Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Earth Today | Gov’t scores points for conservation in 2017

Published:Thursday | December 28, 2017 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
A section of Jamaica's Cockpit Country for which a years-long lobby was waged to have a boundary declared.
A group touring a cave inside the ecologically sensitive Cockpit Country, which also offers beautiful landscapes, towering cliffs, waterfalls and a nature-loving people.

FROM ITS decision on a boundary for the ecologically sensitive Cockpit Country to moves regarding climate change and energy, government scored points with some key figures from the environment sector in 2017.

Still, the consensus is that it has some way to go in ensuring the preservation and sustainable use of the island's natural resources for its people, come the new year.

"Government is to be congratulated on decisive action regarding declaration of the Cockpit Country boundaries and the retention of Goat Islands as part of the ecosystem within the Portland Bight Protected Area. The thrust towards expansion of clean energy and the associated reduction of carbon footprint is impressive as we play our part in climate action," noted Eleanor Jones, chairman and consulting principal of Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL).

"However, it is important that government's development initiatives be underpinned by the principles of sustainable development. Environmental principles and systems need to be integrated with economic and social consideration, not simply permitting for action in the shortest possible time and often without the appropriate due diligence for integrated planning. Environment is often considered synonymous with ecology, but it is consideration for natural systems as well as human interventions - the built environment," the ESL boss added.

It is past time, Jones insisted, that action follow consistently the lip service paid to sustainable development.

"The 'triangular' linkages between housing, energy and water security have been articulated appropriately, but the pace of high-density construction is outstripping consideration of sustainable water supply, road corridor management, fire suppression capabilities and earthquake risk preparedness, to name a few," she said.

Hugh Dixon, head of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency, too, gave government his approval for the Cockpit Country.

"As it relates to the Cockpit Country, one of the five issues identified in the manifesto regarding the environment, the Jamaica Labour Party can take a pat on the shoulder even if the declaration of a boundary and an area for no mining came on the heels of extensive advocacy and petitioning of the Government with over 35,000 signatories," he said.

"I think the consideration of the Blue Lagoon as a national monument is a worthy step. However, declaration by itself is not adequate. We need an accompanying strategic plan to determine the sustainable development activities that will be undertaken to prevent inappropriate exploitation or cronyism," Dixon added.

Deputy chief executive officer (CEO) of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), Suzanne Stanley, said announcements are one thing, but follow through will be critical come 2018.

"2017 has been a whirlwind year for the environmental community in Jamaica. There have been several announcements, which have given us hope that our cries over the last few decades have not fallen on deaf ears. The announcement of the Cockpit Country Protected Area stands out in this regard, but there were several other reasons to celebrate: the announcement that the Nain Alumina Refinery will use LNG and not coal, as was previously indicated, and that the Goat Islands will be declared a Wildlife Sanctuary," she said.

"These recent announcements are significant indications that progress is being made to protect Jamaica's ecological heritage and the health of its citizens. However, we consider these announcements to be only the first step in what needs to be a well-thought-out processes for implementation," she told The Gleaner.

According to Stanley, who will replace Diana McCaulay as CEO of JET in this January, "the proof will be 'in the pudding', as it were".

"It is not good enough to make announcements; these declarations must be accompanied by real actions to ensure that adequate policies, laws, protections, and enforcement are put in place. Jamaica still has a long way towards environmental sustainability and we look forward to the next steps to be taken by this and future administrations," she said.

Blogger and environmental advocate Emma Lewis is of a similar mind.

"On the plus side, this administration has fulfilled its 2016 manifesto promise of no mining in the Cockpit Country - within the boundaries that have at last been defined. There are some remaining concerns, especially in the areas just outside the boundaries, and there is need for greater vigilance and enforcement of environmental laws in these border areas. I'm just happy that a decision has been made," she said.

"I would also give this administration high marks for its commitment on climate change and the determined efforts of the Climate Change Division and its small but dedicated team of negotiators, at home and abroad. However, more public education, interpreting and explaining climate change issues for the general public is needed," added Lewis, who sits on the board of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica.

"I am pleased, too, with the moves towards renewable energy and away from coal. Again, more to be done, but definitely steps in the right direction," she said further.