Remarks by
Oceans Acidification Side Event
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC-COP 17)

8th December, 2011

Distinguish Delegates, Invited Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Government and people of Belize, I wish to extend a warm greeting to all those who worked diligently to make this Oceans event possible and for giving me the opportunity to share with you an exciting, innovative financial mechanism that, we hope, will provide long term, timely and predictable financing for Marine climate change adaptation initiatives in Belize. As is the case for so many of you here this evening, our oceans continue to be the lifeblood our people and our economy; it is therefore necessary for us to do all we can to curb the adverse effects of climate change. I also want to use also this occasion to highlight the impacts that ocean acidification is having and will continue to have on our marine environment, our economy and our people.

For Belize, the adverse impacts of climate change are real and they are accelerating. Belizeans are already watching our coastlines vanish, flooding and hurricane events becoming from frequent, our lands becoming more arid, our coral reefs suffering from increasing bleaching events and ocean acidification. To make matters worse, the international community seems satisfied with incremental progress and half measures as it relates to the climate change agenda. This must not and cannot continue. The Government and people of Belize cannot embrace or tolerate such a reality. Instead, we must act now...we must act decisively and we must act boldly to ensure that we make meaningful progress in the fight against the harmful impacts of climate change.

Belize is one of the few countries in the region that has articulated its National Protected Areas Policy and System Plan, which now serves as the primary tool to guide the sustainable management of our protected areas. This Plan sets forth a bold program of activities that must be accomplished for us to ensure the sustainable management of our natural resources, including making our marine environment more resilient to climate change. The GOB’s commitment to the Plan, along with participation of many stakeholders, has yield many accomplishments for which we are very proud.

Over 26% of our national lands are protected including 13 percent of our marine territory; we are one of the only countries to have legislated a national ban on bottom trawling; we have outlawed the sale and development of coastal shoals; we are one of the global leaders in increasing our no- take zones to 2% of our marine territory; we have almost 70 percent forest cover, and we lead the region in obtaining more than 50 percent of our energy from renewable resources.

While we are proud of our progress to date, our ability to do more is constrained by the lack of timely, adequate, predictable financing, particularly for climate change adaptation. The recent global recession has resulted in a reduced flow of funds to Belize; coupled with our socio- economic realities of high unemployment, poverty and high debt to GDP ratio, we are finding it almost impossible to increase our domestic investment in our protected areas. It is for this reason that we must find innovative and creative mechanisms to mobilize resources from non-traditional sources, if we are going to maintain our progress.

The Marine Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (MCCAI) is a highly innovative mechanism that has the potential to provide substantial funding for climate change adaptation, while
simultaneously improving Government’s fiscal space. This innovative Debt-for-Climate Adaptation Transaction would re-direct the financial resources that are currently used to service foreign debt towards a significant in-country investment for climate adaptation and conservation of the Belize Barrier Reef System, a World Heritage Site. Such a transaction would improve conditions for the country’s economic development through fiscal sustainability and provide national funding to address issues of sustainable management, resilience, and adaptability of our barrier reef through a Marine Conservation and Climate Adaptation Program. The transaction is similar in structure to past debt-for-nature swaps, but it would be the first of its kind to explicitly benefit marine conservation and climate adaptation efforts. Belize will be the pilot for this model, demonstrating how highly vulnerable developing countries can reverse a debt-distressed economic situation into an opportunity to avert deepening poverty while also promoting sustainable natural resource use and resilience, despite the adverse impacts of climate change.

The debt transaction would be contingent upon the possibility of purchasing a portion of existing Belize commercial debt at a discount on the secondary market. The debt would then be held by an independent trust, which would have the latitude to deploy the annual payments received from the government of Belize according to a preapproved workplan. Thus, by leveraging Belize’s national debt, this transaction turns a negative cash flow with no positive value for the people of Belize into a national asset that will generate positive returns – fiscally and environmentally – long into the future.

This Marine Conservation and Climate Adaptation Program has five main objectives, each with its own ambitious targets. The first objective seeks to expand and secure marine protected areas and replenishment no-take zones. Under this objective, Belize would be the first nation in the world to establish 15% of its territorial waters as Marine Replenishment no-take zones and have 30% of its marine territory protected. The expansion of marine protected areas and replenishment zones (e.g. spawning sites) is critical to secure ecosystem’s functionality, resilience and capacity to adapt to climate induced changes.

The second objective of the MCCAI is to provide alternative livelihoods for resources users who are affected by the increase in marine protected areas and no-take zones. The specific objectives are to a) create jobs, b) provide training, and c) provide financial resources for initial capital investment in vulnerable areas and to the affected populations.

Thirdly, the initiative seeks to improve the reef’s policy and regulatory protection regime by a) strengthening the legal framework for Marine Protected Areas, b) bolstering the institutional capacity of the governance structure, and c) developing and implementing a Coastal Zone Management Plan for improved management of the entire Belize reef system.

Fourth, the MCCAI will scale up a coral transplant project to increase the resiliency of the reef system. Resilient varieties of corals, grown in coral nurseries, will be used to repopulate the portions of the reef that has suffered high mortality from bleaching and acidification. These coral restoration activities will accelerate natural recovery and adaptation of coral populations to higher water temperatures and greater ocean acidity.

The fifth objective of this program will raise awareness of the value of marine conservation and the impacts of climate change by a) increasing the understanding of the local people of the value of marine conservation and impacts of climate change, and b) promote support/participation in the Program activities (e.g. planting/monitoring corals and enforcement of MPAs). It would also support a visitor center for marine conservation and climate science for cooperation between the Program and the global coral conservation community.

This state-of-the-art Program will ensure that the Belize Barrier Reef can withstand and adapt to increasing human use and climate change, providing crucial habitat for animals, plants and people for years to come. In addition to the natural benefits, the initiative would generate important fiscal and economic benefits for the country of Belize. The Program will directly invest in developing sustainable livelihoods and provide much-needed debt relief to the government at a time in which it is facing falling revenues due to the global economic crisis. The proposed debt transaction would provide up to US$5 million per year for marine conservation and climate adaptation activities, while also generating secondary economic benefits including job creation related to the custodianship of the barrier reef. In effect, a portion of government external debt service would be diverted to fund local spending related to the marine protected area system and climate adaptation, thereby reducing outflows of foreign currency.

This initiative, ladies and gentlemen, directly addresses the most pressing challenge facing the conservation and development communities – long term sustainable funding. The potential scale of the Initiative’s impact is dramatic. Belize would be one of the first nations to have a comprehensive plan to mitigate the impacts of climate change and adapt its coastal-marine population, and more importantly, it would also have the resources needed to actually implement that plan.

To date, we have received very strong expression of interest from a number of countries, multilaterals, and private foundations who are interested in learning more about this innovative concept. We already have a conditional pledge of $10 million by a private foundation. We have finalized our fundraising plan and will approaching all those interested in partnering with us in this exciting initiative.

In conclusion, I also want to highlight Belize’s extreme vulnerability to ocean acidification. According to scientists, ocean acidification has already resulted in an estimated 20% reduction in coral growth due to its corrosive effect to shells and skeletons of marine organisms. If we fail to make meaningful progress to reduce emissions, our oceans will continue to become more acidic and by 2030, our corals will begin to dissolve; by 2050, when the carbon dioxide level is expected to be at 550 part per million if we do nothing, our coral reefs will no longer grow. To some, this may seem like a lot of time for us to find solutions. To those of us who stand to lose our way of life, we are already running out of time. We can no longer afford to wait.

A healthy marine environment is vital to our survival as a nation. Any further increase in acidification and higher sea temperatures in our oceans will seriously undermine our development by destroying our fishing and tourism industries, increasing the food insecurity of our people, and worsening our vulnerability to adverse impacts of climate change.

Finally, I want to reiterate my appreciation to the organizers of this event. I trust that this platform will elevate the issue of ocean acidification to a global level in order for it to get the attention it so badly deserves. I look forward with much enthusiasm to continue to partner with all of you in the fight against climate change.

I thank you!