Is this a green govern­ment?

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Peter Espeut Peter Espeut is a so­ci­ol­o­gist, ru­ral-de­vel­op­ment sci­en­tist, and nat­u­ral-re­source man­ager. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­

“WE WON!” shouted Pro­fes­sor Les Kauf­man of Bos­ton Univer­sity to me two nights ago as we met in the ho­tel bar over­look­ing Hol­land’s North Sea. News of the Ja­maican Govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to save the Goat Is­lands from be­com­ing a Chi­nese en­clave flashed around the world last month, and wishes of in­ter­na­tional pos­i­tiv­ity poured in.

Gath­ered here in No­ord­wijk in the Nether­lands at the 2016 An­nual Meet­ing of the Pew Marine Fel­lows are the big­gest names in coastal con­ser­va­tion from all around the world. Twenty years ago, I was named in the first batch of Marine Pew Fel­lows as I worked to­wards the cre­ation of the Port­land Bight Pro­tected Area, Ja­maica’s largest con­ser­va­tion com­plex con­tain­ing swathes of valu­able ter­res­trial and marine ecosys­tems, in­clud­ing the Goat Is­lands. When the area came into ex­is­tence in 1999, the director of the Pew Fel­lows Pro­gramme flew in to Ja­maica for the oc­ca­sion to celebrate with us.

And, for a change, there is now a lot to be happy about. The de­ci­sion of the new gen­er­ally young JLP govern­ment to aban­don the ill­con­ceived Ne­gril break­wa­ter project was well re­ceived. And the res­o­lu­tion pro­posed by young Matthew Sa­muda and passed in the Se­nate last week to ban the im­por­ta­tion of sty­ro­foam and some plas­tic bags is a huge pos­i­tive step to­wards sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment in Ja­maica. Maybe this JLP Govern­ment will be green af­ter all!

It didn’t look so when this Govern­ment hid the en­vi­ron­ment port­fo­lio in­side the Min­istry of Eco­nomic Growth and Job Cre­ation and com­bined the fish­eries port­fo­lio (re­ally a type of hunt­ing of wildlife) with In­dus­try and Com­merce. I am still to be fully con­vinced, but the Govern­ment’s first few en­vi­ron­men­tally re­lated an­nounce­ments have been in the right di­rec­tion.


Here in Hol­land, 60 per cent of their land area is be­low sea level, 60 per cent of their pop­u­la­tion lives be­low sea level, and 60 per cent of their GDP is earned be­low sea level. We Ja­maicans learn from our pri­mary-school days that this mar­itime na­tion de­fends it­self from in­va­sion by the sea by a sys­tem of break­wa­ters, dykes, locks, and wind­mills which pump and trans­port the wa­ter out to sea.

At our con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, we were ad­dressed by Dr Rien van Zet­ten, the coastal en­gi­neer re­spon­si­ble for sea de­fence in the Dutch Min­istry of In­fra­struc­ture and the En­vi­ron­ment. He ex­plained that their coastal de­fence prob­lems have be­come even more acute as they are af­fected both by sea-level rise and the sub­sid­ing of al­ready low­ly­ing coastal land ar­eas be­cause of the over­pump­ing of aquifers for ir­ri­ga­tion and the com­pres­sion of the peat un­der­layer.

I sat with him at lunch, and he ex­plained that they have also de­cided that their cen­turies-old sea-de­fence sys­tem of break­wa­ters, dykes, locks, and wind­mills was part of their prob­lem. For the last sev­eral decades, they have been us­ing beach nour­ish­ment, pump­ing off­shore sand from 20 kilo­me­tres out into the North Sea into ships, and dis­charg­ing it on­shore to build up the dunes on the seafront. Nat­u­ral pro­cesses will then re­dis­tribute the sand to where it is most needed.

Dutch govern­ment pol­icy calls for 12 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of sand per year to be put on­shore each year, and they have cal­cu­lated that at that rate of beach nour­ish­ment, they have enough sand to pro­tect their 375km (233 miles) of coast­line for the next 1,000 years.

The Dutch, with cen­turies of ex­pe­ri­ence in coastal en­gi­neer­ing for sea de­fence, and more pro­found prob­lems than we have, have re­jected break­wa­ters in favour of beach nour­ish­ment. The Govern­ment has made the cor­rect choice for Ne­gril. We need to con­sider what our ap­proach to Hell­shire and other beaches should be.

And maybe the govern­ment of the Nether­lands can help.

This year’s new Pew Fel­lows have some great projects. One is work­ing on shark and tur­tle con­ser­va­tion among fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties in Costa Rica. An­other is work­ing to in­form pol­i­cy­mak­ers and com­mu­ni­ties in Sri Lanka on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. Yet an­other is en­hanc­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of marine pro­tected ar­eas in the western In­dian Ocean.

Look­ing at what is now be­ing done else­where, our plans for Port­land Bight 20 years ago were decades in ad­vance. We would have been far ahead if we had not been sab­o­taged by the very Govern­ment that brought the Port­land Bight Pro­tected Area into ex­is­tence. His­tory will not be kind to them.

There is al­ways some­thing new to learn about sus­tain­able liv­ing. The car­pets at the ho­tel here in No­ord­wijk are made of re­cy­cled dis­carded fish­ing nets and there is much more. If we want more en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious tourists to come to Ja­maica, and if this govern­ment is re­ally green, it will have to in­fuse sus­tain­able-tourism con­cepts into our hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try.

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