Small boats cut through crystalline water off San Pedro as seen in an aerial view of Ambergris Caye. Photo by Isaac D. Pacheco
By Vincent Lowney and Kevin Nelson
As the backdrop to a stunning array of flora and fauna, a diverse marine ecosystem, and the largest swath of untrammeled forest in the region, Belize is an ecological paradise. The country is home to the largest portion of the Great Mayan Reef, which runs along the Central American coastline from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to Honduras’ Bay Islands. The Great Mayan Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the planet’s second longest barrier reef system after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
The government of Belize understands the importance of maintaining the natural splendor of the country and has taken bold, innovative actions to preserve and protect its remarkable biodiversity. As a reflection of the host nation’s commitment to conservation, Embassy Belmopan showcases many of the best practices promoted by the Department of State, using a blend of technology, design, and policy to conserve resources and protect the ecology of Belize.
On Nov. 5, 2021, Belize signed the Blue Bond Agreement with The Nature Conservancy on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The Blue Bond—an innovative conservation financing deal and the world’s largest debt restructure for marine conservation—effectively retired Belize’s Superbond, which had accounted for 25% of the country’s overall debt, in exchange for expanded conservation commitments. In this debt swap, Belize committed to protecting 30% of its ocean, strengthening policy frameworks for domestic and high-sea fisheries, and establishing a regulatory framework for coastal blue carbon projects. The Blue Bond deal effectively doubled the area of Belize’s marine protected zones and designated mangrove reserves as World Heritage sites. To make the Blue Bond possible, the U.S. government provided political risk insurance through the International Development Finance Corporation, as well as key support from the Departments of State and Treasury during negotiations.
In a bid to reduce pollution, Belize implemented a ban on certain single-use plastics in March of this year. Following consultations with stakeholders across civil society and private industry, the government of Belize supports businesses switching to recyclable and biodegradable alternatives in lieu of plastic packing materials and utensils. The genesis of this ban stemmed from a sobering 2017 study by the Belizean Department of the Environment that measured Belize’s domestic plastic waste consumption, finding it equivalent to each citizen using an average of 11 single-use plastic bags and three pieces of polystyrene foam per week. Much of Belize’s single-use plastics and poly-foam products end up in local burn pits or watersheds, and threaten the country’s fragile ecosystems. The government is also launching pilot recycling programs across the country to explore the feasibility of a national recycling program.
Embassy Belmopan showcases the Department’s green values through a variety of programs. Post’s sizable solar panel arrays cover parking areas, roofs, and other open spaces to convert the many days of abundant sunlight to direct current. These arrays supply more than half of the embassy compound’s electrical requirements, generating up to 141 kilowatts of power. This green electricity is fed into the existing building distribution system to reduce utility power consumption. Additionally, the chancery, annex, and compound dwellings are designed to maximize natural light to harness both the energy savings and health benefits of sunshine. Occupancy sensors ensure that lighting and heating ventilation and air conditioning systems are optimized to reduce cooling and energy use when rooms are unused, further reducing energy consumption.
Embassy Belmopan’s landscaping practices preserve existing greenery, including the abundance of flora and fauna at the chancery as well as embassy-owned housing compounds, both of which are home to migratory birds and other wildlife. Embassy landscapers plant with intention: in addition to helping maintain the natural habitat for animals and beautifying their locale, the use of native plants reduces irrigation demands and prevents soil erosion. Rainwater is collected and stored in ten cisterns, each of which can store a thousand gallons. This reservoir is used alongside well water for all landscaping and housing upkeep to limit the dependency on the city’s water supply, reduce costs, and support water conservation efforts.
To encourage environmentally friendly practices among staff, the embassy has installed bike racks, water bottle filling stations, and recycling bins. Electric cars are not yet commonly available in Belize, but the embassy assists both U.S. direct hires and locally employed staff to find alternatives to driving to work—such as carpooling, shuttles, bicycling, walking, and use of shared transit—to cut down on single-passenger commuting and unnecessary motor pool usage. The embassy is also eliminating individual printers to consolidate printing to central office printers or multifunction devices to reduce energy consumption and paper usage.
The government of Belize cites climate change as an existential threat and a top policy priority. Post regularly supports the country’s environmental and conservation efforts. In the last year, the embassy leveraged Department-programming to provide experts for public events focused on illegal, unregulated, and unlicensed fishing; trained the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize; oversaw the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area (one of world’s first debt-for-nature swaps under the Tropical Rainforest Conservation Act); and supported Belize’s Hydrology Department in better understanding how to manage the nation’s water resources.
With the resurgence of Belize as a travel destination, the embassy community regularly hosts friends and family visiting from the world over. Visitors to post routinely remark upon the bountiful natural beauty, as well the opportunities for outdoor adventures—from inner tubing in ancient cave systems to scuba diving off the barrier reef, birding among the mangrove islands, or walking the beautiful grounds of the housing compound. Post is proud to support the protection and conservation of the natural wonders found in Belize, and showcase the shared environmental values between the two nations.
Vincent Lowney is the environment, science, technology, and health officer at Embassy Belmopan. Kevin Nelson is the management officer at Embassy Belmopan.