Ecosystems, Development and Climate Adaptation: Improving the base for policies, planning and management
The coastal zone of Belize constitutes over 50% of the national territory. It is home to more than half of the population and supports a wide diversity of ecosystems, including the second longest barrier reef in the world. The coastal and marine ecosystems in Belize are essential to a number of human activities that sustain household and national economies, notably activities in tourism, fisheries and agriculture.
Climatic conditions, especially maximum temperatures and rainfall intensities, as well as sea levels and sea temperatures (linked with hurricanes), have considerable impacts on the functioning of ecosystems, on economic activities and living conditions of people in the coastal zone. Not only are these climatic conditions naturally very variable, but they are also showing signs of long-term change linked to human influences. These biophysical changes are interacting with more localized socio-economic changes such as urbanization, integration into global markets and unsustainable patterns of resource use to result in damages to coastal infrastructures and mangrove ecosystems, periods of extensive flooding, declines in fish stocks, coral damage, etc.
In light of this, WWF and SEI Oxford teamed up to analyze the role of ecosystems in meeting the inter-linked challenges of climate change adaptation and development in Belize, and to investigate the governance changes required for addressing issues of environmental degradation, poverty alleviation and climate change in a more integrated way. Various qualitative methods and tools were employed to address these questions and facilitate shared learning with key stakeholders in government and civil society. Workshops included the construction of scenarios to explore different drivers of change and of a ‘governance action matrix’ to identify key areas for policy, planning, networking and resourcing innovations.
Findings from the project suggest that while there are several entities in Belize with the mandate to coordinate across sectors, they work in isolation and often lack the support of key sectoral government agencies needed to play an integrative role in the kind planning and policy development that is required to address systemic challenges such as climate change. Belize often serves as testing ground for pilot actions used in the development of regional-level strategies, from developing community disaster preparedness plans, through encouraging more sustainable shrimp farming and shoreline management practices, to fostering coral nurseries. This provides valuable opportunities to benefit from international expertise, to create public awareness and build in-country capacity for planning and policy-making, and to build credibility at the regional and international levels. The challenge lies in coordinating such pilot activities to develop a coherent approach to tackling large-scale systemic challenges such as climate change and poverty. While the current lack of a national implementing agency limits the country’s ability to access new international climate change funds, Belize has the opportunity to develop capacity in climate change as it hosts the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC).
This work was collaboratively undertaken by SEI Oxford, WWF Belize and WWF UK. As part of this study similar work also took place in Nepal and Tanzania. For the key lessons drawn from comparing the 3 country studies read this article: Key lessons about strengthening governance to adapt to climate change