Peter Espeut | No real environmental protection
You will not be surprised if I take an interest in the environmental content in the recent marathon contribution of Prime Minister Holness to the 2023 Budget Debate.
Our first prime minister born after Great Britain cut us loose has wanted a reputation for being concerned for the integrity of our natural environment, and he has a number of strong items in the plus column. I recall with some pleasure his early decision NOT to hand over the ecologically sensitive Goat Islands to Chinese shipping interests, and NOT to allow Chinese investors to build a 1,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant at Nain in St Elizabeth. The welcome initiative to ban some Styrofoam products, and some single-use plastic bags came under his watch, and history will not forget the Holness administration for these positive actions.
The decision announced this year to add buses powered with electricity to the public transport fleet is a step in the right direction. To the extent that Jamaica generates electricity using renewables (e.g. hydro, wind, solar) these buses will reduce our carbon emissions; but because the vast majority of our electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels, its ecological value must not be overrated.
The big environmental announcement by PM Holness in his budget presentation was the plan to protect 15 areas across Jamaica as “ecologically sensitive areas” (ESAs). The announced ESAs are:
• Dunn’s River and Fern Gully in St Ann (two well-known tourism attractions);
• Winns Morass/Oyster Bay, Trelawny (adjacent to the Falmouth Cruise ship port, the site of the bioluminescent phosphorescent lake);
• Bengal in St Ann (I assume this refers to the Bengal Cliffs at Puerto Bueno Mountain, the locus of the kerfuffle over the refused mining permit reinstated by PM Holness);
• Long Mountain, St Andrew (an important watershed area in which the controversial Long Mountain Country Club was built in 2015);
• Canoe Valley, Manchester/Clarendon (there has long been a proposal to make a national park of this huge wetland in which captured manatees have been released);
• Holland Bay, St Thomas (I assume this refers to the Great Morass landward of Holland Bay, rather than the bay itself; there are rumours of plans to build a large hotel in the area);
• Montpelier in St James (I am not aware of any ecologically sensitive areas on this property, historically in sugar, tobacco, citrus and cattle);
• Great Bay, St Elizabeth (this fishing community is located on top of an important Taino redware site; I am not aware of any ecologically sensitive areas here);
• Shooter’s Hill, St Catherine (there are places called ‘Shooter’s Hill’ in Hanover, Manchester, St Andrew and St Elizabeth, but none in St Catherine that I can find);
• Industry Cove in Hanover (I am not sure where this is; maybe he is referring to the beautiful Cousins Cove near the Industry property);
• The Negril Great Morass, Hanover/Westmoreland (this wetland is already protected, since it is part of the Negril Environmental Protection Area declared on June 5, 1992 under the NRCA Act);
• Bogue in St James (this wetland is already protected, since it is part of the Montego Bay Marine Park declared on November 28, 1997 under the NRCA Act);
• Palisadoes-Port Royal Protected Area, Kingston (this area is already protected – declared on September 18, 1998 under the NRCA Act);
• Hellshire Hills/Goat Islands, St Catherine (these areas are already protected, falling within the Portland Bight Protected Area declared on April 22, 1999 under the NRCA Act).
This announcement of intent to create “ecologically sensitive areas” is curious, since present Jamaican law does not have such a designation. But then let us say that the Government intends to legislate such a new category of protected area, will this replace the categories of protected area already provided for in the 1991 Natural Resources Conservation (NRCA) Act? If not, why duplicate protection regimes?
The PM’s announcement comes across as hastily crafted and not well-thought-out.
Let me hasten to say that I am elated that the Government is thinking about bringing more ecosystems under legal protection. I spent decades (when I was much younger) conceiving and then working in the Portland Bight Protected Area. There is nothing I would like more than for Jamaica’s system of parks and protected areas to work, and work well.
But the truth is, that the record of this and previous governments with protecting ecosystems is dismal. Although there are regulations defining what can and cannot take place in national parks and marine parks, after more than 20 years there are no regulations governing protected areas like Portland Bight and Palisadoes-Port Royal. Creating protected areas is one thing, but it means nothing if there are no statutes regulating what happens there.
And even where there are statutes, the Jamaican Government does not have a national parks service – or anything like it – to enforce environmental protection. The much vaunted Cockpit Country Protected Area is protected in name only, as there are no regulations defining what can and cannot take place there, and no entity exists to manage it and to enforce regulations even if they did exist.
And so you will excuse me if I am hugely sceptical when announcements are made about creating “ecologically sensitive areas”, when I know that the protected areas we already have are of no effect.
I would love to have heard an announcement about the provision of funding to manage our existing national parks, marine parks and protected areas! No such luck!
Although on April 1, 1987 Jamaica signed the Protocol on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) under the United Nations Cartagena Convention, until now – over 35 years later – no Jamaican government has ratified it. What a Tom Fool Day prank!
I would have much preferred to hear PM Holness announce last week in his Budget presentation that Jamaica would finally ratify the SPAW Protocol, rather than an announcement of more paper protected areas.
Peter Espeut is an environmentalist and development scientist. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org