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Environment actors unmoved by Govt’s first 100 days

Published:Wednesday | June 15, 2016 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Diana McCaulay: "It is time we simply admit that we don't have an environment regulator."
Hugh Dixon
Emma Lewis

FROM permit breaches at the Blue Diamond Royalton Hotel in Negril to the continued indecision over the Cockpit Country, environment sector actors appear largely unimpressed with the new Government after 100 days in office.

Still, at least some of them are prepared to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt as they look to the next 100 days and beyond.

"It's difficult to assess as so little has happened on the ground, beyond the usual rhetoric. I believe that both Royalton hotels [in Negril and Coopers Pen], which were in repeated breach of their environmental permits, have been or will be regularised. If this is true, then that tells us all we need to know about the new government's approach to the environment: a continuation of the reckless willingness to sacrifice it, regardless of words of commitment to sustainable development and environmental protection," said Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust.

Recent media reports are that the team investigating the collapse at the hotel's Negril site had recommended the lifting of the stop order on buildings not affected by the incident, which left five people injured..

At the same time, developers have reportedly been asked to address a number of issues before the work can restart on the collapsed section of the project.

"If the Government is not going to insist its own environmental laws are adhered to, we effectively have no regulatory framework for our natural resources. I was also disturbed to read a comment attributed to Minister Mike Henry that the process for determining Cockpit Country boundaries is to begin. It was completed long ago," she added.

Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency boss Hugh Dixon said he has not heard anything "that the Government has done differently from its predecessor", such that the next 100 days will be critical.

"I would really want to be able to say I am giving them the benefit of the doubt to come up with a conscientious raft of actions that augur well for the environment and the economic growth activity that is to come on stream because there is no way they could be looking at a growth agenda that does not have at its nexus the environment and sustainable environmental management," he said.

"If in the next 100 days the Government does not come forward with a raft of policy frameworks that illustrate its commitment to sustainable development and growth, then I would say that it would have been failing in its attempt to move its agenda forward," Dixon added.

Dr. David Smith, coordinator for the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies, was of a similar mind on the importance of the coming months.

"I look at the first 100 days as them sort of finding their feet. But definitely we want to see now being addressed the broadening of the energy sector and reducing as much carbon emissions as is practical and looking very seriously at water because that is going to be one of the major problems over the next five years and beyond because of climate change," he said.


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It will be important, too, Smith said, that players in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation be informed by their upcoming meeting with respected Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

"Professor Jeffrey Sachs will be in the country on Tuesday. He will have a meeting with the prime minister (PM) and Cabinet. It will give the PM and the two ministers in the job creation and growth ministry a chance to talk to someone who is a world leader in economic thought and adviser to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on sustainable development," Smith said.

"Having him come to Jamaica and work with the PM and the other ministers will be very useful to get them to at least hear some of the newer ideas and talk about some of the sustainable development goals and how Jamaica can achieve them," he added.

Independent blogger and social commentator Emma Lewis said: "I liked the talk of reducing plastic pollution. I think that is excellent but now needs to be translated into action. It is very good that we have signed some agreements on climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness ... and hope that they will lead to some good work.

"I would also like to see the Government engage directly with stakeholders in communities that are concerned and already being impacted by environmental issues of various kinds like the residents of Cockpit Country [and] of Negril ... . I would like to see a lot of that happening from now on," Lewis added.