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Caribbean countries signing on to fight marine pollution

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

AS the Caribbean grapples with the pollution of its waters, the ratification of a protocol designed to help arrest the problem appears to be gathering steam.

In the last three years alone, four countries have signed the Protocol Concerning Pollution from Land-based Sources and Activities (LBS Protocol), bringing to 10 the total number of countries to have done so — 13 years after it was adopted.

They are Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Bahamas, Guyana, USA, France, Trinidad & Tobago, Panama, Grenada, and St Lucia.

"Given the transboundary nature of pollution, it is only through a collective effort by all countries ratifying and implementing the LBS Protocol that the region's Caribbean Sea can be safeguarded," said Christopher Corbin, programme officer for the Assessment and Management of Environmental Pollution (AMEP) sub-programme of the United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme.

According to Corbin, this is why there are still a few others countries that are close to completing the ratification process, which includes, among other things, a review of the protocol to determine national obligations and consultations among stakeholders before being sanctioned by government.

Those countries include the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados, Colombia, and Suriname.

"Since there is no international agreement on land-based pollution, countries who have ratified the LBS Protocol are seen to have at least political will and commitment and stand to be able to access greater technical and financial assistance from GEF projects as a result of this political commitment," he explained while encouraging others to follow suite and ratify the protocol, which is provided for under the Cartagena Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean.

"Governments can receive both technical expertise and guidance as well as financial support through projects to control and reduce the negative impacts of pollution," he said. "This has direct implications for protecting human health and safeguarding critical economic development opportunities in tourism and fisheries; reducing the negative impacts of pollution on coastal and marine biodiversity, such as coral reefs; [and] also allows these ecosystems to better withstand and recover from impacts of global warming and climate change."

"Alas, there is no pot of money at the end of the rainbow. But ratification does position the country to be able to lobby either bilaterally with specific donors or together with the Secretariat (to the Cartagena Convention) to mobilise additional financial and technical assistance through projects that will support LBS Protocol Implementation. This is particularly so for projects funded through the International Waters Portfolio of the Global Environment Facility (GEF)," Corbin said.

He explained that there are a variety of factors that could hinder countries ratifying, including having to contend with competing priorities; a lack of effective champions at the national level; and a lack of understanding at the national level of the obligations and benefits to be gained.

"[Also, the] LBS Protocol is cross-cutting in nature and often requires extensive dialogue and consensus among a wide range of stakeholders, often with different interests," he said.

However, countries needing assistance to get ratified can receive it.

"[There is] assistance in conducting national awareness and consultative workshops; visits by the staff of the Secretariat [to the Cartagena Convention] to meet with high-level Government officials to explain the benefits and obligations following ratification," Corbin said.

"[There are also] small pilot or demonstration projects on pollution prevention that will showcase practical benefits of ratification; facilitating personnel exchanges between countries who have already ratified and those interested in ratification," he added, noting that these are things that were all done in the more recent countries to ratify.

Once ratified, countries are required to look at 17 categories of primary pollutants for which limitations are proposed to ensure the prevention, reduction and control of pollution from land-based sources and activities "through the establishment of effluent and emission limitations and/or the application of best management practices and most appropriate technologies".

The categories include lubricating oil, heavy metals, crude petroleum, cyanides, and detergents, among others.

— Panos Caribbean