Ann Gordon is the National Coordinator in the National Climate Change Office in the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development in Belize.
The interview was conducted by Timo Baur from the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).
Timo Baur: Could you describe in a few sentences what your job entails, what you do on a day-to-day basis and the type of decision you take where climate relevant information is important?
Ann Gordon: As Coordinator, I lead the coordination of the national response to climate change for the government of Belize. I am also the project director for the national climate change projects executed by the National Climate Change Office, where I provide leadership, technical advice and support to the government of Belize in climate change matters. I also represent the government and participate in regional and international climate change negotiations and fora.
TB: What type of climate relevant information do you use?
AG: Most of the climate information used pertains to climate change policies, climate risk and vulnerability assessments as well as sector-specific mitigation and adaptation plans. We use regional climate change scenarios to develop and assess the vulnerabilities and impacts of climate change on the economic sectors of Belize such as: water resources, coastal zone management, agriculture, fisheries, tourism and health sectors. The information obtained is used for long term adaptation planning and decision making. It was also used to inform our national climate change policy, strategy and action plan, as well as the national adaptation strategy and action plan for the agriculture sector. The National Climate Change Office also provided climate information, both from the regional perspective and on the national scale to inform the climate resilient investment plan for Belize.
TB: Are you the direct user of the information, or do you primarily inform someone else who has a decision to take? If so, who are you informing?
AG: I am not the direct user. What we do with the climate information is that the results of the assessments as well as the adaptation interventions received are used to inform our National Climate change policy, the strategy and action plan which was then submitted to cabinet for endorsement. Then that is distributed among the chief executive officers in the relevant ministries and those in the cabinet. The idea for us is to use climate science and services in long term adaptation decision making. This is to give the CEO`s of all the ministries strategic directions in the long term planning for all those sectors as it relates to climate change. The climate change policy, strategy and action plan has interventions for each of those sectors. It was adopted and mandated by cabinet on the 17th of March 2015 for the ministries to use that document to incorporate climate change considerations into their plans. Because of the interlinkages between fisheries, tourism and coastal zone management we have started to do a specific consultancy for these sectors to mainstream and integrate climate change considerations into the management plans of those three sectors. But we are still informing the other sectors as well. When we implement the policy, the national climate change office will facilitate and oversee the mainstreaming process of all the sectors.
TB: What is the timeframe for those decisions? How much notice do you normally have to prepare the decisions?
AG: Well it all depends on the issue at hand. Sometimes it is immediate, while at other times it may go on to weeks and months. When it comes to the immediate timeframe, it is mainly because there is some immediate developmental need. And in that case I don’t think that climate change issues are being considered in those immediate development needs. When it comes to consultancies, our office provides them with information and the sources of information. It takes a longer time to get climate information to them. Sometimes it is because of data sharing protocols, some organizations are not willing to share information and so we sometimes have to intervene by explaining to them the purpose of the climate information and why we need it.
Preparing the climate change policy took almost a year and more, from the consultation up to the end product. We held stakeholder consultations in three different regions of the country; we also spoke to communities and sector representatives. We conducted two national consultations and three regional consultations. Recommendations were made and the consultants used the inputs to incorporate it in the document.
This policy is a national document approved by Cabinet. We prepared a cabinet paper outlining the purpose of the policy, we provided an overview on what it contains and gave recommendations for them to endorse the policy and request the rest of the ministries to use the policy as part of their planning and to incorporate the outcomes as part of their planning process. Based on the cabinet paper, normally the cabinet members have one week to inform themselves before they make a decision. Following up on this decision, some ministries and departments have already requested the document so they can integrate it in their planning which will happen on a longer time frame.
TB: Within that timeframe, how much time would you typically have to read/research/take on new knowledge?
A few hours if I am familiar with the topic. If not it takes days and weeks to research and assimilate the information.
TB: Where do you get your knowledge and information on climate issues from? Who are your trusted knowledge providers)?
AG: Primarily from sources such as CCCCC, UNFCCC website, National Meteorological Service. Also Colleagues. I find I could call most of the people at CCCCC if I need a professional advice. When it comes to sharing the knowledge, we share on activities we have participated in, we work on projects together and we would also ask the CCCCC to do a consultancy for us because they have the expertise on particular climate change issues. We have a lot of partnership with the CCCCC when it comes to the experience and knowledge. We partner when it comes to greenhouse gas inventories, climate change clubs in schools and other education on climate change. We also work with UNDP and UNEP. They provide for us technical support and needs assessments, under the CDM and other initiatives.
We also complement national projects with regional ones, which also provide information and technical expertise and training for national counterparts.
TB: What is the relationship with them like? How were those relationships established?
AG: We are members of CARICOM and CCCCC is coordinating the regional response. The Centre is also based in Belize so we have easy access. We also have a very good relationship with the National Meteorological Service. I was working with them for almost 35 years.
TB: What do you understand by the term ‘climate knowledge broker’? Would you describe any of the providers mentioned earlier a climate knowledge broker?
AG: From my view, climate knowledge brokers are those organizations or persons that bridge or provide linkage to climate knowledge and information producers and climate knowledge and information users. And I think CCCCC is one of the climate knowledge brokers through their online services that they provide through the regional clearinghouse online service as well as through the climate change blog. The blog gives information on what is happening regionally and internationally. The UNFCCC also provides policy driven information as well as information at the global level from science to policy. They also have a science section as well on their website. The National Meteorological Service is more a producer. I see farmers as users. I don’t think I can find many climate knowledge brokers in Belize.
TB: What is the best format for knowledge to be presented to make it easy for you to take on board?
AG: Specifically I like the reports and publications most. All of the above (websites, presentations, briefings, fact sheets, infographics, videos) are good, but I love to read and reports are very useful and easy to access in pdf or word format.
Then, regarding knowledge to be shared to others, I think there is a gap where climate change information is not being passed down from policy makers and decision makers nor from the climate scientists. It is not being passed on to the local communities when it comes to communicating climate change information and I think personally we need to do more especially if we want to build a climate resilient society. They need to be informed. We could get the farmers involved by using traditional climate as well as management responses along with the climate projections or information for broader participation…. that would probably focus more on their development needs. Maybe get the farmers involved because they have more knowledge and traditional ways on how they respond. That is one way how I think by face to face interaction. You need to get out there and have face to face interactions with some of them.
They don’t have access to computers so the online is out. They would listen to the radio (they had an agriculture programme for farmers when I was growing up) or newspaper or cell phone but there are different ways of getting to them. The rural areas are listening to radio a lot, maybe more than TV. In some areas they don’t have electricity, especially in the remote ones. But they would have batteries and radios. I haven’t given much thought to that yet but they will not be able to access information online. We may need some broker to give them information. We have extension officers at the ministry of agriculture that could go to some of the local farmers and provide them with information.
TB: What is your biggest concern when it comes to finding climate relevant information? Are there any gaps in the available information or knowledge which you would like to see filled? Are there limitations to the way knowledge is currently provided or problems in the way that providers work?
AG: In a nutshell, the lack of knowledge of the local situation when it comes to using international consultants. Also looking at the local needs because each stakeholder has different needs and we need to understand this and tailor information to their needs. We also need high resolution and detailed information on climate change and variability to address communication gaps, especially to local farmers and fishermen. So those are to consider. Language is important as well. Maybe translating this information into local languages like Spanish and Maya.
We need condensed key messages that we can give to them and that could be translated into the local language, but we need to identify what their needs are first. Probably we know the needs but how to give them this information in bites that they could use in practice, e.g. what can they do to prepare for the dry season. What can they do in flood situations, can we promote something like insurance etc.?
TB: How important is knowledge from climate science in your decision-making?
AG: Very important. Informed decisions based on evidence is important. It is important for the design and support of long term adaptation and decision making and it can also be used to making informed decisions on future investments especially when you have limited resources. You can use it to climate-proof your investments. Without it, this could lead to maladaptation.
TB: How do you weigh up knowledge from more than one source to create actionable knowledge on your side?
AG: I am looking for availability, reliability and authenticity, and so the source is very important. Institutions such as the National Meteorological Service and UNFCCC are considered to be reliable and are held in high regard. Met Service being a major custodian and provider of climate information would give the user information on the national scale. I believe therefore it is very important that the Met Services are provided with the necessary financial resources for climate related activities, for example when budgets are being cut, the met stations are closed first. This leads to gaps in the information which we need to assess the climate from the past and the vulnerabilities.
TB: What other factors do you have to take into account? How do you prioritise them?
AG: I take into consideration political factors as well, first of all we want to develop a culture of providing evidence or inform policies to produce this transformational change we are talking about to mitigate climate change, as well as to integrate climate change considerations into our budgeting, into our development plan, it needs to start with those policies up there.
TB: Can you give any specific examples where a climate knowledge broker has influenced your decision(s)?
AG: I can recall that we had a project in the water sector under the mainstreaming adaptation to climate change project in 2007. That led to the development of the Belize water adaptation strategy and action plan. Later the water resources act was passed in 2010 and recommendations were made for the establishment of a national integrated water resource authority. I was a part of the team that looked at climate change issues facing the sector and adaptation under that project. It was a CCCCC project, which I think was the climate knowledge broker. That is a classic example. Because at that time the Government was developing a policy for the water sector, we used the opportunity to mainstream adaptation into the water sector. The CCCCC knew about what we were doing and through the project we partnered to include climate change considerations into that policy. They were the knowledge broker at that time that influenced the decision to mainstream adaptation into the water sector. Without that intervention, at that time, adaptation would not have been embedded into the water sector. This led to a water strategy and action plan and finally to the passing of the national integrated water resources act and a recommendation to establish an integrated water resources authority.
TB: Do you have any other comments on issues relevant to our discussion?
AG: Like I said I think we have a communication gap between decision makers, vulnerable communities, development practitioners and climate scientists. I believe we need more coordinated and collaborative strategies that could help narrow this gap so we could deliver services that will support adaptation.
We also need to enhance research between the social and natural sciences so we could understand and better communicate projected climate impacts on our water resources, wetlands and ecosystems. And even the systems that pertain to livelihood. To enable adaptation to a changing climate. This would benefit both the resource planners and the user communities, such as farmers, fisher folks, health communities. Any socio economic sectors and local communities in the villages out there. We really need projects to do that.