Why it is Important for Belize to Strengthen its Response

There is no denying that our climate is changing. The primary reason is because humans have increased the burning of oil, coal and gas to produce energy for our homes, businesses, industries and other needs. As a result of burning these fuels, we have producing high levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide which are released into the atmosphere. These excess gases trap too much heat making the earth warmer – which has led to what we call global warming. Over time, the increase in temperature on land and sea has given rise to climate change. Climate change has a number of consequences and one of the effects is the rise in sea level. This brings about many climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, as well as economic growth. In 2018, a NASA report shows that if global sea level rise continues to accelerate incrementally over time, sea level will rise twenty-six inches by the year 2100 — and scientists say that this is enough to cause significant problems for coastal territories. Reporter Andrea Polanco tells us more about how Belize is strengthening its response to climate change through a training workshop.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

One of the impacts of climate change is sea level rise. This is the gradual rise in the level of the surface of the sea with respect to the land. This is associated with two phenomena. Thermal expansion- where as the ocean water gets warmer it expands and contributes to rising levels. And then there is the ice sheet and glacier melt – which is when the warmer temperatures are causing the melting of glaciers and polar ice releasing more water into the oceans. And so as the earth continues to warm – it is expected that sea level will continue to rise – affecting everyone on earth. But the most vulnerable are small island developing states – including Caribbean countries like Belize.

Ahnivar Peralta, Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre

“In Belize, we have a lot of coastal communities in our country. For example, in the north we have Corozal Town which is a bay. We have Belize City where the sea is in front of us and the city is below sea level. Then further down south we have Dangriga, Hopkins, Placencia, Monkey River which are being affected by sea level rise and other coastal related processes due to climate change.”

One of the most visible signs of sea level rise is erosion. In southern Belize, from Dangriga, to Hopkins to Monkey River – chunks of land are being washed away. As the rising seas continue to swell, it means that people will be displaced; livelihoods will be destroyed as key industries like tourism and agriculture are likely to be severely impacted.  Even wetlands are at risk because higher sea level rise can bring about vegetation changes and distress spawning fish stocks which grow in wetland areas. Fresh water sources are also likely to be affected by rising sea levels.

Johanna Pacheco, Climate Change Officer, National Climate Change Office

“Sea level rise has been on the increase. We have been seeing a lot of erosion. It has been happening in Belize and other countries. Currently there aren’t a lot of studies in the region to say what has been happening, so this capacity needs to be increased as well. We can have salt-water intrusion. That is one of the main consequences of sea level rise, especially on small islands. The fresh water can get contaminated with salt water and then it can increase cost of getting fresh water to the island.  We can have flooding in areas, storm surge, coastal inundation and lots of effects that we have been feeling so those are just some of them.”

And so now climate change experts want to find out just how much sea level rise affects Belize. But data is limited and technical officers lack the skills to do predictive models. So, this week twenty participants are attending a workshop to learn how to do assessments and use data to come up with a more accurate base-line of sea level rise risks to Belize. This will help to strengthen Belize’s response.

Ahnivar Peralta

“On our end, there is more research to be done to measure the rate of sea level rise and to see what the impacts on the communities are. This is the first step through this workshop to develop that knowledge. Right now what we have reports that are very general for the Caribbean region and the world when it comes to sea level rise. Basically, the model is a computer program where you input the sea level information and once that is entered it makes a mathematical computation and it basically generates a scenario. So, that is basically what we are trying to do here as well with the limited information that we have from the relevant stakeholders. That will give you more or less an idea. From there we can move on to perfect it. It will also give us an understanding of our data gaps and therefore we can use this as a baseline to collect better data over time and improve the collection of data so that we can generate reports that are close to what’s to be expected rather than having a lot of uncertainty.”

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

The workshop “Coastal zone, sea level and related processes” continues through to Thursday in Belize City.


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