HC 846 Sustainability in the Overseas Territories

Written evidence submitted by Cayman Islands Department of Environment

This submission is provided in the context of the Department of Environment’s remit as the agency responsible for the conservation and management of the natural environment and resources of the Cayman Islands. The views outlined in the submission relate not only to the key issues in respect of the challenges facing the natural environment but also those which ultimately impact greatest on the implementation of the principles of sustainable development, particularly the integration of environmental concerns in national decision making.

1 General Challenges to Sustainability

In general terms we see the main challenges as:

1.1 Lack of a national sustainable development framework. Achievement of sustainable development is impeded by the lack of adequate development planning and management legislation – there is no comprehensive development plan or planning policy, no comprehensive conservation legislation or environmental health regulations. This is particularly critical in the Sister Islands where there are no Development Plans and limited planning legislation. This situation is currently being exploited on these small islands, with a significant number of large tracts of undeveloped land being subdivided into small lots, marketed and sold by a UK based investment company with no regard to the immediate environmental impacts associated with potential development of the land (including the speculative clearing of these sites), as well as the wider socio-economic considerations and the future infrastructure requirements to support such development.

1.2 Climate change, energy and coastal works (seabed) policies remain in draft form and therefore have limited, if any, influence on the environmental management and development process. Where policies exist, they tend to operate in isolation with little or no integration at a national or inter-disciplinary level. There is no strategic focus or plan for the economic development of the Islands which takes account of the Islands’ physical characteristics (size, environmental opportunities, assets and constraints), the indigenous population base and cultural identity. Economic planning and development decisions are largely reactive and often appear to be based on an inappropriate scale and business model. Collection, analysis and use of reliable and relevant data and statistics needs to be greatly improved in the interests of assisting in sound economic planning.

1.3 Rapid population growth – the absence of a long term planning strategy and lack of comprehensive conservation legislation, coupled with rapid population growth, has resulted in development which is undertaken in an ad hoc manner with little or no regard to preserving the integrity of the local environment. In addition, there is no strategic assessment of the infrastructure requirements associated with this increasing population, to the detriment of the environment. This problem is amplified by the high volume of cruise tourists that visit Grand Cayman (1.5 million visitors per annum) and piecemeal implementation of the National Tourism Management Plan.

1.4 No formal project appraisal/evaluation process (cost benefit analysis, strategic environmental assessment and environmental impact assessment) results in lack of integration of environmental concerns in economic development and causes conflict between technical advice and political decision-making. Enactment of legislation – such as the draft National Conservation Law – is urgently required to provide a mechanism for environmental concerns to be integrated into national plans and policies.

1.5 Lack of long-term sustainable funding for environmental programmes and projects due to inability to access the Environmental Protection Fund. An Environmental Protection Fee, first implemented in 1997, is collected from every person departing the Cayman Islands and is deposited in an Environmental Protection Fund within the Government’s General Revenue. This fee was initially proposed by the Department of Environment as a means of securing sustainable revenue for funding the purchase of conservation land and resourcing environmental projects, vetted against appropriate conservation criteria. However, the Fund which now stands at $43 million is not readily accessible for its intended purposes, as it is forms a large proportion of the overall Government cash reserve required under local financial management legislation. There is therefore an urgent need to decouple the Fund from General Reserves so that it can serve its intended purpose.

1.6 The environment is a low political priority which means that it is either not considered or is assigned a much lower weight than other factors in the decision making process.

2. Environmental Challenges to Sustainability

The main environmental challenges are as follows:

2.1 Climate change – the Cayman Islands will need to make a concerted effort to address the impacts of climate change (elevated sea temperatures, ocean acidification, storms, sea level rise etc.) by taking early steps to adapt as well as making a real effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A Draft Climate Change Policy was produced under the Enhancing the Capacity for Adaptation to Climate Change Project funded by DFID. Despite three years of public consultation, Government still has not formally considered the policy and it remains in draft form. A draft National Energy Policy is currently being reviewed and assessed by external consultants, whose brief is to evaluate the economic implications of the proposed policy. Both of these policies, if properly implemented, have the potential to make significant progress towards addressing climate change issues.

2.2 Habitat loss and fragmentation – the lack of a proper development approval and management framework, coupled with a lack of terrestrial protected areas, is resulting in an escalating rate of habitat fragmentation and loss on the three Cayman Islands. This potentially has grave consequences for biodiversity conservation and within a wider context, sustainable development in the territory.

2.3 Invasive species (marine and terrestrial) – dealing with invasive species is placing increasing pressure on human and financial resources for environmental management. On land the green iguana and select invasive plant species pose the greatest threat to native species. In the marine environment, the lionfish invasion which has become a regional problem within the Caribbean is a significant and increasing threat to local marine resources. A Private Members Motion, recently approved in the Legislative Assembly, has committed the Government to considering the establishment of a bounty of $5 per lionfish with the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) being used to finance this initiative. The Department of Environment is very concerned as it believes that this is not an appropriate approach for addressing the problem of lionfish and will simply result in the rapid depletion of the EPF, with no tangible result.

2.4 Lack of a comprehensive solid waste management plan – the lack of an integrated approach to solid waste management and legislative framework to control or reduce the generation of waste requires urgent attention in order to address significant environmental impacts such as migration of landfill leachate directly into the marine environment. Regardless of the lack of a strategic waste management plan for the country, Government is currently considered relocating landfill operations to a privately owned wetland site, on the periphery of the Central Mangrove Wetland. A project-specific EIA has been commissioned for the site, but currently Terms of Reference exclude consideration of the wider issues of alternative locations and technologies, the cost-benefit of addressing the countries solid waste requirements at the current site versus the proposed greenfield site. The lack of a strategic approach has polarized the community on this issue.

3. Governance for Sustainable Development

Within the Cayman Islands good governance with respect to sustainable development and the environment is impeded by the issues outlined below.

3.1 Lack of legislation and policies which correctly delineate technical and political decisions.

3.2 Lack of appropriate project/plan assessment and approval processes which create inconsistencies in decision making.

3.3 There is a lack of appropriate Government direction and coordination, technical oversight and analysis of major economic investment/development plans (e.g. port developments, For Cayman Investment Alliance, Enterprise City, Health City Cayman). This results in decisions being based on incomplete or inadequate information and environmental concerns being marginalized. Often the environmental costs and benefits of such projects are not properly identified and accounted for in the overall project cycle.

3.4 Limited public access to key decision making processes e.g. Planning approval, limited right to object.

3.5 Key decision making bodies such as the Central Planning Authority, which comprises a board predominantly representing the construction industry, are not representative of the community which they serve, making them inherently conflicted.

3.6 Large projects involving both offshore (Cabinet’s jurisdiction) and land based components (Central Planning Authority’s jurisdiction) are not reviewed, assessed and determined collaboratively and comprehensively. Separate decisions are issued independently by the two bodies. This creates the potential for applicants to achieve permission for one element (i.e. offshore or onshore) and not the other, resulting in an untenable situation for both the applicant and the decision-making bodies. Consequently, poor decision making from an environmental perspective is greatly increased as it is often impossible to take full account of ecological linkages between the terrestrial and marine environment.

4. Cooperation with the UK

4.1 Traditionally, technical cooperation with the UK in the area of environmental issues has been in biodiversity/conservation management and planning. For example, collaborative projects between DOE and UK academic/conservation institutions with associated funding mechanisms (e.g. Darwin, OTEP, RBG Kew, JNCC and UKOTCF). These relationships have generally been beneficial; however, an area of concern remains the underrepresentation of the Cayman Islands/Territory views with respect to the UK’s position in negotiations on international treaties, due to the bloc voting approach of the UK within the European Union.

4.2 The Department values the introduction of the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Steering Group meetings (facilitated by the JNCC) as a coordinating mechanism for biodiversity issues.

4.3 The Cayman Islands does not fall into relevant categories that qualify them for various mechanisms of international funding and aid and subsequently many are not available for utilisation. Mechanisms that are available tend to focus at the Caribbean territories or regional level and are not country specific. Cayman’s relatively isolated geography presents some fairly unique challenges which would benefit from country specific approaches. Given the limited opportunity for the Cayman Islands to access external funding, the introduction of the Darwin Plus funding mechanism is extremely welcome.

4.4 It is critical that the Cayman Islands continue to have access to UK expertise, technical support and resources as we continue in our endeavours to promote sustainability in all three islands. However, the Department of Environment believes that in order to realise this aspiration and achieve a more sustainable future for the Islands, local action and political commitment is ultimately  what is required.

30 November 2012

Prepared 14th January 2013