By Kenton X. Chance

WARSAW, Poland — Belize on Wednesday told the high level segment of the global climate talks that adaptation “is now an imperative for our sustainability” and that the livelihoods of its people “are persistently threatened by floods that destroy homes, roads and bridges while leaving communities isolated.

“Recurrent droughts have affected agriculture and our electricity sectors,” Senator Lisel Alamilla, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development said, adding that during the past decade, Belize has been severely affected by six major hurricanes that left many homeless in already impoverished areas, and destroyed critical transport and energy infrastructure.

“These storms wreaked havoc in our agriculture and forest sectors resulting in millions of dollars in loss and damage,” she further told the 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 19) and the 9th Session of the Conference of Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 9).

The barrier reef in Belize is under threat from increasingly acidic seas. (Internet photo)
The barrier reef in Belize is under threat from increasingly acidic seas. (Internet photo)

Alamilla further said that as a low-lying coastal state with a fringe of islands and cays, the Central American nation is extremely vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and climate variability.

She said the country is “entrusted with” the largest barrier reef system in the Northern Hemisphere and that the reef system includes three of the four atolls in the Caribbean and over a thousand cays.

“It is estimated that the reef systems provide US$395 [million] to US$559 million in goods and services. However, this World Heritage site is being threatened by higher sea temperatures and ocean acidification caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean,” she further said.

In major new international report released last week, experts concluded that the acidity of the world’s ocean may increase by around 170 per cent by the end of the century, bringing significant economic losses.

“People who rely on the ocean’s ecosystem services — often in developing countries — are especially vulnerable,” the report by International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme said.

“Adaptation is costly for my country. Critical climate change financing is needed to move Belize towards a climate resilient and low carbon future of sustainable development,” Alamilla said at the talks, which are being held here from November 11 to 22.

“The time for action is now! We must all do our part! However, we cannot do it alone and we cannot do it without significant financing, participation and cooperation from all stakeholders,” she further stated.

Financing for loss and damage from climate change has been a major sticking point between the developed world, which is blamed for contributing most to climate change, and poorer nations, which suffer the most because of it.

Alamilla said her country sees COP19 as a vital step on the road to success to a global climate regime in 2015.

“The slogan ‘I care’, a slogan that is most appropriate for this occasion, could easily be ‘We care,’” she said.

She added that nothing exemplifies this care more than the commitment Parties made to address the issue of climate change when they ratified the Convention in 1994.

In 2009, in Copenhagen, parties agreed to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and to scale up finance, Alamilla further said, noting the subsequent agreement to conclude a universal global climate treaty by 2015.

“Mr. President, these are international, binding legal obligations,” she said, adding that the talks here must make significant progress on a number of critical and salient issues.

Activists on Wednesday demonstrate inside the climate summit venue, urging Parties to come to an agreement to combat the effects of rising temperatures. (IWN photo)
Activists on Wednesday demonstrate inside the climate summit venue, urging Parties to come to an agreement to combat the effects of rising temperatures. (IWN photo)

She spoke of the importance of science, saying that the extent that science continues to improve and to sharpen our understanding of what we have done to our climate system; it must also be a part of our solution.

“On finance, Governments need to provide clarity on scaling up the mobilisation of US$100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in both adaptation and mitigation.

“Since 2012, we have had no assurance that the much-touted Copenhagen 100 billion commitment will be fulfilled. We have instead heard excuses of why it cannot be reached.

“Shockingly, that Copenhagen commitment was not imposed upon any country! It was undertaken as a sovereign decision of those who subscribe to Copenhagen,” Alamilla further stated.

She told delegates that governments must also take steps to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change from extreme and slow-onset events.

“This is extremely important for our region, as climate change inflicts loss and damage on our economies, livelihoods, coastal infrastructure, ecosystems, food and water supplies…

“We join with AOSIS (the Alliance of Small Island States) and urge all countries to raise ambition of targets and actions in 2014, including new pledges from Governments who have not done so. We all need to close the ambition gap if we want to avoid the highest cost of adaptation,” Alamilla said.

She spoke of her country’s own contribution to reducing emission, mentioning that 95 per cent of Belize’s emissions are from the land use and forestry sectors.

“REDD+ must be a part of any workable climate change solution. We need to consider all options to limit warming to well below 2 or 1.5 degree Celsius,” Alamilla said

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.

“REDD+” goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Alamilla said that Belize’s Horizon 2030 Plan has set the framework for future development and envisions a modern, green and sustainable economy.

“Although Belize is amongst the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases, we have acted domestically and are at the forefront of confronting climate change. We were never one to make excuses.”

She said her country is one of the leaders in the region in having a 63 per cent renewable energy mix with 96 per cent of domestic energy production coming from renewable energy sources.

The government recently approved a National Energy Policy Framework that outlines Belize’s path to greater energy efficiency, sustainability and resilience over the next 30 years, Alamilla said.