With goal of becoming world’s first climate resilient country, Dominica inspires cities to better prepare for extreme weather conditions

Three years ago, the Caribbean island of Dominica was battered by Hurricane Maria’s winds of up to 250 km. Now, the island nation has announced plans to become the world’s first climate resilient country by 2030. 

In the wake of that announcement, Dominica spokesperson Francine Baron took time to expand on the drive behind her country’s ambitious goal at Daring Cities 2020. “The cost of no concerted action to climate change (by Dominica) would be the loss of 77 percent of our GDP by 2100,” observed Baron, Dominica’s interim CEO of the Climate Resilience Execution Agency of Dominica (CREAD). “So there’s no alternative for us other than to become the world’s first climate resilient country.”

Since the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which damaged or destroyed the roofs of an estimated 90 percent of buildings, Baron said the country (with a population of just over 70,000) has rehabilitated 7,000 homes or the equivalent of one quarter of all residences. As a part of the new resilience plan, efforts are underway to ensure that by 2030, 100 percent of all primary roads and bridges can be reopened and fully functional within a week of any future extreme weather event. 

But far from focusing on just bricks and mortar, Baron said Dominica is taking a more holistic approach, whereby “we look at not only the resilience of our physical infrastructure, but also economic diversification and sustainability,” with the ultimate goal of “empowering our people and building strong communities.”

Wide ranging efforts include the building of more climate resilient homes – financed in part by a unique Economic Diversification Fund, but also: the ongoing construction of a geothermal plant as part of efforts to significantly reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and by actively promoting the country’s ecotourism sector. This emphasis on holistic resilience is a key pillar of ICLEI’s climate neutrality framework which was also presented at the session and emphasizes the critical importance of integrated climate action.

Dominica won the praise of the other participants in the session, including Daniel Zarilli, New York City’s chief climate policy advisor. “I’d just like to congratulate Dominica for showing strong leadership in the face of climate disaster, something we’re just seeing more and more of here in the United States. The West is on fire, we’ve seen a record breaking hurricane season in the gulf and Atlantic basin and of course this is happening all over the world… pointing to the fact that we are facing a climate crisis, and we need to confront this crisis.”

Referencing his city’s own climate resilience plan that was launched in 2019, Zarilli said that similar to Dominica, New York’s goal is to use investment in clean energy and resilient infrastructure as a catalyst to create jobs, accelerate economic recovery and promote environmental justice for all. 

In speaking about her own city’s ambitious goal of becoming one of the world’s first carbon neutral cities by 2029, Minna Arve, Mayor of Turku, Finland spoke about some of the key initiatives they’ve embarked upon, from changing previous business models driven by unabated resource extraction, to reusing waste from industrial streams, to transforming textile use into new raw material sources. The city has also built a wastewater treatment plant that extracts thermal energy from sludge to heat 15,000 households. 

Beyond investments in clean energy and infrastructure, Arve said it’s critical to adopt a radical shift in mindset with respect to resource management. “To reach (Turku’s) ambitious goals, we need to have a circular economic transition that includes everyone in the city,”said Arve. “The way we currently make and use products and how we produce food generates almost half of emissions in our economic system. So changes in consumption and  lifestyle patterns are also crucial,” she added.

However, Susan Aitken, Mayor of the City of Glasgow – which is the host city of COP26 in 2021 – said that just as it’s not fair to expect countries like Dominica “who are bearing the burden of loss and damage” to do most of the work, it’s also “not fair to expect the poorest citizens to make those (lifestyle and consumption) changes. We have to listen to them and make sure the changes we make [can deliver] affordable heat, better air quality and transition to a green economy [that leads to] fair, decent well-paying low carbon jobs in the future.”

Concurring with Aitken’s observations, Chilean climate action champion Gonzalo Muñoz said that in coping with COVID-19 the world now knows that it must “first put science at the center” of solutions… but that yet another lesson learned is we need to be more caring. “We’ve learned from COVID-19 how much our actions are not only about myself and my surroundings but (in support of) people whose regions I might never visit, might never get to know,” he said. Accordingly, we need to “connect to those people and start empathizing with them.”

Watch this Daring Cities session, entitled “TEDxDaringCities: Daring to Go Neutral”. TEDxDaringCities is a part of the global Countdown initiative designed to accelerate solutions to the climate crisis and supported by partners including ICLEI.