Belize Environment Outlook. GEO Belize 2010

Kay, Elma and Avella, E. (2010) Belize Environment Outlook. GEO Belize 2010. Lands and Surveys Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Belmopan, Belize.

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    Belize is a Caribbean country located in Central America that has a small area and a relatively small population size compared to neighboring countries and other countries around the world. However, despite its small size, the country is rich in biodiversity and natural resources, in particular, boasting the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. But, similar to the situation in the majority of developing nations, Belize’s natural resources and environment, including its world re-known barrier reef, are under-growing pressure as the country seeks to develop in order to be competitive in the global economy. The purpose of this report was to examine the state of the country’s environment by documenting the existing pressures on the country’s environment and the responses that have been taken to either exacerbate or mitigate them. The report reflects the Government of Belize’s mandate and commitment to report on and take stock of the state of the environment in order to inform future decision–making for the sustainable management of the country’s natural resources. The first chapter takes a close look at the drivers of environmental change or the factors underlying various environmental pressures. It discusses demographic factors and highlights the fact that with a young population expected to double in the next decade, an increase in pressures to the environment is expected. The growing pressures are expected particularly with respect to resource extraction and land-use. The demographic section also highlights urban centers such as Belize City and Ambergris Caye as hotspots for environmental issues, particularly those concerning waste disposal and management. Furthermore, it also discusses the social situation of the country focusing on overall human development, poverty, employment and health and their relationship to the environment. The country’s high poverty rate in particular, is expected to continue negatively impacting the environment. As long as the poverty rates for the country remain high, the majority of the Belizeans will continue to focus on obtaining their basic needs on a daily basis rather than planning ahead for a sustainable future in which the country’s forests and seas continue to provide for the younger generations. The country’s economic base is also discussed in the chapter, including major industries such as tourism and agriculture, which directly rely on use of the country’s natural resources. A shift to better environmental practices in both of these industries as well as others is necessary in order to sustain their productivity for the long-term. The chapter ends with a discussion of education, particularly environmental education, as the pillar of change in the attitudes and behavior of people towards the environment. Although the first chapter only focuses on a detailed discussion of the already mentioned drivers of environmental change, it is noted that two other very important aspects of Belizean society influence these drivers. The first is the country’s large external debt and the pro-development decisions that are made with some environmental consideration in an effort to earn foreign exchange to service this debt. The second is the need to strengthen the country’s governance systems so that they result in more public participation and enforcement of enacted environmental policy and legislation. The second chapter of the report examines the state of the country’s environment by discussing seven environmental issues highlighted as the most important for the country by a wide group of stakeholders. These include forest loss and degradation, coastal degradation, coral reef decline, overfishing, climate change, poor waste management and loss in the quality of the country’s water resources. All of the above issues are examined in terms of their importance to the Belizean economy, the direct pressures and threats that contribute to them and the positive and negative responses directly affecting them. In terms of forest loss and degradation, the country is continuing to experience a high degree of both due to forest conversion for agriculture and legal and illegal extraction of forest resources. Although the country has made some very positive steps to mitigate this, for example, through the issuance of long-term logging licenses that are more sustainable in nature, these only cover a very small portion of the country’s forested areas and monitoring and enforcement to ensure compliance is weak. There is also still no visible solution to the problem of controlling illegal incursions into Belize’s forests for agriculture and resource extraction by non-Belizeans. In the marine area, coastal degradation continues unabated, especially in hotspots such as Placencia and the country’s offshore islands. This is mostly as a result of unsustainable development projects meant to provide infrastructure for the tourism industry. Although the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute has been re-activated, there is still a need to implement a national coastal zone management.plan. In the meantime, unsustainable coastal development pressures, inland factors such as the transport of contaminants from the agriculture industry and sediments via rivers, as well as climate change impacts are all contributing to a decline in the health of the country’s coral reefs. Coral cover in Belize’s reefs is now below the Caribbean average and recent data shows that more than half of the country’s reefs are in poor to fair condition, with a small percentage in good condition but none in very good condition. The report highlights the possibility of recovery through protection and enforcement in no-take zones but for this, a concerted management effort is needed across the country’s coastal-marine area. Related to the decline in the health of coral reefs is the issue of overfishing. As is the case worldwide, the country’s marine areas are being overfished with certain fish such as shark experiencing large decline. An increased incidence in the fishing of non-traditional species is also noted in the report as well as the passing of recent legislation banning the fishing of grazers such as parrotfish and the use of certain fishing methods. The success of the legislation, however, rests on future enforcement. Illegal fishing is identified as a major pressure exacerbating the overfishing issue. With respect to all of the above environmental issues, the report highlights that, despite the country’s record of having 22.8 percent of the national territory under protection, there is still a lot of commitment needed from the Central Government in terms of support to the agencies, such as the Forest Department and Department of the Environment. These agencies are directly responsible for regulatory work to ensure improvement in the management of the countries natural resources and environmental issues discussed in the report yet they are all understaffed and in many instances lack the necessary capacity to appropriately enforce the country’s environmental laws. Another large gap hindering the improvement of the environmental issues discussed in the report is the lack of an institutionalized national environmental monitoring program. Most of the data gathered to inform on the state of the environment for this report has been gathered from individual private organizations and researchers and often reflects stand alone efforts. A national environmental monitoring program would allow for the consistent and accurate gathering of data on specific indicators related to the environmental factors discussed in the report. This would in turn allow for consistent and easy periodic reporting by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment on the state of the environment. The third chapter of the report focuses on an overview of responses that are related to the environmental issues discussed in chapter 2 and which are of a cross-sectoral nature. In particular, this chapter looks at several of the main international conventions and agreements that Belize is a signatory to and tracks the country’s progress in the implementation of these agreements. The agreements discussed include the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution for Ships known as MARPOL and the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), among others. It is noted that in many instances the country still lacks the capacity to implement these international conventions and agreements and that better coordination among the various focal points and implementation activities for these conventions is needed. The chapter also addresses one key local response that is relevant to all environmental issues addressed in the report: the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and its Subsidiary Act & Amendments. Although there have been many improvements in the EPA over the past few years, the lack of personnel and capacity at the Department of Environment remains a challenge for enforcement of this key piece of legislation. The report concludes with a chapter that outlines several options for action focusing on four key areas, namely: good governance, institutional strengthening, capacity-building, and education and public awareness. Each major action recommended is further subdivided into more concrete and targeted actions or recommendations, which can be pursued by the Government of Belize, as well as non-governmental agencies, in order to ameliorate and improve the environmental issues that the country is facing today. Key recommendations include the development of sustained communication linkages amongst Ministries responsible for the management and use of the country’s natural resources, further revision of the EIA regulations, implementation of a Coastal Zone Management Plan, reform of the Protected Areas Conservation Trust as the national funding agency for protected areas management, capacity-building within regulatory agencies responsible for the management and oversight of the country’s resources, developing environmental indicators and coordinating data collection of these in order to strengthen the country’s capacity to report on the state on Belize’s environment and encouraging public participation in decisions being made for the country that affect or impact the environment.

    Item Type: Book
    Related URLs:
      Publisher: Lands and Surveys Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
      Keywords: environmental outlook, environmental assessment, GEO, sustainability
      Subjects: (F) People and the Environment > (FA) Environmental Health
      (F) People and the Environment > (FB) Resource Use
      (G) Pollution > (GB) Waste > (GBC) Solid
      (I) Socio-Economic Information > (IA) Economic Impacts
      (I) Socio-Economic Information > (IB) Economic Valuation
      (Z) Other or Unspecified
      Publication Sources: (3) Other Source > (3A) Government Departments
      Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2011 14:28
      Last Modified: 16 Sep 2013 10:12

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