The way the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) and CARICOM countries worked together for the Paris climate talks (COP21) at the end of 2015 was an achievement pointed out to me by several people while I was in Belize on a two week work exchange – from hostel owners to CCCCC staff.
‘For the very first time the region did justice to its power as a negotiating block,’ said Keith Nichols, CCCCC project development specialist. The region was able to consolidate its position around a set of elements common to all countries, such as being Small Island and coastal states. ‘Any impact of sea level rise is going to be devastating to those countries and their economies,’ Nichols explained.
He does point out however that COP21 was ‘not a bed of roses’: ‘An agreement is not worth the paper on which it’s written unless there is a solid action to follow it up,’ he said. ‘Countries need to commit to providing funds for loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation.’
‘Economies are weak across the world. But with small economies like ours it’s unlikely that we will ever find all the money that we need to fully adapt to the changing conditions. The only way it can be done is if there is a large influx of funds primarily geared towards helping build resilience to the impacts of climate change and vulnerability.’
Thinking about the impact of these disasters, on top of the other issues the Caribbean is grappling with brought home to me the many challenges in responding to climate change. When there is a crisis governments need to quickly reprioritise, which can mean diverting resources away from adaptation and resilience measures.
‘Food security and agriculture will become increasingly complicated with climate change,’ said Nichols. ‘Those plants that are better attuned to dry conditions will survive and those that can’t may not survive and then we have to change our selection of crops or at least find new ways of growing the existing ones. All that requires research.’
The region also faces health challenges which are compounded by climate change, including dengue fever, chikungunya and the Zika virus. ‘When I was growing up dengue was relatively unheard of, now these diseases are everywhere,’ said Nichols. ‘It makes it far more challenging for health authorities to deal with all those diseases at the same time.
The response to climate change in action
One of the highlights of my time at CCCCC was being able to see practical projects initiated by the Centre, as well as speak to local people about how climate change impacts directly on their lives.
I was taken to the village of Flowers Bank North west of Belize City. The village is famous for the residents who decided to stay and fight against the invading Spanish forces in 1797.
It is also home to a small cohune nut factory making cooking oil. The cooking oil is so popular they are struggling to keep up with demand. CCCCC have provided support to upgrade production at the factory and there are plans to go into biofuel in the future.
At the factory, which was having finishing touches put to it by a group of builders, I met Shirley and Lisa who were shelling cohune nuts by hand, ready to be pressed.
Along with two colleagues from CCCCC, I also went on a trip West of Belmopan, towards the Guatemalan border and the town of Benque. At the Mopan River, a hand-cranked ferry takes people across the water. It is a popular route with tourists visiting the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and people sell souvenirs on the river bank.
Ferry driver Elaud at work on the Belize River, Spanish Lookout, Belize. By Amy Hall.
I spoke to ferry driver Wilber who said that sometimes the flooding means they have to stop cars and buses from boarding. Last year, during the high tourist season in December, they had to stop 10 buses of tourists from a cruise ship. The company then changed the route to not go across the ferry there.
I also met 52 year-old Andrew Wagner who has been living in the Benque area for almost 20 years. He told me about the major flooding in 2008 during the TD16 [Total Depression 16] storm. ‘At that time the flooding that was here was unprecedented,’ he explained. The highway was flooded for a week.
He says that he has seen the rainfall get heavier and for longer periods: ‘I think the world is changing, the climate is changing.’
A little way back towards Belmopan I spoke to Elaud a ferry driver at Spanish Lookout, crossing the Belize River. He also said that the flooding period had become longer. Whereas it used to flood from October to November, now December is flooding too. ‘Everything has changed a lot, he said.
My experience at CCCCC has been eye opening and I feel like I have learned a lot about how the region is responding to climate change and some of the challenges. I am very grateful to everyone at CCCCC, especially Michele Lopez for making my trip so interesting and varied.
The first blog post from Amy’s trip to Belize was published here on the GOKH website.