Feature Story

A New Era of Cooperation: Integrating Watershed and Coastal Area Management

December 1, 2015

Falmouth Bay, View from Shirley Heights, Antigua
The integerated ridge-to-reef approach is one of the GEF's flagship efforts in watershed and coastal zone management.

One of the GEF’s flagship efforts to promote an integrated (Ridge-to-Reef) approach to watershed and coastal area management is Integrating Watershed and Coastal Areas Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (IWCAM), which was implemented by UNEP and UNDP from 2006 to 2012. Recognizing the highly integrated and closely interlinked nature of watersheds and coastal areas in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Caribbean, the IWCAM project developed a multi-sectoral approach to watershed and coastal management, looking specifically at land-based sources of marine pollution (LBS) problems in 13 Caribbean SIDS. The project was primarily aimed at addressing existing barriers at the national and regional level that had previously hampered integrated planning and management.

This unique project placed a high priority on helping participating countries meet commitments required to ratify the Cartagena Convention and its protocols; in particular, the Protocol on Land-Based Sources of Pollution (LBS Protocol). Such multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) are important tools for strengthening legislative and management frameworks and can provide the momentum countries need to address growing threats to their marine and coastal environments. The LBS Protocol requires its Parties to use integrated approaches while developing national environmental policies and effective measures to prevent, reduce, and control marine pollution from land-based sources and activities. The LBS Protocol provides a legally-binding mechanism that sets effluent limitations for domestic wastewater (e.g., sewage) and requires countries to prepare specific plans to address (agricultural) non-point sources. It also commits parties to make improvements in wastewater management by introducing innovative and cost-effective treatment technologies, improving policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks, and expanding access to affordable financing. However, the project faced a significant challenge as the existing policy, legal, and institutional frameworks in participating countries did not support the development or implementation of specific requirements under the LBS Protocol. A number of reforms at both national and regional level were needed first.

To address this need, the IWCAM project conducted a comprehensive inventory of existing national institutional, legislative, and policy frameworks in project countries, and identified the different hurdles and barriers to applying a true integrated (watershed and coastal) management approach, especially as it related to the reduction, control and management of marine pollution from land-based sources. It quickly became clear that the environmental laws of Caribbean SIDS generally had a robust terrestrial focus, while provisions for marine environmental protection were weak. The review also concluded that while numerous pieces of legislation touch on the different aspects of IWCAM and LBS issues, they were both uncoordinated and not sufficiently comprehensive. The review confirmed that some of the countries have national legislation where certain MEAs or treaties could only be accepted by the State if parliamentary approval is first obtained, often a slow and difficult process. Other fundamental problems highlighted by the review were weak enforcement regimes, and limited human and technical capacity.

As a result of this review, IWCAM supported the creation of a toolkit containing a set of regional guidelines to assist Caribbean countries in reforming, amending, and drafting appropriate national legislation, policy, and institutional frameworks required to apply an integrated approach to managing watersheds and coastal areas and to advance their ratification of the LBS Protocol. The guidelines propose a mix of legal, institutional, and capacity-building solutions that countries may exercise to implement the LBS Protocol, and provides options for finding human and financial resources necessary to implement the required reforms for addressing land-based sources of pollution. While the guidelines were prepared with direct relevance to the LBS Protocol, they can also be replicated and used by other SIDS (e.g., in the South Pacific) in the drafting or amendment of legislation in support of the implementation of other (regional, global) environmental treaties or agreements such as the 1989 Convention for the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes.

One of the major achievements of the project was that six of the SIDS that participated in the IWCAM project ratified the LBS Protocol: Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad & Tobago. Signing onto the LBS Protocol committed these governments to make major improvements in wastewater management by introducing innovative and cost effective treatment technologies, improving policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks, and expanding access to affordable financing. These commitments are being followed-up through the GEF/IADB/UNEP Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (CReW) Project. The CReW Project aims to provide sustainable financing for the wastewater sector, support policy and legislative reforms, and foster regional dialogue and knowledge exchange. It achieves these objectives through three inter-linked components: investment and sustainable financing; reforms for wastewater management; and communications outreach and training (see Chapter 3).

Although the IWCAM project is considered one of the most successful IW projects in the Wider Caribbean Region, there were also some shortcomings. Any changes made to policy, legislation, and institutions at the national level lie beyond the mandate and reach of an international development project. Also, despite strong governmental support for the project, the transition from ideas and concepts to actual national legislation proved to be a slow process. The project faced challenges with harmonizing and aligning project objectives with other, related initiatives taking place at the national and regional level. An important lesson learned from IWCAM was that even if a particular country adopts and ratifies a regional legal agreement that commits it to achieving a set of regionally-agreed environmental protection targets and goals, the concepts and objectives of such regional agreements are rarely captured effectively under national policies and legislation, making achieving these targets and goals difficult if not impossible to achieve. A comprehensive review of these barriers to effective implementation should be a prerequisite for any country planning on ratifying such agreements.

This story was orginally published in "From Coast to Coast: 20 Years of Transboundary Management of our Shared Oceans" in 2015.