Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Environmental priorities for next PM

Published:Wednesday | March 2, 2016 | 3:00 AM

Below is a submission by environ-mental interests, including the Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust, Jamaica Environment Trust, Portland Environmental Protection Association, Windsor Research Centre, Peter Espeut, John Fletcher, Catherine Levy and Jan Panuel.

We congratulate the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) on its win in Jamaica's recent national election and offer our support and assistance in achieving the environmental objectives set out in the party's manifesto. We would also like to respectfully suggest additional priorities.

Climate change: Jamaica is already experiencing the effects of climate change - sea-level rise, beach erosion, longer droughts, heavier rainfall. Projections are for much reduced freshwater supplies. Our best protection against these impacts is by the defence and restoration of the natural resilience held in forests, including mangrove forests, protection of rivers and underground water resources.

Cockpit Country: The declaration of the Cockpit Country boundaries is long outstanding. All preparatory work, including extensive public consultation, has long been completed. We urge the new administration to declare boundaries without delay and close the area to mining and prospecting under the Mining Act. We further encourage the protection of the Cockpit Country and its forest reserves under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority and forest acts to maintain its critical ecosystem services and promote climate resilience.

 

INTEGRATED PLANNING FRAMEWORK

 

Sustainable development: Currently, many development decisions are made in a planning vacuum, or are in direct violation of planning instruments, such as development orders, protected areas, zoning plans or Government policy documents. Many policies (beach policy, wetlands policy, seagrass policy, dolphin conservation, cays policy, coastal and ocean zone policy) remain in various stages of drafting after decades. Important pieces of legislation such as the Building Act and supporting Building Code need to be improved and completed. A national spatial plan has been in progress (in fits and starts) since the mid-1990s - this needs to be finished so that development can occur in an integrated planning framework.

Protected areas: Protected areas, including national parks, forest reserves and fish sanctuaries help ensure conservation of Jamaica's natural resources, which are the basis for development and contribute to the health and welfare of people. As the Protected Areas System Plan has finally been approved, we would like to see a real commitment to ensuring that our protected areas are properly managed, along with an increase in funding levels provided by the Government of Jamaica (GOJ).

The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and Forest Reserve has recently been inscribed on the World Heritage List, and Jamaica must abide by the World Heritage Convention to protect the site. We also encourage every effort to protect the areas identified in the National Ecological Gap Assessment Report. We are particularly concerned about the Black River Morass, Goat Islands and Hellshire (part of the Portland Bight Protected Area) and the Pedro Bank and Cays.

Sanitation and public health: Jamaica faces visible and serious public-health impacts from very poor sanitation and waste management, including dangers from disease vectors and threats to life and property from blocked drains. The time has come to improve dump management and eliminate the use of gullies as waste receptacles. All waste-disposal sites in Jamaica must apply for environmental permits within six months. The current situation where dumps in Jamaica are operating illegally is unacceptable.

 

DEALING WITH SOLID WASTE

 

Better solid waste management must include waste separation, a significant increase in recycling opportunities, electronic waste and hazardous waste treatment and community composting. There is a particular problem with the handling of waste tyres that must be urgently addressed.

Enforcement of environmental laws: Since the advent of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act in 1991, there has been utterly inadequate enforcement of Jamaica's main environmental law, particularly with regard to government agencies themselves and large investment projects.

The GOJ must state its commitment to adherence to environmental laws and ensure that state agencies lead the way in this regard. We are especially concerned about the delegation of the environmental monitoring of the bauxite industry to the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, a situation which has persisted since the mid-1990s.

Finally, the JLP manifesto refers to "adversarial positions with and of the environmental lobby" as undesirable. We agree with this statement and we hope our new Government will take the lead in changing the way environmental management is framed as being an obstacle to development.

Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives every Jamaican the right to "enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage to the ecological heritage". The GOJ must become a vocal and explicit champion of this right and promote the conservation of Jamaica's priceless natural and cultural heritage.