The Caribbean, the most tourism-dependent region in the world

It may look like paradise, but the Caribbean’s vulnerability to climate change and over-reliance on tourism signals trouble ahead

An innovative new programme, CARIBSAVE, aims to find a sustainable solution to enhance the livelihoods, environments and economies of these islands

The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world, and there are few options to develop alternative economic sectors. In 2008, there were nearly 23 million visitors plus 18.9 million cruise passenger arrivals on the islands, generating an estimated US$25bn and directly employing 1.2 million of the population. On some of the islands, more than half of the work force is employed by the industry.

Over-reliance on tourism is just one of the challenges facing the Caribbean. It is also one of the areas most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including sea level rises, coastal erosion, water shortages and biodiversity loss. And, with climate change set to be the major issue of the next decade, global attention will be on the Caribbean, believes Sir Royston Hopkin, Chairman of the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Development. “What we do today will set the stage for much wider global initiatives and we are prepared to face these environmental challenges with great resolve and ingenuity,” he says.

CARIBSAVE, a partnership led by the University of Oxford and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, aims to raise $35m over the next five years to protect and enhance the environment and economies of hundreds of Caribbean islands from the effects of environmental change.

As part of this work, CARIBSAVE is undertaking a six-month pilot study of the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas and the coastal destinations of Negril and Montego Bay in Jamaica. The partnership will analyse climate models of data collected between 1961 and 2008 and calculate their likely climate until 2100. The project will also be able to predict levels of rainfall, wind speed, the rate of rising sea temperatures and sea levels, as well as the frequency of extreme weather events, including hurricanes and monsoons.

In addition, the vulnerabilities of each destination to physical effects such as coral bleaching, sea level rise and beach erosion, will be assessed. The results will be linked with social, economic and other factors, such as health. For example, it will look at whether rising sea levels will contaminate water supplies or whether more frequent flooding will increase the risk of malaria and dengue fever.

This pilot study will provide a blueprint for analysing changes in climate, evaluating the impact and assessing the vulnerabilities, risk and adaptability of tourism to climate change, which will be rolled out across other tourist destinations and countries in the region. Designed specifically for the tourist sector, the model will also inform wider policy and planning processes in a range of other areas, including energy, agriculture, health, biodiversity and infrastructure. Local people, organisations and governments will receive assistance in building up the skills they need to implement policies to tackle climate change.

Another key component of the project is to develop low carbon economies across the Caribbean Basin and create the first carbon-neutral region in the world.

“The vision for CARIBSAVE is a long-term and sustained approach to climate change and tourism,” explains project director Dr Murray Simpson from the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford University. “The Caribbean is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change and its economics and communities are recognised as the most reliant on tourism in the world. We have designed an approach that manages a huge range of risks and consequences of climate change. We are looking at how climate change will affect biodiversity, water supplies, the economy, energy, health, infrastructure, livelihoods and disaster management.”

Hundreds of tropical Caribbean islands attract millions of tourists each year, but the impact of climate change is already starting to affect its fragile ecosystem and endanger the livelihoods of many islanders, Dr Simpson adds. “The highest level of international and regional expertise is being drawn together to form a highly motivated, long-term team that links climate science with the physical, social and economic impacts of climate change. We are providing practical assistance that can allow this vulnerable part of the world to adapt and survive.”

CARIBSAVE is supported by a large network of national, regional and international partners, including the Association of Caribbean States, the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the United Nations Development Programme, the University of the West Indies, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the World Wildlife Fund, the Rainforest Alliance, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, the UK Department for International Development and the World Bank. The partnership also comprises nations across the Caribbean Basin region and representatives of the private and public sectors along with eminent scientists and practitioners from the region and beyond.

For Further Information on the work of CARIBSAVE, please visit:

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