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Battling climate change threats in Belize

 

Nadia Bood’s laugh is infectious – and she laughs a lot. A very important character trait, I think, considering the sometimes overwhelmingly depressing topic of her work. She’s helping tackle the impacts of climate change in Belize, Central America.

Marianne Fish (left) and Nadia Bood (right)Marianne Fish (left) and Nadia Bood (right) © Marianne Fish

I was in Belize in the second half of June 2012 to help evaluate WWF-Belize’s Coastal Climate Change Adaptation Programme – work which Nadia has pretty much single-handedly driven since 2006.

She’s aiming to help the area around the huge Mesoamerican reef – including its wildlife and its people – to adapt to the changes being caused by global warming.

That means helping making sure they’re less vulnerable and more resilient to the serious threats they face.

The Mesoamerican coral reef is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, extending about 1,000 kilometres along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

So not a small task for Nadia, you might think. And you’d be right.

Coral reef and an islandPart of the Mesoamerican reef in Belize, which is of crucial importance to both the wildlife and the people of Belize. © Anthony B. Rath / WWF-Canon

During our first few days in Belize City we attended a presentation called the ‘State of the Region’, which confirmed our fears that Central America is predicted to be one of the parts of the world most impacted by climate change. That’s despite contributing less than 1% to the greenhouse gas emissions that have been causing this global problem.

We were told that even the most conservative climate models suggest that 60% of Belize will be impacted by climate change – and that’s not including the country’s marine territory, which is critical to Belize’s economy.

The World Resources Institute estimates that coral reef and mangroves contribute an estimated 12-15% to Belize’s gross domestic product through tourism, and provide US$231-347 million worth of coastal protection from erosion and storm surges each year.

Well worth protecting them then, right? The people of Belize generally think so, and they demonstrated this earlier in the year when 96% of the country voted in a people’s referendum against oil and gas exploration in Belize waters.

But unfortunately it isn’t that simple. With a big threat like oil and gas exploration it’s easy to see what the negative impacts might be on the environment and livelihoods. But it may not be obvious to local fisherman that they may be contributing to overfishing by using indiscriminate gill nets, or to local developers who may unwittingly be increasing their vulnerability to storm surges by clearing coastal mangrove forests to improve the sea view.

And some may even understand the risks, but choose to ignore them. We spoke with one climate change advocate in Belmopan, Belize’s capital, and he suggested that rather than building resilience against climate change, as the government knows it needs to, instead in many cases it’s “building vulnerability” by focusing on delivering immediate economic gains to ensure electoral votes.

Nadia on a speedboatThe climate change challenges facing Nadia are many - as they are for everyone. © Marianne Fish

So, Nadia has her work cut out. But she isn’t facing this alone. She may be the only person working on climate change adaptation at WWF-Belize, but she’s enlisted a whole army of local support in the form of government officials, NGOs, community groups, biologists and developers – all working in partnership with Nadia towards the same mission.

And using WWF-UK’s financial support over the last seven years, Nadia has developed a holistic climate change adaptation programme to deliver this mission through scientific research and monitoring, field implementation of climate change adaptation pilots, and policy and planning.

After the State of the Region presentation I felt a bit deflated. The presenters had given us all the depressing facts about the impacts we could expect from climate change, and explained that their research suggests there’s little adaptation work taking place in Central America.

Nadia noticed I was looking down. I explained that sometimes the challenge just looks too difficult to overcome. “But we have to try” she said brightly. And trying she is.

When the presenters were asked what countries should be doing to address climate change threats, the principal response was to encourage interactions between institutions and policy-makers. That’s essentially exactly what Nadia is aiming to do in Belize through her partnerships.

In my next blog post I’ll cover how Nadia showed me around Belize’s vital climate change heroes – the vulnerable mangrove forests.

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