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What is the CCI and where did it all start?

The Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI) was created to be and still is an innovative platform uniting governments, international cooperation agencies and the private sector to voluntarily work on collective actions to conserve and sustainably manage the Caribbean’s marine and coastal environment.

In 2008, during the 9 th Convention on Biological Diversity held in Germany, visionary leaders from throughout the Caribbean joined together to ensure a brighter future for our region. They were determined to protect the sea that unites us and protect the resources that support our Caribbean people and economies.

5 Caribbean countries – The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines – made the initial commitments to the CCI.

Goals. This commitment marked the official launch of the first phase of the CCI.

The CCI had two main goals:

1) The 20-by-20 Goal, which aimed to conserve and effectively manage at least 20% of the marine and coastal environment by 2020.
2) The Sustainable Finance Goal, geared towards establishing fully functioning finance mechanisms that provide long-term, reliable funding to ensure marine and coastal areas are sustainably managed into the future.

During CCI’s Phase I, which ran from 2008 to 2013, over 50 new Marine Protected Areas or MPAs were established in the Caribbean region. The total protected marine area across all of the participating countries increased from 7% to about 10%.

The Summit of Caribbean Political and Business Leaders, which took place in May
2013 in Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands marked the launch of Phase II and there, during this meeting, the CCI Goals were re-affirmed, with 8 governments signing the CCI Leaders Declaration. The Summit was co-hosted by the Prime Minister of Grenada Keith Mitchell, the Premier of the British Virgin Islands Orlando Smith, and Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, who we just heard from. Key support was provided by The Nature Conservancy, Virgin Unite and Tiffany Foundation.

For the first time, government leaders from the Caribbean, business leaders of companies with operations in the region, and key partners got together to agree on a shared vision for the region’s marine and coastal environment and to chart a course on how to achieve this vision.

During the Summit, a total of US $75 million of funding commitments were announced, covering existing and new projects, to support the implementation of both Goals.

As we reached 2020 – a landmark year for the CCI and seven years after the Summit, we could celebrate the strong efforts and commitment of the 11 governments that voluntarily took on the 20-by-20 Goal – The Bahamas, The British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the US Virgin Islands.

By 2020, Five of them had achieved or surpassed the 20% declaration target. The Dominican Republic with approximately 75 percent of its near shore marine area under protection, followed by Saint Christopher and Nevis with 50 percent, the U.S. Virgin Islands with 44 percent, Puerto Rico with 27 percent, and Haiti with 23 percent.

Whilst 2020 will be forever marked by and associated with the COVID-19 it should not take away the great accomplishment that at that time, CCI countries had under protection or management 47,232 square kilometers of their nearshore environment, 61% of the way towards the 20-by-20 goal.

Sustainable Finance Architecture:
At the center of the Sustainable Finance Goal, and to support the original ’20-by-20′ target, is the Caribbean Sustainable Finance Architecture. This Architecture, currently formed by 10 national conservation trust funds and the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund, as the regional partner, is the realization of a bold vision to create and mobilize reliable and long-term funding not only for the Caribbean’s marine and coastal environment and protected area systems, but biodiversity conservation and sustainable use at large.

The funding support announced at the CCI Summit, included a series of commitments and projects that were crucial to build and capitalize the financial Architecture. These included 4 Global Environment Facility -GEF – projects implemented through the World Bank, the United Development Program and UN Environment in the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Eastern Caribbean, which worked in alliance with significant financial support from the German Government through its development bank- KfW, the United States Agency for International Development, and The Nature Conservancy.

As a result of this support, and in collaboration with governments, Fondo MARENA in the Dominican Republic became fully operational in 2009, with the Bahamas Protected Areas Fund, the British Virgin Islands Climate Change Fund, Antigua and Barbuda’s Marine Ecosystem Protected Areas Trust, and the National Conservation Trus Fund of Jamaica being legally established in 2015; and followed in 2016 by the Grenada Sustainable Development Trust Fund, the National Conservation Funds in Saint Lucia, the Saint Christopher and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. More recently, in 2019, the Haiti Biodiversity
Fund was also established.

These projects simultaneously supported the establishment of the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund in 2012 who received commitments of US$42 million from the Government of Germany, GEF and TNC for its endowment fund.

Today, the CBF is an umbrella fund with a flexible structure to implement innovative solutions for resource mobilization at the regional level through a range of financial instruments. Currently, the CBF manages a total of US$125 million, including the now US$75 million in its Conservation Finance Program endowment which aims to supports 12 countries across the region, and a US$50 million sinking fund for Ecosystem-based Adaptation wich anchors the CBF’s Climate Change Program.

These two instruments have jointly disbursed to date approximately US$4.4 million to the partners national conservation trust funds and grantees under the Eba Facility.

To date, 6 national conservation trust funds have signed Partnership Agreements with the CBF and have received over $1.7 million from the CBF’s Conservation Finance Program for conservation activities across the region. In addition, the program has also provided close to US$1.0 million to support the establishment and operations of 6 national funds. With 4 more Partnership Agreements expected to be signed between the CBF and partners funds in Bahamas, Haiti, Guyana, and Saint Christopher and Nevis the CBF forecasts that it will be disbursing about US$2.5 million on a yearly basis in the next 2 to 3 years through these 10 agreements.

It is key to highlight that the national funds are the ones that lead the grant-making programs at the sub-regional and national level, using CBF and other resources. In addition, the national funds and CBF are working together to establish additional financial mechanisms that will provide a minimum 1-to-1 match to the CBF resources.

In addition, through the CBF’s Climate Change Program, the Ecosystem-based Adaptation Facility has already committed about US$12 million in its first call for proposals in 2019, of which US$1.7 have already been disbursed to 11 projects that have actions in 10 Caribbean countries. The Facility is currently conducting its second call for proposals, having received 79 project concept notes, which are currently under evaluation.

As the architecture’s history and current accomplishments show, this network of trust funds offer multiple benefits, including; a flexible structure and convenience for donors and partners interested in regional or multi-country impact, independence and economies of scale, adherence to internationally recognized standards for conservation trust funds and alignment with international agreements, multi-stakeholder representation, and capacity building and technical assistance for countries in the areas of sustainable finance for conservation and sustainable development.

This regional financial architecture has been developing and evolving over the last 10 + years and is now at a pivotal point. With its members consolidating their establishment, this network of trust funds is now focusing on ensuring effective, impactful grantmaking and conservation management at the local, national level and regional levels, and testing and developing new financial mechanisms.

We must feel proud as conservation trust funds and as a region for these accomplishments. But reaching this point has by no means been an easy task.

Joint collaboration and having as a common goal mobilizing financial resources for the Caribbean’s conservation agenda has been the engine and glue that has kept and will keep the architecture together into the future.

To conclude, while much more still needs to be done for our common Caribbean environment, there should be no doubt that the CCI, its goals, and the partnerships forged among governments, international cooperation agencies, NGOs and the private sector revolutionized the marine conservation and finance landscape in the Caribbean.

As the international community turns its attention to 2030, the Caribbean should be proud of its achievements, continue to put nature-based solutions at the heart of its economic development, and be a leader showing that future higher ambition will require political commitment from all around the table to increase protection for the environment and mobilize the financial resources required.