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Disaster expert calls for climate-risk forum

The way forward: Mark Guishard, Angela Burnett, Steve Cosham, Chai-Ying Lee and Bill Curry, at the Climate Risk Forum yesterday (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

An organisation designed to limit the threat posed by extreme weather caused by climate change should be set up, a disaster expert said yesterday.Steve Cosham, the Government’s National Disaster Co-ordinator and team leader for the Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation Team, said that Bermuda had to prepare to protect its buildings and economy against the stronger storms predicted, partly as a result of higher sea temperatures caused by climate change.Mr Cosham said: “After a hurricane, there are so many knock-on effects whether on the economy, whether on tourism.“What we really need is a Climate Adaptation Forum to understand what these effects will mean because if we understand we have an opportunity to introduce meaningful mitigation practices and see new opportunities.“We can only do that if we have an understanding.”Mr Cosham was speaking as part of a panel discussion on climate risk and small islands at the Climate Risk Forum, which started at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club yesterday.Mark Guishard, head of risk protection at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, who sat on the same panel, said that rising sea levels were becoming more of a concern to the island. Dr Guishard said: “Extreme high tides we have seen in Bermuda due to transient oceanographic effects, we might expect to see within the normal high tide range in as soon as 20 years. That is quite alarming for Bermuda.”He warned: “Regardless of the problems we have with extreme events like hurricanes, I think that the background of the changing sea level and climate is just as concerning.”Chai-Ying Lee, an assistant research professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, New York, said that research suggested heavier rainfall, greater hurricane-induced storm surges and an increase in the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Caribbean region.Mr Cosham said Bermuda needed to start to tackle the problems associated with increased storm surge now. He added: “Our power plant is at sea level even though it is inland.“Any effects of storm surge from hurricanes is going to affect it.Mr Cosham said: “We put a lot of focus on the airport, but we also need to put a focus on seaports — the seaport is where aid comes in.“In larger countries, they have many seaports and many airports, in Bermuda we have one. “We need to make sure that we put effort into building rights and if we are at sea level, we have to look at preparing mitigation methods so that we can survive the storm.”Angela Burnett is a survivor of the Category 5 Hurricane Irma, which devastated her homeland of the British Virgin Islands in 2017, and also runs the Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project in St Lucia, which has suffered severe floods in the past few years. She said that governments needed to work with the business world to tackle climate risks. Ms Burnett added: “Governments alone cannot adapt to climate change — there is a very important role for the private sector and ordinary citizens to take. “DVRP supports a very innovative financing mechanism called the climate adaptation financing facility, offering low interest loans to householders, to encourage them to implement measures in their homes to build resilience against floods and other climate change impacts. It is working very well, it’s a good model.”She added that tight controls over housing development was a major part of reduction of risk from more extreme weather. Ms Burnett said: “We need to make sure we don’t build in vulnerable areas and, importantly, that we respect the natural defences of mangroves, coral reefs and sea-grass beds in our development processes. “That is the single-most important measure we can take in terms of adaptation.”Bill Curry, the president and chief executive of Bios, said that Bermuda had to improve its ability to predict the intensity of hurricanes. He added: “We need to set ourselves up for what I think is the next generation of observations about this problem which is robotics in the ocean.“We now have instruments out continuously measuring ocean properties for three to six months at the same location which is giving us greater insights. “If you want to be able to predict how the ocean will affect a hurricane, you need to know really well what is the current state of the ocean. “That is one of the things that we have been missing as a forecasting model is intensity prediction. Storm tracks are relatively well done now, but the intensity has caught us by surprise several times. Tropical Storm Fay, which became Hurricane Fay, was one example and Hurricane Humberto was another.”