Jamaica To Sign Important Regional Agreement on Access to Information and Environmental Justice


I did mention to a few online friends that there was some good news contained in Minister Daryl Vaz’s speech at the launch of the Green Expo on May 22 – International Biodiversity Day – which I described in my last post. “Good news?” chorused the cynical Facebookers. “Really? Tell us!” Well yes – I think it is good and important, and I hope they will read this and draw their own conclusions.

Delegates at the LAC Principle 10 negotiations in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2017. (Photo: Saint Lucia National Trust)

I obtained a copy of Minister Vaz’s speech and am sharing it in full below – with the good news part highlighted. This is a regional issue of considerable importance, which I wrote about a couple of times. It has been a little slow in coming, but the Jamaican Cabinet has approved the signing and ratifying of the so-called Escazú Agreement (the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean), also described as “LAC Principle 10.”

The Agreement was opened for signature last September at UN Headquarters and has already been signed by 16 countries, including five Caribbean nations (and ratified by Guyana). It needs ten more ratifications to come into force. Of course, the devil will always be in the implementation, but as Danielle Andrade-Goffe said last year: “It is hugely significant. It will mean overhauling the way that Jamaica deals with environmental issues and allowing the citizens to be engaged in environmental decisions.” Ms. Andrade-Goffe, a Jamaican attorney, worked very hard on the negotiations leading up to this agreement.

Guyana was the first country to ratify the Escazu Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Please take note, also, of a section in Minister Vaz’s speech where the words “must not” are emphasized in bold (not mine, but the Ministry’s), as follows:

This Government firmly believes that wealth and economic stability must not come at the cost of the environment, or create social inequality.

This is a fundamental issue; we know it is. I am happy to see that emphasis, although I am afraid there has already been a heavy cost. A recent case in point might be the fiasco of the Dolphin Cove in Discovery Bay. There are other examples. Perhaps this Government can turn over a new leaf.

I am also glad to see that the importance of NGOs and CBOs in the environmental field is recognized. They need all the support they can get, and I hope they will be supported in every practical way possible.

As for the private sector and corporate Jamaica – as I have also said many times, this sector needs to embrace the Green Economy wholeheartedly. It’s a must, no more excuses! I am glad that the Minister once again made that appeal.

Please see the text of his remarks below:

HON. DARYL VAZ,   M.P.

MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LAND, ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE, INVESTMENT)

AT THE LAUNCH OF GREEN EXPO 2019

ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2019 @ 10:00 A.M.

AT THE MEGJC CONFERENCE ROOM, 16A HALF WAY TREE ROAD

 

It is an honor for me to be here today for the Launch of the Green Expo 2019, which is also International Biodiversity Day.  I wish to extend a warm welcome to everyone to the Ministry’s offices here at 16a Half Way Tree Road.

Let me commend and thank the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT), its partners and stakeholders, among them the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ), the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and of course the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (MEGJC), for conceptualizing and staging this year’s Green Expo to be held during National Environmental Awareness Week with your theme “A Better Environment = A Better Life: do the right thing!”

I have always said that Non-Governmental Organizations like the JCDT, as well as community-based organizations (CBOs), continue to play a critical role in key environmental initiatives at the local level, as well as in advocating the national environmental agenda.

Their voices are instrumental in the process towards achieving our goals for sustainability, and we offer our continued partnership and support in their initiatives to preserve our environment.

In partnering with the JCDT on this Green Expo,  we aim to raise public awareness and knowledge about practical solutions to environmental and sustainable development challenges such as climate change, pollution and the degradation of our natural resources.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt that sound environmental management and healthy ecosystems are pivotal to the country’s socio-economic development. This Government firmly believes that wealth and economic stability must not come at the cost of the environment, or create social inequality.

Minister Daryl Vaz shows some of the products that are included in the plastic ban, which took effect in January 2019. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

It is this belief that prompted us to institute the ban on single-use plastic carrier bags below a 25 gallon capacity including scandal bags, as well as on plastic straws and polystyrene (Styrofoam) products commonly used in the food and beverage industry.

In support of the ban, approximately J$30M has so far been spent on public education in relation to the plastic ban, to include campaigns on radio, television, and print; public awareness visits and town hall meetings and meetings with business stakeholder groups.

Joint enforcement activities have also been conducted by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA).  To date, a total of 46 establishments have been served Compliance Notifications for breaches of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (Plastic Packaging Materials Prohibition) Order, 2018.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are positive steps in the right direction, but there is far more to be done in relation to our environment. Our air quality is another major concern and the all too frequent outbreaks of fires at our disposal sites, the most recent being at the Retirement disposal site, are proof positive that policies and legislation must be supported by concrete action.

Let me assure you, however, that our commitment is unwavering and the work continues apace.

In fact, we are moving to finalize the Emissions  Policy framework for Jamaica which will address some of the principal sources of emissions as well as the strategies and measures to be employed to address public health hazard.

Poor air quality has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the major contributors to millions of deaths annually as well as chronic illnesses. Air pollution is known as the “invisible killer” and causes approximately 2.4 million deaths worldwide on an annual basis due to heart disease.

In Jamaica, the Government is working assiduously to tackle several of the major sources of the emissions, including the regulation of motor vehicular and industrial emissions as well as emissions from the island’s disposal sites due to fires.

Air pollution across Kingston. (Photo: NEPA)

In the coming months, my Ministry will also be engaging the public on the draft Hazardous Waste Management Policy for Jamaica which was approved by Cabinet as a Green Paper last year.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all Jamaicans to participate in the islandwide consultations on the draft Policy which will commence in July 2019 so that we can have an informed document which addresses the issues and concerns of all Jamaicans with respect to the management of hazardous waste.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am also pleased to announce that Cabinet recently gave approval for Jamaica to sign the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean commonly referred to as the Escazu Agreement.

To date, 16 countries are signatories to the Agreement with one ratification [Guyana]. The objective of the Agreement among others is to guarantee the full and effective implementation in the Latin America and Caribbean region of the three access rights as well as the development and strengthening of capacities to support the protection of the rights of the individual to live in a healthy environment and sustainable development.

This Agreement is the first regional multilateral environmental agreement and the second such globally,  that deals with access rights. The other being the Aarhus Convention in Europe.

It should be noted that the tenets of the Escazu Agreement are in keeping the Jamaican  Constitution, Vision 2030 Jamaica: National Development Plan and the various pieces of legislation that deal with access rights,  including the Access to Information Act.

Implementation of the Escazú Agreement will allow for greater dissemination of information to the public and greater levels of transparency and accountability.  It will also promote the active involvement of the public in decision-making with respect to environmental matters.

Once the country has signed the Agreement, my Ministry will be leading the charge to ensure that the necessary policy and legislative amendments are undertaken to allow for implementation at the local level. Thereafter, a Submission will be sent to Cabinet for approval for Jamaica to ratify the Agreement – making the provisions of the instrument legally binding obligations on the country.

The Ministry is also in the process of updating the Climate Change Policy framework in keeping with recent developments at the regional and international levels, including the entry into force of the Paris Agreement.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith signing the Paris Agreement on behalf of Jamaica at UN Headquarters in New York. Jamaica ratified the Agreement on April 10, 2017. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade)

Ladies and gentlemen, we are putting in the work and we invite all Jamaicans to come on board with us as we work towards greener cities and a greener Jamaica.

Green Expo 2019, is an excellent vehicle for showcasing environmental best practices.  We have seen that there are vast opportunities for job creation and investment in the green economy, from the makers of alternatives to plastic packaging materials to companies offering renewable energy solutions and rainwater harvesting mechanisms.

Rainwater harvesting for both homes and businesses will be a critical adaptation tool at our disposal, given the fact that the drought seems to be a recurrent challenge we face on a yearly basis, and are likely to continue to face, especially with the impacts of climate change.

I am sure that the Green Expo will be attracting quite a number of companies already involved in green or renewable alternatives, as well as persons looking to invest in this rapidly expanding market.

Recently I was most heartened by the level of interest and response shown by ordinary Jamaicans in the Initial Public Offering (IPO) for the Wigton Windfarm. It is my fondest hope that there will be more opportunities for this level of investment in alternative energy in our country.

Ladies and gentlemen, the pathway to prosperity for our people and our country entails that we sustainably utilize what we have in abundance, our sunshine, our freshwater resources, our forests, our biodiversity and the natural resources with which we are blessed.

But our success will rely heavily on the partnerships that we create. This Administration firmly believes in the public-private partnership model, as a means of overcoming constraints on public resources and fiscal space.

Wigton Windfarm in Rose Hill, Manchester, began operations in 2004.

We must advocate for greater involvement and a renewed commitment by the private sector and private citizens in terms of their environmental stewardship and social responsibility. I, therefore, call on the leaders of the private sector, on all corporate entities and on all Jamaicans, to fully embrace green technologies and other environmental initiatives in carrying out their operations and in their daily lives.

We have to view environmental sustainability in a holistic manner with the full realization that it impacts, and is impacted by all our sectors.

Where we build, how we build, what materials we use; how we plan and organize our communities, towns, and cities; our energy dependency and use; the source and distribution of our freshwater resources; land use and development are all critical considerations as we approach the new decade.

They will be the deciding factors in the sustainable future that we envision, and we all want.  I am hoping that we can all make a difference for our children and their children.  After all, “A Better Environment = A Better Life: do the right thing!” for them.

In closing, I wish to again thank the JCDT and all partners, for helping us to gain a better understanding of what we can all do, to contribute to a greener Jamaica through Green Expo 2019.

I wish for everyone a fruitful Expo and look forward to the positive outcomes.

The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Leo Heileman presents a copy of the Green Economy Scoping Study to Minister Without Portfolio Daryl Vaz in March 2016. It’s been three years. Let’s get on with the Green Economy, please! (My photo)

 


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