Belize is a country blessed with the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, the second longest in the world, thousands of beautiful coral islands, and abundant mangrove, broadleaf and pine forests. Unfortunately we are not able to list our natural riches merely to extol them. Rather, it is to lament their destruction; to testify to the havoc that is being wrought on our environment and on our people by anthropogenic global warming.
As a developing country and low-lying coastal nation, Belize is among the most
vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change and is now classified as one of the top ten most affected countries. In the past 11 years, Belize has suffered devastation from six major tropical cyclones. Mitch, Keith, Iris, Chantal, Dean and Arthur, fuelled by high sea surface temperatures, destroyed our crops; battered our coral reefs; flooded our streets; washed away our bridges; ruined our tourism infrastructure and ran us out of our homes.
Those reefs, Jewels in our environmental Crown, have also been turned to skeletons by massive coral bleaching events in 1995, 1998, 2005, 2008 and 2009. Those reefs, resplendent and life-giving, internationally famous, are in too many spots now nothing more than graveyards.
In Belize then, global warming has already eroded our major economic sectors – agriculture, fisheries and tourism – and caused irreparable damage to our ecology. From the hurricanes alone, there has been loss to our small economy in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And, looking again at the numbers, it is more than 50% of our reefs that have been killed off either by damage during storms or by coral bleaching. Yet the social and economic demands of our population continue to increase. Thus, as we struggle to meet the Millennium Development Goals, we are bombarded on all sides by the destructive impacts of climate change.
Now Belize, with its low level of industrialization and low population, is one of the minutest contributors to GHG emissions. But we have been at the forefront of innovative mitigation actions. In February 1995, we were the first country to implement a fully funded forest sector project under the US Initiative on Joint Implementation. We have chartered both solar and hydroelectricity projects; and these have resulted in a drastic 50% reduction in GHG emissions by the energy sector since 1991, despite a fourfold increase in demand.
But the threat of future extinction is not held at bay by our unilateral mitigation actions. Global warming knows no boundaries and the GHG emissions from the heavily industrialized nations will continue to sink us, both figuratively and literally. We therefore must depend on those nations responsible for the highest emissions, whether developed or developing, to act urgently and decisively here in Copenhagen.
It goes without saying then, that Belize fully supports the mitigation targets advocated by AOSIS:
* Long-term stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at well below 350ppm;
* The peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2015, and their decline thereafter;
* Reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions greater than 85% below 1990 levels by 2050; and
* Annex 1 parties to the UNFCCC reducing their collective GHG emissions by more than 45% below 1990 levels by 2020, and more than 95% below 1990 levels by 2050.
To us – the most vulnerable, the most at risk – any compromise on these targets constitutes a violation of our essential human rights.
As a nation with over 65% natural forest cover, and one that has demonstrated its commitment to sustainable forest management through numerous and innovative conservation activities, Belize also recognizes the potential of REDD as an important component of an overall mitigation strategy. We emphasize, however, that participation in REDD activities cannot serve as an excuse for lessening the commitment of Annex 1countries to drastically reduce their own emissions.
While exhorting all high emitting nations to take action, we simultaneously point out that even the most ambitious cuts in GHG emissions will not be sufficient or timely enough to turn the clock back on the current impacts of climate change. The genie is out of the bottle. And nations, such as Belize, are already suffering too much.
We must avert utter social, economic and environmental catastrophes, however. And so we call upon the developed countries to provide a comprehensive financing package that would generate predictable, new and additional funding to support adaptation and mitigation actions in the developing countries.
In closing, I wish to point out that it takes no act of genius to recognize either the general global pickle we are in, or the particular plight of small island and low lying coastal states. Accordingly, the longer term avoidance of adverse climate change effects overall, but their immediate amelioration vis a vis the most vulnerable, must be the measuring stick for success at this conference.
Near the start of the second decade of the new millennium, all eyes are on Copenhagen. Let the potentates of the world not fail the test, not fail the basic cause of our common humanity.