Introduction to Barbados

Barbados is a nation located in the eastern region of the Caribbean archipelago. Its population is 281,6351 and is about 69% rural.2 Most recent data shows that 17.2%3 of the population lives in poverty. Barbados typically consists of a tropical climate influenced heavily by a strong El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which historically has played a large role in extreme weather events across the region.4 As of 2017, the agricultural sector contributes 1.5% of GDP and 10% of the labor force, industry accounts for 9.8% of GDP and 15% of the labor force, and the services sector makes up 88.7% of GDP and 75% of the labor force.5 The services sector of the economy consists largely of tourism, business and general services, Government services, and wholesale and retail.6 Narrowing in on tourism, taking into account indirect effects, its estimated travel and tourism contributed 40.6%7 of Barbados’s GDP in 2017 and is responsible for 37% of jobs in the labor force.8 Barbados also has a high debt amount with a general gross government debt of 107.5% of its GDP.9 As a result of Barbados’s position as an island nation, climatology, heavy reliance on the tourism industry, and high debt, the country is particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis.
Mapping Major Climate Events and Climate-Induced Displacement
Barbados ranks 164 out of 191 countries in terms of overall climate vulnerability. And 107 out of 191 countries in terms of hazard and exposure in particular.10 Contributing to this vulnerability is the fact that is a small-island nation with a high population density of around 660 persons per km2, and because 25%11 of its population lives in coastal regions.5 In terms of climate displacement, recent storms such as hurricane Dorian, in 2019, noted 102 internal displacements within the country of Barbados as a result. In 2021, hurricane Elsa led to 533 households displaced and needing alternative accommodations.12 Within the Caribbean, the 2017 hurricane season led to back to back hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that displaced 3 million individuals in the region all in one month.13 Moreover, between 2008 to 2017, climate-related disasters have resulted in 6.5 million internal displacement of people within the Caribbean, a number starkly high given its smaller population relative to its Central and South American neighbors.14 In general, the Caribbean continues to remain one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. This is vividly apparent as two-thirds of 511 disasters that have affected small nations since 1950 have taken place within the Caribbean and have led to the death of over 250,000 people.15

Mapping the Costs of the Climate Crisis

The GDP of Barbados is $5.7 billion USD.16 Its tourism industry remains the most important economic sectors as well as one of the sectors most vulnerable to the climate crisis..  This is due to the potential impacts of loss of tourism arrivals, coral reef loss, and sea level rise.  For example, 90% of all hotels in Barbados are located in coastal areas on or near beaches, rendering a key part of the tourism industry especially vulnerable.  It is estimated that by 2050, under the A2 scenario, Barbados could see a loss of $7.648 billion USD by 2050 within the industry, accounting for 193% of its GDP (based of 2010 GDP).17 Other structures are also at risk of damage due to the climate crisis.  For example Hurricane Tomas in 2010 led to the Government of Barbados allocating $37 million USD to repair more than 1,000 homes destroyed in the hurricane as well as shelter those displaced.18 More recently, Hurricane Elsa in 2021 damaged 2,372 structures.19 In total, due to the effects of such natural disasters, damage to the tourism industry, and infrastructure destruction, Barbados could see a GDP loss of 13.9% of GDP by 2050 or 27.7% of GDP by 2100 annually (based on 2004 GDP) if action is not taken.20

Mapping Resilience and Mitigation Pathways

At the moment, Barbados has only contributed 0.01% to global emissions, but has made significant commitments to reduce its emissions by 35% unconditionally relative to the Business As Usual scenario (BAU) and a 70% reduction conditional on international support.7 Also conditional on international support, Barbados has taken steps to commit to a 95% renewable energy network within the electricity grid, 100% electric or alternatively-fueled vehicles in the vehicle fleet, strategies to increase energy efficiency by 20% across all sectors relative to BAU, a 29% reduction in fuel consumption, and a 20% decrease in waste emissions by 2030.21
Barbados will also strengthen resilience by fortifying low- and middle-income homes, improving water storage and efficiency, deploying renewable energy, reducing land-based marine pollution, enhancing climate resilience in critical infrastructure, and restoring vulnerable coral reefs, particularly along the west and south coasts. Barbados has also taken steps to implement a new Water Protection and Land Use Policy that will make steps to safeguard integral groundwater aquifer infrastructure, protect its important coral reef network, support mangrove and seagrass bed sustainability, etc. This is important as Barbados’s ranks in the top 10 most water-scarce countries in the world with most of its water resources being dependent on groundwater in aquifer systems. Its new Water Reuse Policy will work to allow reclaimed water to be used in irrigation and groundwater recharge projects.21

Necessary Changes

Barbados has taken steps to reduce its emissions, improve upon its electricity grid, protect its vulnerable communities, and implement strategies to protect water resources. However, many of its climate adaptation and mitigation goals are conditional to international support and Barbados remains cash-strapped, especially due to its high debt. In 2017, Barbados had the 3rd biggest debt per capita relative to any other country in the world and was spending 55% of its GDP each year to pay back foreign banks and investors and only 5% on environmental and healthcare programs.15 This necessitates action from the international community to provide monetary support as well as debt alleviation to support Barbados while it works towards a just and equitable transition. International support becomes even more important as it is estimated that through the most rigorous low-carbon transition scenario of net-zero emissions, taking into account spillover effects, Barbados could experience a potential GDP reduction of 37.6% by 2050 as a result of global economic shocks to the tourism industry. This is relative to the business-as-usual scenario and highlights the potential burden that a global transition can have on economies, such as Barbados, extremely reliant on tourism.8 This places pressure nationally on Barbados to further diversify its economy and alleviate its reliance on the tourism sector in order to reduce its potential economic losses to global economic shocks. In general, with adequate international support and a just transition involving a democratic economy, Barbados can make more progress in its efforts of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.