The WWF-lead program Smart Coasts is trying to implement “climate smart” measures to ready the Mesoamerican coasts to the effects of climate change. This blog post is just an extract from an article I wrote for Entremundos, read the full story published here.
While climate change is a global phenomenon affecting the whole world, it is not affecting all regions equally. In many instances the countries, which are the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming, are those in which climate change impacts are expected to be larger, or those where the capability to adapt to such changes is the most limited. This so-called climate injustice is particularly evident within the Mesoamerican Caribbean coast, a region which is especially vulnerable to climate-related threats such as sea level rise, increase in ocean acidification, and higher frequency of extreme weather events. Local ecosystems and the lives of millions of people are threatened by these hazards.
The main threat to the Mesoamerican Caribbean coast is the impending global sea level rise, with projections of state-of-the-art global climate models showing a likely increase of 40cm by 2050, increase that will potentially exceed 1m by 2100. This dramatic change will irremediably affect the lives of millions of people who depend on the coastal seas and lands for sustenance. At the same time, ecosystems like coral reefs and mangrove forests, which have always played a key role in protecting the coastlines, are disappearing under the combined pressure of climate change and human activities.
In this dramatic situation, the project “Smart Coasts” is working towards implementation of climate adaptation measures in protected areas along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. These sites were chosen because of the particular vulnerability of the local population towards the impacts of climate change, and because of their importance in biodiversity conservation. The main objective of Smart Coasts is the identification and the implementation of “climate-smart” adaptation measures to help local ecosystems and the population in the fight against climate change and its impacts.
Smart Coasts is a WWF project started in 2018 with the support of the International Climate Initiative of the German Ministry for the Environment, involving many NGOs working in the region. Smart Coasts originated from a decades-long focus of WWF Mesoamerica on the Mesoamerican Reef, a commitment that led to the completion of the Belize Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan. Soon “the idea of applying those tools to the whole ecoregion arose”, remembers Pilar Velasquez Jofre, Technical WWF Officer responsible in Guatemala for the Smart Coast Project. “The International Climate Initiative (IKI) launched a call that matched with our interests, and therefore a proposal was submitted.”
The idea behind the project is to combine the efforts of local institutions and experts in conservation, climate change, and adaptation measures with the output of computer models developed at the Stanford University simulating different scenarios of ecosystem-based adaptation options. By establishing a continuous dialogue with the local communities on climate adaptation measures, Smart Coasts will give the decision-makers at the local and at the national level more science-based tools to identify which strategies are best suited to be applied in the different protected areas. The project in fact concretely aims to “take the science to the communities to discuss it and analyze it with them. Such a bottom-up approach will increase the success of the chosen adaptation options”.
In the bleak scenario dominated by the dramatic impacts of climate change in the region, projects like Smart Coasts are urgently needed, if not to avoid this human-driven catastrophe, at least to adapt to its consequences.