Belize is a developing nation with a large tourism industry. Like many developing nations, it is heavily dependent on harvesting natural resources and tourism for its economy. Coastal regions are tourism centers but are also the most at risk from the negative impacts of climate change such as flooding and storm surges. Besides climate change, coastal zones are prime areas for development that can result in deforestation and erosion. A Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) funded research project sought to provide Belize’s policymakers with information needed to build sustainable tourism and coastal development industries. The goals of the CDKN research were to: identify the area’s most vulnerable to prioritize for climate adaptation, determine key policy instruments that either support or hinder sustainable development, and identify ways to expand the national policy for increased coastal protection. This research produced climate projections and maps colored with the most vulnerable regions that could be shared with stakeholders in business-relevant language to produce better informed decisions about coastal development. This research also informed the Belize government’s adoption of new policies to protect coastal zones. While this project was successful, it also experienced several challenges. Lessons learned include:
- Forging partnerships and identifying program champions. It was deemed important in the program to work with local communities to identify advocates, sponsors, and partners who would benefit from coastal protection or shared the same conservation goals to help champion the research findings to local and national governments.
- Emphasize the economic impact when engaging the private and tourism sectors. While many stakeholders are interested in conservation, others require information on economic benefits to support adoption of conservation practices. Programs focused on coastal protection should provide an economic case for their proposed practices. In Belize, for example, mangrove trees provide natural protection from erosion, siltation, and reef pollution. If a developer removes mangroves, they also will quickly lose a portion of their land to erosion. This is both an economic and ecological loss
- Supporting stakeholders to use climate information. The dissemination of graphics and climate scenarios was a key factor for the success of the program. The resources were presented to landowners along with personalized presentations to show the effect their choices can have on climate resilience. The CDKN program produced maps displaying the most vulnerable regions that could be distributed to developers.
- Short timeframes negatively impacted stakeholder trust in the initiative. Targeted communities need to be fully engaged in the conservation efforts. Stakeholders usually only act when they trust an authority and some of the short timeframes placed on this project did not allow for the trust-building required.
- Align efforts with local and national goals. Obtaining funding and buy-in from national governments was accomplished by aligning program goals with international commitments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity or the UN Sustainable Development Goals.