Climate policy gathers eight years of dust
Cayman is not doing anywhere near enough to prepare for the onslaught of climate change, despite being a low lying small island country on the front line
Cayman is not doing anywhere near enough to prepare for the onslaught of climate change, despite being a low lying small island country on the front line of sea level rise, experts have said. A climate change policy formulated in 2011 has been gathering dust in the Ministry of Environment because no minister has ever taken it to Cabinet for consideration. Meanwhile, government policy in general is not taking into account the dramatic impact climate change is going to have on the country.
Speaking at an event hosted by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands on Thursday evening about climate change and how it will impact the Cayman Islands, Wendy Williams, who runs the Department of Environment (DoE) Environmental Management Unit, said that “climate change should be a high priority” for the country. “But it’s not.”
One of three speakers during the event, Williams said the policy was now very outdated and really needed to be reviewed, given the importance of the changing climate and how it will affect society way beyond conservation considerations.
But she noted that Cayman was already more than eight years behind on working out how it would mitigate and adapt to the myriad problems that will be caused by climate change, from flooding to the destruction of coral. She also raised concerns about the lack of data available that would detail how rising temperatures and sea levels are going to impact these islands.
As members of the public expressed their concerns that no environment minister has ever taken up the policy, DoE director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said that her department had tried to push the policy forward but, given that they are still fighting to persuade people not to cut down mangroves, trying to get a climate policy on the agenda that requires fundamental changes to our way of life would be “a big leap”.
But the country should not be making any decisions without considering how climate change will impact things in the future, she added.
The policy was pulled together while Mark Scotland was environment minister, and although his successor, Wayne Panton, had been keen to present the policy to his Cabinet colleagues, he had prioritised the National Conservation Law and the marine parks enhancement, both of which turned out to be a mammoth battle. He told CNS that if he had been returned to office and continued as environment minister, it would have been taken to Cabinet during this administration.
“It has to be a priority now to address climate change and consider the impacts for all policy decisions,” he stated. But he also noted the challenges he had regarding the conservation law and the marine park expansion.
“While Cabinet has now agreed those proposals in principle and even though they have been amended, it still hasn’t been implemented,” Panton added, as he echoed the director’s position that getting climate change onto the wider political agenda will not be easy.
Everyone at the event agreed that, as a community, the public is not talking about climate change anywhere near enough and as a result government is simply not factoring its impacts into future policies.
Lisa Hurlston-McKenzie, a member of the National Conservation Council who was also a speaker at the event, warned that Cayman may soon see the end of insurance cover on properties here because of our vulnerability as a low lying nation. But she also spoke about the opportunities presented by greening the economy.
She raised particular concerns about the planning consultation. She said that the proposals put forward for public review regarding the new national development plan were woefully inadequate when it came to the issue of climate change. However, she added a note of optimism when she said that the community needs to embrace the issue and pressure government.
Hurlston-McKenzie pointed to the growing activism emerging in the community and said that the success of the campaign to push for a referendum on the cruise port project, a massive environmental issue, was a lesson in how the people can force change.
Cathy Childs from the National Trust introduced the event and outlined the science of climate change. She spoke about how climate was impacting the frequency, intensity, movement and track of storms in our region. She also noted the concerns that most climate scientists have about the feedback loops of melting ice sheets and permafrost and other problems, including the likely failure of the world to meet the Paris emission reduction targets.
Childs ended the evening with an inspiration video narrated by teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and writer George Monbiot about the critically important but simple solution to climate change that everyone can get involved with.