboratory’ with learning by doing at the heart of its mission, the CIF is a regular convener of such dialogues. 

While people’s attention may be on Bolt and his quest for greatness at the Olympics, Jamaica’s sprint to deal with immediate climate shocks and marathon to build a more resilient future is certainly worthy of a gold medal.