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Report outlines climate change impact on Bermuda

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A satellite image of Hurricane Fiona, a Category 4 storm, which passed close to Bermuda last year.

Climate change will have wide-ranging effects on Bermuda as sea levels rise, hurricanes become stronger and supply lines are further strained, according to a report.

Mark Guishard, of the Bermuda Airport Authority, a BIOS adjunct scientist who wrote the two-part report Climate Change and Bermuda, said the latest section highlights some of the potential impacts climate change will have on life in Bermuda.

Dr Guishard said: “It is by no means an exhaustive outline of all the impacts we will face going forward. Instead, the report is intended to be a source of information for decision-makers, from individuals to organisations, who may want to assess their risk under a changing climate.”

The report found that rising sea levels will bring more frequent flooding in low-lying areas within the next few decades, with vulnerable members of the community without insurance potentially facing a disproportionate impact.

The report also warns of more frequent and more powerful hurricanes — although Bermuda’s response to storms is well managed.

“One of the aspects that makes Bermuda unique and attractive to visitors and residents — our local climate — is changing, and that change is accelerating,” Dr Guishard added.

“One need only look at the coastal flooding events we have seen in recent years to get a glimpse at what the future will hold.

“It’s worth noting that this report does not advocate for a specific response to these impacts, but it aims to put the realities of climate change in front of people and organisations to allow them to make more informed decisions about climate action going forward.”

The report found that the risk of hurricane damage on the island was mitigated by the island’s natural geography, along with a strong building code and disaster response capability.

However, climate change could mean the island will face more significant threats from storms in years to come.

The report’s executive summary said: “As climate change enables more water vapour to be available to produce larger rainfall extremes, the occurrence of flood rainfall thresholds being exceeded is likely to increase over time, putting many areas of the island under more frequent flooding impacts.

“While Bermuda is currently able to cope with ‘today’s’ storm risk based on strong building codes and a decent disaster risk governance, improvements may be warranted to deal with increased hurricane risk and scenarios not yet faced by the island.

“For example, a Category 4 storm with storm tide at or exceeding that of Hurricane Fabian (2003) is a more frequent likelihood. 2022 saw the close passage of a Category 4 hurricane that would have greatly tested Bermuda’s disaster risk response if it had impacted us more directly.”

Higher sea levels and storm surge also present a growing risk for some exposed properties near the island’s coast.

“Property annual rental values exposed to coastal flooding jump from near zero now to as much as nearly $3 million in the next 50 years,” the report said. “This represents a relatively small number of properties — conservatively up to about 35 in number in the present analysis.”

Rising waters could also cause some of the island’s beaches — a key attraction for visitors — to disappear below the waves while pressure on supply chains globally could increase the cost for those who choose to travel to the island.

However, if Bermuda makes the right steps to tackle the threats, it could use its work to attract people to the island.

“Success in climate risk financing may result in increased conference travel to Bermuda to discuss climate change impacts,” the report said. “Bermuda should be seen to be acting on local impacts of climate change if it’s to support more international efforts in climate risk finance.

“Eco-tourism and ‘regenerative tourism’ are key offerings in a successful tourism market, and Bermuda has many opportunities in this regard.”

In addition to its impact on the coastline, rising sea levels would decrease the quality of Bermuda’s fresh groundwater lenses.

“Extreme sea level events have been shown to increase the salinity of freshwater lenses fewer than six hours after the onset of the highest extreme water tide levels,” the report said.

“The occasional high sea levels periodically impacting the groundwater quality are expected to increase in frequency at least elevenfold by 2050.”

Ocean warming and acidification present a risk for the island’s reefs, threatening Bermuda’s “natural seawall’s” ability to repair itself.

Increased temperatures on the island could impact “exposed” workers, such as farmers, landscapers, fishermen and construction workers — professions that often offer lower incomes and less health insurance.

“These aspects of wealth inequality point anecdotally to a reduced coping capacity for heat-induced illnesses among some outdoor workers,” the report added.

• Both reports – Part 1 and Part 2 – can be found under related media.

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Published February 20, 2023 at 2:12 pm (Updated February 20, 2023 at 5:40 pm)

Report outlines climate change impact on Bermuda

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