Regional Impacts - The Caribbean

There are five UKOTs in this region: Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands.


A Cayman Island' beach before erosion © Dept of Environment, Cayman Islands GovernmentObserved change

According to the PRECIS project (2005), research by institutions in Cuba and Jamaica show the following regional trends:

  • The mean temperatures of individual Caribbean territories show an upward trend over the last 30 years.
  • At the end of the 1970s, significant warming in the lower part of the atmosphere was detected in the region. The warming supports the idea that changes are occurring in background climate conditions. It is also consistent with significant variations in circulation patterns that have been detected over the North-Pacific sector of North America for the same period.
  • The upward trend in the mean temperatures seems to be largely driven by changes in the minimum temperatures.
  • The diurnal temperature range is decreasing, consistent with global trends. From the 1950s to the present, a two-degree change has been detected for the region.
  • The number of very warm days in the region is increasing, but the number of very cold nights is decreasing (1950s to present).
  • The frequency of droughts has increased significantly since 1960.


A 2001 study of recent global changes in precipitation found that conditions in the eastern Caribbean (which includes Anguilla, the British Virgin Island and Montserrat) have been slightly drier, while those of the northern Caribbean (which includes the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands) have been wetter (New et al., 2001 cited in Sear et al., 2001).



As with islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, rates of warming in the Caribbean are expected to be lower than the global average (IPCC, 2007). According to the Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change (MACC) Project in the Caribbean, temperature increases are expected to be between 2.0° and 2.8°C for the 2050s and 3.1° to 4.3°C for the 2080s. Marginal increases in rainfall are expected, and rainfall patterns could change, but it is not yet known how. MACC reports that sea level is expected to rise by about 38 cm between 1990 and 2080.  Hurricane intensity is likely to increase and higher temperatures could lead to a greater incidence of vector borne diseases, such as dengue and malaria (Chen et al., 2006).


A Cayman Island beach after erosion © Dept of Environment, Cayman Islands GovernmentImplications and possible future impacts

Economy:  More than half the population in the Caribbean live within 1.5 km of the coastal zone. Damage to the coastal zone translates into damage to a considerable proportion of the infrastructure, human settlements and industry of these countries. There are the direct costs of repairing damage caused by storms and other weather events, as well as the indirect costs of loss of productivity and income forgone from badly affected industries and sectors.


A study by the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) of the economic impact of the 2004 hurricane season in six Caribbean countries, including the Cayman Islands, found that 76 per cent of the total impact was made up of actual physical damage to assets (houses, businesses, roads and bridges, utilities, schools, hospitals and clinics, etc.) (Zapata Martí, 2005).  Most of the damage affected the social sectors (47.5 per cent). Damage and losses to infrastructure and utilities such as electricity, water and sanitation, and transport accounted for 15.6 per cent, and the direct environmental impact was calculated at 1.3 per cent since most of natural resources were expected to recuperate (Zapata Martí, 2005:42).


There are the longer-term costs of declining production in key sectors – agriculture and fisheries and potentially tourism, as well as the cost of loss of ecosystem services.


Higher temperatures and variability in water supplies in the Caribbean could translate into increased transmission of dengue fever.  Drier conditions associated with El Niño events, which seem to be getting more frequent, often give rise to the need for water storage, which provides breeding habitats for the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue. Breeding habitats also increase after heavy rains, such as tropical cyclones.   Warmer temperatures hasten the larval stage of mosquitoes, causing them to be smaller and to need to feed more frequently. Higher temperatures also reduce the incubation period for the parasite that causes dengue. At 30° C, dengue type 2 has an incubation period of 12 days, but only 7 days at 32-35° C. The projected 2°C increased in temperature by 2080 could lead to a three-fold increase in the rate of transmission of dengue fever in the Caribbean (Chen et al. 2006).


Caribbean coral reefs are threatened by over fishing, disease, pollution and run-off from agriculture, industry and human settlements in the coastal zone.  The intensity of hurricanes is also placing stress on corals. The region’s reefs have experienced a massive decline from approximately 50 per cent coral cover to less than 10 per cent (Jones, 2004).  Reefs are likely to be affected by a higher incidence of bleaching and die-out due to higher water temperatures.  Additionally, changes in ocean chemistry that are the result of higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are contributing to the weakening of coral skeletons (Jones, 2004).

Across the region, mangroves are threatened by development in the coastal zone and conversion to other uses.  Mangroves are an important element of the coastal defence system. They provide protection against cyclones, storm surges, and tides. They are also nurseries and habitats for many marine species and play a role in filtering run-off from the land.  Mangroves are sensitive to the threat of sea level rise, particularly from increased salination of the ecosystem. This sensitivity is heightened by the pressures they are already facing.





Country impacts - Caribbean




Depletion of fish stocks.


Beach erosion, compounded by development in the coastal zone.


A longer dry season and decreased availability of water could affect agriculture.


Sea level rise will increase the risk of salt-water contamination of rivers and salt-water intrusion of ground water, which will jeopardise agricultural production in and around coastal communities.


Increased hurricane and storm intensity could disrupt sanitation and sewerage disposal systems as well as cause damage to coastal communities and infrastructure.


British Virgin Islands


Coral reefs are vulnerable to bleaching episodes from warmer seas and stress from hurricanes.


Low-lying Anegada is vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise and to storm surges and wave action during hurricanes.


Cayman Islands


Coral bleaching


Beach erosion and destruction of turtle nesting sites.


As low-lying islands, the Cayman islands are vulnerable to the effects of seal level rise and to storm surges and wave action during hurricanes.




Changes in coastal vegetation.


Coral  bleaching.


Turks and Caicos Islands


Sea level rise will increase the risk of salination of rivers and salt-water intrusion of ground water, which will jeopardise agricultural production in and around coastal communities.




For more information


Providing REgional Climates for Impacts Studies