After much of northern Cuba was devastated by Hurricane Irma in September, new urgency has been given to a plan called Tarea Vida, or Project Life, which was adopted last spring by Cuba’s Council of Ministers. Science magazine reports:

A decade in the making, the program bans construction of new homes in threatened coastal areas, mandates relocating people from communities doomed by rising sea levels, calls for an overhaul of the country’s agricultural system to shift crop production away from saltwater-contaminated areas, and spells out the need to shore up coastal defenses, including by restoring degraded habitat. “The overarching idea,” says [Dalia] Salabarría Fernández [a Cuban marine biologist], “is to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities.”

David E. Guggenheim, a marine scientist and president of the Ocean Doctor nonprofit in Washington, D.C., told the magazine, “It’s impressive. Cuba is an unusual country in that they actually respect their scientists, and their climate change policy is science driven.”

The Cuban government plans to spend at least $40 million on the project this year and will submit a $100 million proposal to a United Nations financing mechanism for climate-related projects. Donations have also come in from other governments.

Science magazine continues:

Rising sea levels pose the most daunting challenge for Cuba. Over the past half-century, CITMA [the Cuban science ministry] says, average sea levels have risen some 7 centimeters, wiping out low-lying beaches and threatening marsh vegetation, especially along Cuba’s southern midsection. The coastal erosion is “already much worse than anyone expected,” Salabarría Fernández says. Storms drive the rising seas farther inland, contaminating coastal aquifers and croplands.

Still worse is in store, even in conservative scenarios of sea-level rise, which forecast an 85-centimeter increase by 2100. According to the latest CITMA forecast, seawater incursion will contaminate nearly 24,000 square kilometers of land this century. About 20% of that land could become submerged. “That means several percent of Cuban land will be underwater,” says Armando Rodríguez Batista, director of science, technology, and innovation at CITMA.

Salabarría Fernández says that Project Life aims to restore Cuba’s mangrove forest cover, as “they are the first line of defense for coastal communities. But so many mangroves are dying now.”

Project Life also aims to restore coral reefs that have been exposed to industrial effluents and to implement better coastal engineering for tourist-heavy beaches. The project also controversially plans to relocate the residents of some low-lying villages, which Salabarría Fernández says will disappear as waters continue to rise. Social scientists are working with those villages to educate residents on the effects of climate change. Batista said, “Irma has helped us with public awareness. People understand that climate change is happening now.”

Cuba’s approach to communication with the public on climate change is in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s, which recently removed mentions of climate change, renewable energy and similar topics from Environmental Protection Agency, Interior Department and Energy Department websites.

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