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Climate change adaptation and hurricane disaster resilience in the UK Overseas Territories

Climate change is one of the leading threats to global biodiversity and yet biodiversity underpins our resilience to natural hazards. The highly diverse and vulnerable natural environment of the Caribbean, Western and South Atlantic Overseas Territories is critical for providing resilience against storms which are increasing in severity as a result of climate change.

The JNCC-led Climate change adaptation and hurricane disaster resilience project, which ran from 2021 to 2023, highlighted the need to protect key habitats across the participating Overseas Territories in the context of storm-induced flooding. The project aimed to demonstrate the function, role, and economic value of the natural environment in mitigating damage caused by tropical storms and to embed nature-based solutions into policy-making. This work was funded with UK aid from the UK government through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF).

A tree blown over on a tropical beach (Copyright: Amanda Gregory, JNCC)

Introduction

Vibrant coral reefs, dynamic mangrove lagoons, and expansive inland vegetation are some of the key habitats that comprise the Caribbean and Western Atlantic Overseas Territories. Island nations are highly aware of the value that their unique environment brings to local communities as nature is often entwined into the activities of daily life. Coastal habitats provide nurseries for an array of fish and coral species which support the wider coastal-marine ecosystem and underpin local food security, tourism, and fishing industries.

Diverse and thriving coastal habitats also have a vital role in protecting against the destructive power of tropical storms. Extreme winds, inland flooding from high rainfall, and coastal flooding from storm driven waves can cause devastating damage to coastal areas and communities. Inland vegetation improves rainwater drainage, reducing surface water flows associated with flood risk. While coastal habitats, such as mangroves and near-shore coral reefs, lessen the height and destructive power of incoming waves and reduce the risk of flooding to coastal areas. The resilience of many Caribbean and Western Atlantic Overseas Territories to storm-induced flooding is dependent on the health and abundance of these key habitats.

Split image of a mangrove tree on the left and an aerial view of a coral reef on the right (Copyright: BVI National Trust)

Nearly 80% of the population of the UK Overseas Territories live in the hurricane-prone Caribbean and Western Atlantic region where tropical storms pose a serious risk to human life, livelihoods, and infrastructure. Due to the effects of climate change, tropical storms are becoming more severe and heightening the risk of damage to coastal communities which impedes opportunities for economic growth and prosperity.

Effective management measures across all sectors of society are needed to conserve key habitats and ensure that their protective role is retained to reduce further risk to human life and livelihoods. The Climate change adaptation and hurricane disaster resilience project raised awareness of the growing risk of flooding associated with climate change, demonstrated the role and value of nature in mitigating this risk, and supported technical capacity building to embed nature-based solutions into policy-making.

JNCC worked in partnership with the governments of the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands from 2021 to 2023 to identify areas and communities at risk of flooding, and opportunities to utilise the protective capacity of nature to reduce the threat that storms pose. From 2022 to 2023, the project expanded to partner with the governments of Anguilla, Bermuda, Saint Helena, and Tristan da Cunha.

You can find out more about this work in JNCCs Nature News articles, Environmental resilience to natural hazards: identifying opportunities for nature-based solutions (page 12-13), Mapping and modelling marine natural capital (page 18-19), and From Ridge to Reef Building an Environment Strategy for the Turks and Caicos Islands (page 10-11).

Image of the summary leaflet for the CSSF project: Climate change adaptation and hurricane disaster resilience

An overview of the project is provided in the Climate change adaptation and hurricane disaster resilience leaflet.

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Objectives

The project's objectives were to: 

  • Assess the functional role and the monetary value of natural capital in participating Overseas Territories for protecting livelihoods and infrastructure from natural hazards.
  • Identify and map opportunities for nature-based solutions to mitigate the impacts of flooding and increase environmental resilience.
  • Develop a framework of natural capital indicators to monitor environmental change in the context of disaster resilience.
  • Share knowledge and build capacity among local communities and national agencies to undertake future assessments and support ongoing disaster resilience.

The project supports the UK Government's National Security Council (NSC) Strategy to assist in the development of robust disaster preparedness across all Overseas Territories, identifying and mitigating the impact of climate change.

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Outputs

The project's outputs include:

  • GIS-based storm-surge and inland flooding models to identify communities and areas at risk and opportunities for nature-based solutions.
  • An environmental indicator framework to enable the monitoring of environmental response to natural hazards.
  • Stakeholder engagement and training events to convey the key messages around the importance of the natural environment.
  • An economic assessment of the monetary value of key habitats in supporting the natural environment.

Details of published outputs will be provided when available.

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The project built on the Natural Capital in the Caribbean and South Atlantic Overseas Territories: Valuation, Vulnerability and Monitoring Change programme undertaken between 2016 and 2019.

Project delivery and outputs are linked with the following projects which JNCC lead or partner in:

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Partners and Funders

Logos of the Governments of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, UK Official Development Assistance (ODA), and UK Government Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF).

This project was funded with UK aid from the UK government through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF).

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