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Making Climate History

TCI hosts inaugural Climate Change Summit.

By Amy Avenant, Environmental Outreach Coordinator, DECR and
Oshin Whyte, Executive Officer and Environment Policy Lead, Governor’s Office

Climate Change. These two words have gained traction in popular consciousness since the release of the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report released in 1988. The IPCC is currently in its Sixth Assessment cycle where it will prepare three Special Reports, a Methodology Report, and the Sixth Assessment Report. What does this have to do with the Turks & Caicos Islands culture?

The first of these Special Reports, “Global Warming of 1.5ºC (SR15, 2018),” was requested by world governments under the Paris Agreement. It discussed the impacts of global warming of 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

The sea wall in Salt Cay is an example of TCI’s material culture and has withstood multiple hurricanes. How will it be affected by climate change in the future?

The findings were alarming, especially to small island states such as the Turks & Caicos Islands, who were still reeling from the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. That unprecedented hurricane season had seen super-storms annihilate whole islands in the Caribbean. The Turks & Caicos Islands however, did not suffer the same consequences. This was not merely by chance. In fact, it was the environmental integrity of our little islands that allowed “David” to battle the extreme “Goliath” that barreled down on us on September 7, 2017. 

The Turks & Caicos Islands boast a total of 34 protected areas, covering 300 square miles of land and sea, protected since the early 1970s. Marine Protected Areas such as Columbus Landfall National Park, with limited recreational activities, and the protected mangrove forests of the Ramsar site, have ensured ecosystem conservation, biodiversity preservation, and ultimately, a natural environment that has loyally served us against the (literal) rising tide that is Climate Change. 

Recognising the significance of these ecological services in maintaining environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the Islands, the Ministry for Tourism and the Environment signed the Climate Change Charter at the Turks & Caicos Climate Change Summit on Earth Day, April 22, 2022. Under the theme “Only One Earth: Invest in Our Planet,” the Ministry, through the Department of Environment & Coastal Resources (DECR) engaged with public and private sector stakeholders to draft a comprehensive commitment, the first of its kind in the region. The event’s keynote speaker, Honourable Walter Roban, Bermuda’s Deputy Premier, was so impressed by the document that he requested a copy to inform Bermuda’s own Climate Change policy. 

The mangrove wetlands in North Caicos are not only an important carbon sink, but possess both material and non-material cultural values for the people of the TCI.

Climate Change is without a doubt the defining challenge of our time, and no country is immune to its effects. We are currently in a critical time period in which global collective action can change the catastrophic trajectory that we are currently on. We hear about and speak on the devastating effects that climate change poses to the social and economic fabric of the Turks & Caicos Islands, however, the ill effects on our material and non-material culture is not at the forefront of the discussion. This is the general trend globally, as culture is largely absent from most climate resilience and adaptation movements. 

The consequences for TCI are severe as our entire existence, knowledge systems, identity, heritage values, and amenity services (i.e. recreation, spiritual fulfillment, aesthetic enjoyment, etc.) are strongly influenced by our marine ecosystems and coastal landscapes, and ecosystem change can have significant impact on cultural identity and social stability. These ecosystems are currently threatened by rising sea levels, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity and intense weather events—all of which are driven by climate change. What if culture could be used as a resource for addressing both climate mitigation and adaptation? 

Culture is intertwined with lifestyles and the social organisations that give rise to emissions of greenhouse gases. The climate change impacts of these gases are ascribed meaning through cultural interpretations of science and risk. From this standpoint, culture and its analysis is crucial in understanding the causes of, and human responses to, climate change. Moreover, cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and natural heritage support a community’s ability to respond to climate change impacts. Intangible cultural heritage practices can also be beneficial in assisting communities adapt to a changing climate. This is seen in Bangladesh where rural communities use inherited local knowledge of water management to cope with increasing flooding incidents. 

The Turks & Caicos Islands Climate Change Charter was signed on Earth Day, April 22, 2022.

In spite of the complex relationship between culture and climate change resilience, neither the Assessment Reports of the IPPC nor the Paris Agreement systematically include culture or cultural practices. Fortunately, UNESCO is currently calling on countries to integrate culture into their climate change policies and strategies. 

Natural heritage is inextricably linked to, and informs our cultural heritage. If we do not safeguard one we will lose meaning (and thus reason to conserve) the other. As such, the impacts of climate change threaten our very identities. All the more reason why the call to action is for one and all! 

The DECR includes the Protected Areas Division which manages and regulates Protected Areas, pertinent to conserving our natural heritage. The Turks & Caicos National Trust in a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that is responsible for the management of environmental and historical significance of some Protected Areas and has the ability to hold land inalienably for future generations. The DECR works alongside other departments, government agencies, and NGOs to ensure that our Protected Areas are safeguarded from uncontrolled development and other threats. 

The Turks & Caicos Climate Change Summit recording, which showcases presentations from leaders in marine and terrestrial conservation, as well as energy and tourism, is available on the TCI Climate Change Summit Facebook page (@TCIClimateChangeSummit) as well as on YouTube.



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Master Photographers James Roy and Christine Morden of Paradise Photography (MyParadisePhoto.com) made the journey to East Caicos to capture this rare drone view of the remote island. They used their artistic creativity to enhance the color after the day turned overcast.

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