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Jamaica impresses on climate change

Published:Monday | April 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

Jamaica is being praised for making significant strides in raising public awareness about climate-change issues.

A United States official has noted that the nation is working in a structured way to put in place the necessary infrastructure to address the potentially devastating impact of global warming on agriculture and other environmental issues.

Denise Herbol, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) mission director to Jamaica, is so impressed with the country's progress on these issues, she has committed to further support programmes centred on environmental sustainability.

"Jamaica has started to establish policies, not just go out and throw money out on programming but establish policies, well-thought-out policies about how programming is gonna take place," Herbol told The Gleaner. "Things like green energy, wind power and, by the way, not just about building a big power plant; it's about thinking that it's a holistic thing.

She added: "This isn't just all talk and no real action on their part. They are looking to work with all the ministries in operationalising these policies, so it's not just about one ministry. It's everybody who is going to be participating."

The diplomat went on to explain that her view was based on first-hand information.

She said: "I go to the Ministry of Education or Finance and they are talking about the lights and the air conditioning and they are all very serious about this too. I mean, they all take very seriously what they are going to do to reduce their carbon footprint. Even though Jamaica's carbon footprint may not be the biggest in the world, Jamaica's been a leader for the Caribbean, in showing what a small island state can do on this."

Declaring she had never worked on climate-change issues as a major component of her job portfolio before being assigned to Jamaica, the American national explained that she had been exposed to the harsh realities of climate change in her hometown in Pennsylvania.

"I come from a really small town on Lake Erie where we are impacted every year, by either horrendous snowstorms ... . I mean, they'll say the lake effect, because the snow comes in off the lake, and depending on how dry it is or how cold it is, you either get a mass of double snow or you get a freezing weather. When I was home this time in Christmas, it was literally up to my thigh and I was outside shovelling for three hours at a time. I remember years where there were blizzards and then I remember years where there was nothing, absolutely nothing, and that's not too far in the past," she shared.

She recalled going swimming, fishing and skiing in Lake Erie as a child, noting the dramatic changes caused by pollution since that time.

"We used to go fishing in that lake and eat the perch. Wonderful fish, you know.

"It got so polluted that people didn't eat the fish, people didn't swim in the lake. People had a major drive to clean up the factories and clean up the lake, and it worked for a while, and then people forget, unfortunately, and it's starting a bit of transition back in the other direction and, fortunately, people are shouting alarm bells."

Jamaica, Herbol believes, is on track, but warned against moving too fast and trying to address things with a one-size-fits-all strategy.

She offered: "You have to have all these pieces; one piece is not going to change things. It's looking at things like the coastline, looking at how they're going to manage that, how they are going to manage the fish stock and not just the issue of the lionfish, which I know is always in the press, but how they're going to address runoff.

"It's looking at things like, what are we going to plant that's going to create buffer zones for the banana plants when another storm blows through and flattens everything? I met a farmer, a woman, when I was down at one of four projects after Sandy had hit. It was almost three months after and I met a farmer who told me that she only lost 40 per cent of her crop because she had already planted buffers. This was a perfect example. So is it all done and finished?

"No, far from it. There is a lot of work that has to be done.

"Is there a desire to make this happen? Absolutely!

"I believe it firmly. I see the Met Service is looking at things like how are they going to develop getting out to farmers, using the phones, information on weather technology, and things like that. It's all of those pieces together, and it's going to take all of them, but from the day that this process started, when that ministry was started, I've not seen anybody stop talking about it or working towards solutions."