Ocean Breakthroughs: Mobilizing Latin America and the Caribbean for Ocean-Based Climate Action

By Climate Champions | October 30, 2023

Over 200 million people live in coastal areas in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), representing about 30% of the region’s population. They depend on healthy ocean ecosystems, especially coastal ecosystems, for their livelihoods. The region is home to a substantial portion of the world’s marine biodiversity. For instance, the LAC region is a biodiversity powerhouse, hosting over 40% of the world’s nature, 12% of its mangrove forests, 10% of its coral reefs and its largest expanse of wetlands. It faces a pressing need for better protection and management.

In parallel, the region lost more tropical primary forest than any other region on the planet in 2019, and urbanization has exposed an estimated 160 million people in the region to urban flood risk.  As the region’s economies are largely built on natural resources, these changes put the region’s economic growth and community well-being at risk.

Oceans play a key role in building resilience to climate change. It regulates the Earth’s climate, provides benefits that help people adapt to climate change impacts, and supports marine life essential for healthy ecosystems. For example, coral reefs support the resilience of 1 billion people and safeguard 25% of ocean life. Yet, the climate crisis and other stressors threaten 90% of reefs by 2050. Innovative finance is urgently needed to accelerate ocean resilience, supporting marine ecosystems and nature.

Concluding last week, LAC Climate Week offered a unique platform for regional stakeholders – from regional governments, local financial institutions, and community-based initiatives – to engage with the Ocean Breakthroughs (including the newly launched Coral Reefs Breakthrough as part of this) and the Mangrove Breakthrough. This follows on from and directly feeds into the 30 global adaptation outcome targets of the Sharm El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda, that are urgently needed to increase the Race to Resilience‘s goal of building the resilience of 4 billion people to accelerate transformation across five impact systems by 2030.

Ocean-based climate action could deliver up to 35% of emission cuts needed to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2050. There are also far-reaching implications for LAC. For example, the fisheries and aquaculture sector provides livelihoods for millions of people and contributes significantly to the region’s food security. For example, in 2018, Latin America and the Caribbean exported seafood products worth approximately $8.5 billion, with countries like Chile, Ecuador, and Peru being major contributors.

The vast coastlines and abundant marine resources in the region are integral to the success of Ocean Breakthroughs, particularly in the sectors of marine conservation, ocean-based transport, aquatic food, and coastal tourism. Furthermore, the potential for harnessing ocean renewable energy sources, such as wave and tidal power, in this region is substantial. 

The Ocean Breakthroughs were launched under the Marrakech Partnership’s Ocean & Coastal Zones stakeholder group, as a blueprint to achieve a healthy and productive ocean. The 2030 focused outcomes align with various multilateral agreements and global targets with the aim to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 35 percent by 2050, all while contributing to a resilient, nature-positive, and net zero world. The actions will support the achievement of the Paris Agreement, the Global Biodiversity Framework’s 30×30 targets, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The success of the Ocean Breakthroughs initiative hinges on the active engagement of regional governments and non-state actors in Latin America and the Caribbean. These stakeholders have a pivotal role to play in driving the transition towards a net zero world while anchoring the ocean in climate and biodiversity negotiations. Small Island and Large Coastal States in Latin America and the Caribbean are heavily dependent on their marine and coastal assets to sustain livelihoods, through fisheries, tourism and shipping.

During LAC climate week, the Global Fund for Coral Reefs and Climate Champions Team convened local state and non-State actors to highlight and discuss innovative solutions to finance the acceleration of ocean protection and consequently helping local communities build climate resilience. Innovative solutions, such as LAC’s insurance sector protecting Mesoamerican reefs and communities, are already underway. However, finance needs to be mobilized at scale. Reinforcing this, Christopher Corbin from UNEP’s Cartagena Convention secretariat said: “Despite the significant needs, LAC countries receive a relatively small share of global climate finance, with mitigation receiving up to 5 times more than adaptation from multilateral climate funds. There is a need to act urgently and accelerate climate action for Small Island Developing States, prioritizing adaptation and resilience action for marine ecosystems and coastal communities in the region”. 

Together with the Global Mangrove Alliance, PEW Charitable Trust, WWF, CI and Climate Champions Team, the regional conference also featured a side-event on coastal wetlands as a nature-based solution for both climate mitigation and adaptation. This mapped the implementation of countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to date and discussed possible necessary actions for the 2025 NDC revision cycle. One important discussion point revolved around the potential endorsement of the Mangrove Breakthrough in NDCs, with both the Governments of Panama and the Dominican Republic expressing their support for this. The event also highlighted the leadership of Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, and other regional actors in coastal wetland ecosystem science and policy.