Fiona Clouder and Asif Ahmad | Our environment, our future
TODAY IS World Environment Day and this year’s theme is ‘Biodiversity’. We are also looking ahead to the 26th session of the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP26), the UN Climate Change Conference, to be hosted by the United Kingdom (UK) with Italy, in November 2021. The global crisis of coronavirus has made us more aware of the balance of our world, the interface between man, nature and the environment, and the value of biodiversity.
The Caribbean is facing health, economic and social impacts from the virus. The region is also on the front line for climate change. The region contains precious examples of the world’s biodiversity, both fauna and flora, in environments ranging from tropical forests to grasslands, from mountains to wetlands, from coral reefs to limestone cliffs. The Atlantic and Pacific oceans connect through Panama into the Caribbean. As well as unique marine life, 12 per cent of the world’s mangrove forests are in the Caribbean. South America has over 40 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and over a quarter of its forests, helped by the Sahara dust that comes over the Caribbean, too.
Key themes for COP26 will include advancing climate action, impacting small island developing states in particular, and increasing ambition on national approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We want to promote adaptation and resilience to climate change, encourage the transition to clean energy and transport, bringing it together through business and finance.
We can also draw on nature-based solutions. Natural systems can provide us with the tools to help adapt to rising temperatures and to lock and store carbon. Agriculture, forestry and land use at present contribute over 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions; but our land and coastal marine ecosystems can provide up to a third of cost-effective climate mitigation. Through global cooperation, drawing on science and innovation, and involving governments, business and wider society, we can make a difference. For example, in the UK, we have grown our economy by 75 per cent since 1990 while cutting emissions by 43 per cent. We can make the most of the economic and social benefits from protecting and preserving our environment.
In Jamaica, we are not waiting for COP26, even though we see the country continuing to play a leadership role. The UK’s £55-million support for sustainable irrigation will transform agriculture in Essex Valley, Clarendon, and St Catherine. Just a few weeks ago, we announced our plan to help restore mangroves in Clarendon. We are going through the health ministry’s list of hospitals and clinics and making them energy-efficient so that more money is released for front-line treatment. By training and donating equipment, Jamaica now has the means to update its knowledge of the seabed surrounding the island. Marine life will be better protected as commercial use of shipping routes continues. British businesses have shown interest in green solutions to the pressing problem of the ever-growing mountain of waste by turning it into electricity.
Cleared land laying barren can now be used to grow bamboo to produce recyclable straws and pulp to replace petrochemical fibres. We can share policy planning and implementation, too. Both the UK and Jamaica are taking real action on eliminating single-use plastic. We have emission-reduction technology and enforcement of pollution-control regulations that Jamaica can access. In the midst of suffering hardship with COVID-19, Jamaicans, like many around the world, have had a glimpse of what a brief pause in our heavy carbon footprint can bring. We could breathe easier if we try.
Together we can build a fairer, greener and more resilient global economy. Let’s celebrate the beauty of biodiversity; let’s also protect and preserve it and make the most of it in addressing climate change. Not just on World Environment Day, but by working together for COP26, for the future, for a better environment, for a better world.
Fiona Clouder is regional ambassador, Latin America and the Caribbean, COP26. Asif Ahmad is the British High Commissioner to Jamaica.