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Climate change may have major impact on Bonaire

28 September 2022
Bonaire will be hit hard by climate change if we fail to curb global warming, a study by VU Amsterdam’s Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) has revealed. If global warming exceeds 1.4 degrees Celsius, part of the island could end up underwater by the end of the century due to rising sea levels. The number of heatwaves is also expected to increase, and should temperatures rise further, Bonaire’s coral reefs will die.

The research team, which included scientists and Master’s students from VU Amsterdam, looked at the impact four potential climate scenarios would have on Bonaire: three scenarios that assumed a respective global warming of 1.4, 2.7 and 4.4 degrees Celsius, and one scenario that assumed a warming of 4.4 degrees while also taking into account uncertain factors, such as the melting of the ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica. If global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, in keeping with the Paris Climate Agreement, the consequences would be considerably smaller than if temperatures were to rise by 2.7 or even 4.4 degrees.

Possible impact of climate change
The study examined the potential impact of climate change on Bonaire’s economy, infrastructure and cultural heritage, and on the population’s health. In each of the scenarios considered by the researchers, the southern part of the island would be at risk of partial flooding in 2050. Moreover, roads, other important infrastructure and cultural heritage would be damaged. Interviews with medical experts also suggest that climate change could lead to more deaths and illness, for example as a result of an increasing number of heatwaves.

Without healthy coral reefs, which act as breakwaters, the risk of flooding will increase. Only in the most optimistic scenario – a 1.4 degree rise in temperature, just under the Paris Climate Agreement target – will coral reefs still be largely intact in 2050. But in the most extreme scenario, the number of diving sites will have dropped from 86 to 13 in 30 years. “That’s because the coral’s quality will be so poor by then that divers will stay away from many current diving spots. As a result, there will be less diving tourism, which will likely have an enormous impact on Bonaire’s economy", says VU environmental economist and IVM director Pieter van Beukering, who led the study. There is currently no reason to assume that the coral reefs’ decline will be halted by 2050.

Climate policy
Besides reducing global emissions, adaptation measures are also needed to absorb the impact of climate change. Van Beukering: “Our report doesn’t outline the best ways to protect Bonaire from climate change, but it’s clear that action is needed – urgently.” Follow-up research is needed to assess which measures must be taken.

Multidisciplinary study
The researchers have been working on this multidisciplinary study on the impact of climate change on Bonaire since March 2022. Examining multiple effects climate change will have on the island, the study is the first of its kind for Bonaire. The research was funded by Greenpeace and conducted in collaboration with Wolfs Company, a consultancy firm.