Commonwealth countries pilot new tool to gauge climate and ocean risks

The Commonwealth Secretariat and US-based Stimson Center have teamed up to pilot a new process to quickly determine climate vulnerability and risks in coastal communities.

This ‘rapid assessment protocol’, developed under the Stimson Center’s Coastal Resilience Vulnerability Index (CORVI) Project, will be trialled in the Commonwealth countries of Barbados, Kiribati and Sri Lanka.

The project partnership is in part generously supported by the United Kingdom’s Blue Planet Fund through the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA) which the Commonwealth Secretariat recently joined as a member.

It aims to support better decision making and more climate-smart investments by clearly outlining the financial, political, and ecological risks that climate change poses to a small island country or coastal city.

The Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “We are thrilled to be piloting this approach in Commonwealth countries, as it wholly aligns with the aims of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement by all 54 member countries to work together to solve global ocean challenges, such as coastal climate risk.

“This new partnership builds on the momentum achieved during discussions at the UN Climate Conference COP26 on ocean and climate action. It will allow the participating countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis to assess and tackle the urgent and long-term vulnerabilities they face, with targeted actions and investments.”

Normally, undertaking a full ocean and climate risk assessment under CORVI would take at least 18 months. However, the rapid assessment process will take place over just three months, providing countries with a first-look risk picture which could then be further elaborated through dedicated projects.

The first phase of the four-month project commenced in December 2021. The three pilot countries will engage with the methodology, receive the rapid assessment results and determine next steps to help their coastal communities advance climate-smart policies and build resilience.

All three pilot countries are leading on ocean action as champion countries under the Commonwealth Blue Charter. Barbados co-leads the action group on marine protected areas (along with Seychelles), Kiribati co-leads the action group on sustainable coastal fisheries (with Maldives), and Sri Lanka champions the action group on mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods.

Barbados steps forward as Commonwealth co-champion for marine protected areas

World Ocean Day webinar speakers
Announcement of Barbados as co-champion on marine protected areas at a high level panel event on World Ocean Day

Barbados has announced it is joining Seychelles to co-champion Commonwealth action on marine protected areas, a vital area in promoting ocean conservation and the sustainable blue economy.

The Caribbean nation joins 15 other ‘champion countries’ that have stepped forward to take the lead under the Commonwealth Blue Charter in mobilising action groups made up of like-minded member states, to tackle some of the world’s most pressing ocean challenges.

The action group on marine protected areas (MPAs), initiated by Seychelles in 2018, aims to promote good practices in the effective management of MPAs, raise awareness on the subject across all sectors of society, and exchange expertise, information and experience amongst Commonwealth countries.

Announcement made on World Ocean Day

Welcoming the announcement, made during a high level panel event to mark World Ocean Day on 8 June, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said:

“The Commonwealth covers more than a third of the world’s coastal waters, with 47 out of our 54 member countries bordering the ocean. With so many countries dependent on the ocean for food security, jobs and way of life, it is vital to set aside ocean areas in Commonwealth national jurisdictions that are legally protected and dedicated for conservation purposes. This is the key to a sustainable ocean economy, and a way to ensure that resources are not exploited destructively, but given the opportunity to flourish.”

The Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy of Barbados, Kirk Humphrey stated:

“The Government of Barbados is pleased to have this opportunity to co-lead with the Republic of Seychelles on Marine Protected Areas.

“We have made aspirational commitments of protecting 30% of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) once the necessary scientific research has been completed to ensure that while ecosystems and their services are protected or conserved, the livelihoods of stakeholders who use the ocean space are not severely impacted or compromised.”

“It is an honour to serve as co-lead in this role with Republic of Seychelles, whose leadership in this area is world renowned.”

Barbados is finalising two nearshore Marine Managed Areas that will protect a significant percentage of nearshore reef systems along the island’s west and south coasts.

As founding champion for the action group, Seychelles’ Minister of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment, Flavien Joubert, said:

“With the designation of more than 30% of our EEZ as Marine Protected Areas, our country is developing valuable knowledge on application of different Protected Areas models, innovative financing mechanism in the form of Debt for Nature Swap and financial instruments like Blue Bonds, which we would like to share with the world.

“The Action Group on Marine Protected Areas under the Commonwealth Blue Charter provides the right platform for us, in partnership with other countries, to exchange our national experience and build together the framework for more sustainable use of the ocean.”

Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups

The action group is one of ten under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, led by 16 champion countries, focusing on a range of ocean challenges, including:

  • Coral Reef Protection and Restoration (co-championed by Australia, Mauritius and Belize);
  • Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (focused on marine plastic pollution, co-championed by Vanuatu and the United Kingdom);
  • Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods (Sri Lanka);
  • Marine Protected Areas (Barbados and Seychelles); Ocean Acidification (New Zealand);
  • Ocean and Climate Change (Fiji); Ocean Observation (Canada);
  • Sustainable Aquaculture (Cyprus);
  • Sustainable Blue Economy (Antigua & Barbuda and Kenya);
  • Sustainable Coastal Fisheries (Kiribati and the Maldives).

Barbados is a member of seven of these action groups.

Sustainable aquaculture strategy to boost growth and food security

Commonwealth countries have outlined a joint plan to boost economic growth and food security through the sustainable farming of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants.

Aquaculture generates more than half of the seafood people eat across the world, and sustains some 26 million jobs. This translates to about 80 million tonnes of fish produced globally per year (up from 3 million in 1970), valued at around US$ 240 billion.

Nine countries are now joining forces to explore ways of expanding the sector within the Commonwealth. They are part of the Blue Charter action group on sustainable aquaculture, whose aim is to develop local communities, create more jobs, produce high quality food, while ensuring a healthy ocean.

To date, members include: Cyprus (as the lead or ‘champion’ country), The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Fiji, Malaysia, Mauritius, Seychelles and Trinidad and Tobago.

Following the action group’s inaugural meeting in Cyprus on 25-27 February, the Director of Fisheries and Marine Resourses, Ms Marina Argyrou said: “Aquaculture, being the fastest growing food producing industry on a global scale,  has an important role in contributing to food security, creating employment opportunities, as well as improving the welfare of local communities.

“It also has the potential to provide environmental services in the framework of fisheries re-stocking programmes, as well as restoration projects for mangroves and corals.”

Ms Argyrou referred to aquaculture as a “main pillar of blue growth”, adding that: “It is our obligation to develop it in a sustainable way so as it will be financially viable, socially acceptable and environmentally compatible.”

The Action group will assess aquaculture practices in member states, outline shared priorities for action, and establish a framework for cooperation with the European Union and other international organisations.

It is one of 10 such groups under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement by all Commonwealth leaders to cooperate actively to protect ocean health and promote good ocean governance.

These action groups are led by ‘champion’ countries have stepped forward to rally members around key ocean issues, such as marine pollution, climate change, ocean acidification and the sustainable blue economy.

Ms Argyou concluded: “Cyprus is honoured to champion the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on sustainable aquaculture. We hope this platform will spur action among like-minded countries and partners, with a focus on knowledge-sharing, cooperation, and taking a science-based approach to sustainably develop our activities.”