Central America.

Cuban coastal resilience project wins UN backing

By Anders Lorenzen

The very controversial UN’s Green Climate Fund (GCF), set up in the wake of the 2009 COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen, is finally coming to fruition with a long list of new projects. One of the latest to be approved by GCF and receive critical funding is a coastal resilience project along Cuba’s southern coastline which has received funding worth $23.9 from the UN body. 

GCF will provide financing for the project during its first eight years. GCF will add to the $20.3 million which is to be provided by the Government of Cuba for the implementation of an ecosystem-based adaptation approach for coastal protection. The ‘Mi Costa’ project is slated to last for thirty years, with the objective of enhancing climate resilience for over 440,00 Cubans as well as protecting vulnerable coastal habitats.

The project

The project is set to restore over 11,000 hectares of mangroves, 3,000 hectares of swamp forest and 900 hectares of swamp. This in return will improve the health of over 9,000 hectares of seagrass beds and approximately 134 kilometres of coral and reef crests, and provide essential protection from rising seas and storm surges. The integrated ecosystem-based approach of the project will allow for coastal ecosystems to act as a layer of protective barriers to climate change impact in the form of coastal erosion and flooding, while at the same time managing saline intrusion.

The project is extremely urgent. Projections indicate that if no intervention is made by the end of this century, up to 21 coastal communities will disappear entirely in the island nation, with an additional 98 communities severely affected by climate-related threats. 

In addition, hurricanes have extensively damaged infrastructure across the island. Hurricane Matthew struck Cuba in October 2016. It caused over $97 million in damage which translates to 2.6 per cent of GDP. Hurricane Ike which struck in 2008 and Sandy in 2012 cost respectively $293 million and 12,05 per cent of GDP, and $278 million and 9.53 per cent of GDP.

Protecting Cuba’s coastline

The project is to be delivered by the Environment Agency of the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA) with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) giving additional support.  Stakeholders are arguing that this project will accelerate the Cuban Government’s contribution to the Paris Agreement. It enhances the ecosystem-based adaptation approach covering 1,300 kilometres of coastline across 24 municipalities. In addition, it will create a basis of support for the implementation of the “State Plan to Manage Climate Change ‘Tarea Vida’ (Life Task)”.

Restoring natural habitats

Dr Odalys Goicochea, Director, General Environment Directorate of CITMA said about the project: “Impacts from these climate drivers pose an existential threat to coastal settlements and communities. With funding from the GCF and support from UNDP, this new project will provide valuable inputs to the Government’s work under Tarea Vida”. 

Dr Maritza García, President of the Environment Agency explained why this project is important “By taking cost-effective ecosystem-based approaches, this innovative project will protect and restore natural habitats, reefs, seagrasses and mangroves. It will help communities to protect their environment from the present and future risks posed by these severe tropical storms and hurricanes, sea-level rise and other climate change-related risks. A key aspect of the project will be its focus on working with communities and local authorities to fully understand the value of ecosystems to their own resilience and livelihoods.” 

Maribel Gutiérrez, the UNDP Cuba Resident Representative added: “The interventions on ecosystems and the participation of communities will be reflected in the benefits to more than 1.3 million inhabitants. ‘Mi Costa’ will be a critical contribution to Cuba’s efforts in achieving the Sustainable Developments Goals set in the 2030 Agenda. It builds on the impacts of a highly successful coastal resilience project financed by the Adaptation Fund and implemented also with the support of UNDP and Environment Agency”.

The island nation of Cuba is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and consequent coastal erosion, flooding, saline intrusion, drought and sea-level rise. The people and organisations behind the ‘Mi Costa’ project believe it will help to enhance adaptive capacity for vulnerable southern coastal communities by rehabilitating coastal land and seascapes as part of the project’s long-term approach to manage climate change.

There has been strong criticism of the GCF for failing to live up to its early commitments to provide finance to communities at the frontline of climate change. And only now, ten years after its establishment, are GCF backed projects starting to emerge.

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