“The greenest since Independence”: Jamaica Labour Party defends its environmental record

As COP26 (the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow) winds on, and Caribbean leaders make wonderful speeches at the podium, the Jamaican Government has been feeling a little pressure at home from some Jamaicans (including myself) who are concerned that the speeches don’t quite match up to activities on the ground.

Such activities would include, of course, ongoing mining in and around Cockpit Country; the depredations of the South Coast Highway Project in eastern Jamaica, including the felling of old trees in the San San area; the destruction of mangrove forests in western Jamaica to build a mega-hotel and casino; the felling of more old trees by developers right across the Kingston/St. Andrew area; and other activities that do not seem at all “climate friendly.”

Or “resilient.” Or “sustainable.” Or any of the other buzzwords you care to mention.

Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns is the Opposition Spokeswoman on Environment and Climate Change.

In particular, remarks from the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) seem to have irked the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Tweets from miserable environmentalists like me were largely tolerated (probably with eye rolls), but it was the PNP’s remarks (in particular from its Environment Spokeswoman, Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns) which eventually prompted a press release – under the party letterhead. Almost simultaneously, several Government Members of Parliament also took to the airwaves and to social media, valiantly defending the JLP’s record and pouring scorn on the PNP’s previous efforts when it was in power.

Yes, partisan politics always seems to enter the fray, before too long.

Leading the charge was State Minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Robert Nesta Morgan, whose portfolio is Youth. He is now a Member of Parliament and formerly served as the Prime Minister’s spokesman. On this occasion, he harnessed the somewhat neglected “Information” part of the Ministry’s portfolio to fire off a long Twitter thread (by the way, what has happened to the once-weekly post-Cabinet press briefings, once hosted by the Information Minister? These seem to have been abandoned in favor of social media posts). Minister Morgan was soon joined in a loud chorus by several of his colleagues. It was a concerted effort.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Robert Morgan.

Please find below the JLP’s spirited defence of its environmental record below. Apart from the repeated mention of Goat Islands (there are actually two) years ago, and Cockpit Country, this mostly consists of a list of the roles the party leader has taken on the international stage – which is not quite what critics had been getting at. Many of us are looking at what is happening at home, and wondering if it all adds up.

JLP Proud of Environmental Achievements

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP has taken note of the comments made by the People’s National Party (PNP) as it relates to the environmental management of Jamaica and our positioning in the international arena.

To be abundantly clear, the JLP rubbishes the claims put forward and labels them as hypocritical and baseless. Furthermore, the attacks on the Prime Minister while representing the country at COP26 is a vulgar display of partisan political interest over national interest.

Significant strides have been made in the environmental management of the country under the Jamaica Labour Party administration of the last 6 years. Further, it is this Andrew Holness-led government that has given international leadership and technical direction to global issues of Climate Change. Jamaica’s Climate Change policy and profile is acknowledged as one of the most comprehensive in the region, with progressive targets for emissions reduction and carbon sequestration, and resilience building through appropriate climate finance strategies.

Some of the major achievements over the last five years include:

Fourteen forestry orders which remains (sic) unprecedented;

The declaration of the proposed Cockpit Country boundaries after 40 years of lip service;

The declaration of the Black River Morass area;

(It is important to note that these declarations have moved Jamaica’s protected areas to exceed 30 percent of the land mass which, interestingly enough, doubles the target of 15 percent set by the United Nations).

This is what Great Goat Island looked like on September 14, 2013 when we traveled round the islands. (My photo)

The ban on some single use plastic items;

Completion of the Parish Development Orders;

The significant increases in capacity and connection to proper sewage systems;

The tabling and enacting of a Modern Biodiversity policy;

Converting [Great?] Goat Island to a Nature Reserve, thereby reversing the PNP’s decision to make it a port and logistic hub possibly powered by coal;

The ongoing project to plant in excess of three million trees and restore damaged mangrove forests;

Jamaican Finance Minister Nigel Clarke (second right) explains the Catastrophe Bond that will provide the Government of Jamaica with financial protection of up to US $185 million against losses from named storms for three Atlantic tropical cyclone seasons ending in December 2023.
The government of Jamaica is the first government in the Caribbean region, and the first of any small island state, to independently sponsor a catastrophe bond, also known as a cat bond. 

Jamaica is the first Small Island State to issue a Catastrophe Bond to insure against climate disaster risks, and we are now developing the capacity in the Jamaica Stock Exchange to issue green bonds, leading the way in smart climate financing.

The government’s approach to Environmental Management and Climate Change has been acknowledged and recognized. This is evidenced by:

The PM’s invitation and subsequent service to the UNSG in the drive to achieve the $100 Billion USD target for the replenishment of the Global Climate Fund. This was in conjunction with President Macron of France and The Emir of Qatar.

The invitations to the PM to represent the views of SIDS at notable fora such as the G7 and G20.

The PM’s membership of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy convened by PM Solberg of Norway of which only 14 world leaders are members.

Jamaica has been selected as one of five pioneer countries by the Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance, for support in accessing finance for climate projects.

Just this week, Jamaica hosted RP21, the VII Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas and the Caribbean, and became the first Caribbean country to host a Regional Platform of its kind.

We know that our record in Environmental Management and Climate Change is sufficient to ensure that the government is seen as the “greenest since Independence.”

It is necessary to remind the public of the environmental record of the PNP, we can recall that in their last term of government they would have been known for the following:

The PNP planned to build a port and logistics industrial complex to be powered by a coal plant on Goat Island. We stopped that and are now converting it into a nature reserve.

They gave mining licenses to bauxite companies to prospect and mine within the proposed boundaries of the protected area of the Cockpit Country.

During their 18 years of government, they allowed the largest destruction of mangrove forests ever in the history of Jamaica.

Under the government of the PNP the greatest destruction of watershed areas took place.

The Prime Minister and Leader of the JLP has been on record saying, “There can be no sustainable economic development on the back of environmental degradation and consequently no prosperity steeped in pollution.”

Kingston waterfront.

And there’s more. Minister Morgan provided more details on planned programs, as follows, in a long and detailed Twitter thread, which I have reproduced below:

1. THE NEXT CITY: Jamaica’s Next (Third) City will provide a sustainable, carbon neutral and climate resilient environment that utilizes SMART technologies, as well as international best practices.

Estimate: US $360 Million for detailed planning and initial/start up implementation Location: To be finalised upon completion of Phase 1 Assessments in early 2020. Objectives: 1. To create a safe, alternative space for the populace in the event of wide-scale breakdown in infrastructure and services due to the impacts of climate change. 2. To develop a robust economic base that is resilient to external shocks. 3. To develop a SMART resilient city with the required technologies built in to provide efficient management services. Target Outcomes: 1. A developed, sustainable, carbon neutral and climate resilient New City based on international best practices and maximising on sustainable resource management including SMART technologies and powered by alternative energy sources. 2. A developed New City that considers and secures high yielding agricultural lands that support food security. 3. A New City that is the climate resilient model for other islands in the Caribbean and other Small Island Developing States.

KINGSTON MALECON The Kingston Waterfront, one of the few green spaces available to the public in the Downtown Kingston area, is a heavily used and important landmark. Not only does it provide a much-needed place for recreation and relaxation but the existing seawall assists in the protection of both biodiversity and coastal property. Estimate: US$ 94 Million for detailed design and implementation Location: Ocean Boulevard to the Port Royal tombolo bordering the Kingston Harbour.

MontegOceanarium: Construction of a Regional Centre for Climate Resilience and Ocean Conservation geared at providing the local, regional and visiting community with a platform for engaging on the sustainable management of natural resources and linkages with healthy seas. Estimate: US $28 Million for implementation Location: Walter Fletcher Beach, Montego Bay, St. James with outpost in Negril, Hanover.

MONTEGO BAY GROYNES REHABILITATION The Montego Bay Shoreline was dramatically reshaped in the 1970’s through a substantial reclamation project which created three crescent shaped beaches (Closed Harbour, Walter Fletcher, Gun Point) and small marina. Within this reclamation project, it was vital to incorporate defensive structures that would safeguard the new Montego Bay shoreline which included a combination of groynes and submerged sills. Estimate: US $28 Million for implementation Location: Walter Fletcher Beach, Montego Bay, St. James with outpost in Negril, Hanover.

IGUANA CONSERVATION PROGRAMME: The Hellshire Hills propelled itself to an area of conservation importance globally as the endemic Jamaican Iguana which was once common to these areas, but was thought to be extinct for a very long time, was rediscovered in the 1990’s by a farmer [actually, in 1990]. The Iguana conservation programme has yielded significant successes with the increase of the population in the wild from being extinct, to the total number of hatchling releases into the Hellshire Hills surpassing five hundred (500) Iguanas since the inception of the programme. Estimate: J $20 Million/Year Location: Hellshire Hills, St. Catherine.

GOAT ISLANDS WILDLIFE SANCTUARY: Despite the success of the Iguana Conservation programme, the Jamaican Iguana is still conservation dependent and it has been recognised that more needs to be done to ensure the survival of this species. Estimate: J$ 1,992,416,000.00 Location: Goat Islands, St. Catherine Objective: To provide a safe haven for Jamaica’s endangered and endemic wildlife and to conserve artefacts of cultural significance.

So, there you have it. There is much to chew on, or in the current jargon, “A lot to unpack.” There is much more to follow also, I am sure. Please give it all some thought.

Great Goat Island (foreground) and Little Goat Island in the Portland Bight Protected Area. (Photo: Jeremy Francis/savegoatislands.org)

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