Organised by the UK Overseas Territories Conference Forum, ‘Making the Right Connections’ was a conference focused on conservation in UK Overseas territories, Crown Dependencies and other small island communities, held at the Westin Casuarina last month. Crammed full of presentations, discussion points, shared experiences, field trips and social events, the conference brought together a diverse group of individuals for a common cause – to establish and reaffirm partnerships between countries, swap ideas and thereby assist countries on a local level in meeting their needs when it comes to the environment. Business Editor, Lindsey Turnbull was in attendance and reports.
Now in its tenth year, the UKOTCF for 2009 was held for the first time in the Cayman Islands last month, in conjunction with the Cayman Islands government’s Department of the Environment and the National Trust of the Cayman Islands.
By way of a background to the central theme of this year’s event, it is important to understand significant developments that have taken place in recent years between the UK government and its overseas territories with regard to the environment.
In September 2001 Environment Charters were signed between the UK government and the governments of the UKOTs. These documents underscore the shared responsibilities each party has for the territory’s environmental conservation. It is a two-way street: when it comes to international commitments on the environment, it is the UK that is accountable; however the territories are responsible for implementing and enforcing local legislation. Participating UKOTs, Crown Dependencies and other small island nations include: Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, Ascension Island, St Helena, Tristan de Cuhna, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, Pitcairn Islands, Gibraltar, Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas, Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.
In 2007 the UKOTCF published a review of the implementation of the 2001 Environment Charter (or the equivalent to meet international commitments for those territories without charters). Early that same year the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Minister reported to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee that the UK government would be using UKOTCF’s review to monitor progress and consider future work. The Cayman conference gave participants the opportunity to further review and discuss how the UKOTs and the UK government have used the Charters as a platform for meeting their international commitments. This review also gave UKOTs a platform to discuss a variety of other conservation challenges that they may face.
At the start of the four-day conference, Catherine Quick, UKOTCF co-ordinator, outlined the major progress points achieved and major setbacks encountered by UKOTs when it came to implementing their Environment Charters.
It was noted that major progress had been made by Bermuda in the number of nature protected areas that had been designated, such as the nature reserves at Scroggins Hill and Cooper’s Island, and the Falkland Islands had increased its number of nature protected areas that had improved the quality of nature since the 2001 signings. Tristan de Cuhna had increased the number of sites designated as Wetlands of International importance, which was seen as significant progress as well. On the downside, grants and funding by the territory’s governments had been curtailed in some cases and this was seen as a major setback. Bermuda had cancelled a $100,000 annual government environmental grants scheme and the Departure Tax in Cayman, although collected for an “Environmental Fund” could not be readily accessed for environmental funding purposes. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Conservation Fund had apparently been depleted by government for other uses and similar in Anguilla.
Most seriously, in Turks, Quick said that there has been severe damage to protected areas and other areas which should have been protected. Anguilla also had a serious problem when it came to invasive species threatening indigenous species. If no conservation action plan was put in place then the invasive issue would only worsen, it was reported.
Waste management is a big issue for small island nations. In the Turks and Caicos, for example, local media reported terrible problems with waste management and health problems caused by the dump on Providenciales. In the British Virgin Islands bottle collecting for shipment for recycling has begun and a non-profit organisation called Green VI has been formed to address waste management. One of their first projects will be to install an incinerator on Tortola. A major setback in Anguilla has been the sudden cessation by that country’s Environmental health department of the collection of glass bottles, while in St Helena they have an arrangement with RMS St Helena to manage the disposal of waste oil generated on island, indicating significant progress.
Ensuring that Territories undertake environmental impact studies before approving major development projects has been a key issue within the Environmental Charters. It was reported that in Turks in practice no EIAs are required on many projects, including those proposed by the government. Development proposals for land in protected areas and National Trust land continue to be submitted and in some cases even promoted by the Turks government. In Anguilla it was reported that the EIA exercise is purely “cosmetic” in terms of timing and decision-making, with developments pressing ahead before the EIA has even been completed. On the flip side, a new law introduced this year requires EIAs to be made for certain types of developments. In Bermuda and the Cayman Islands EIAs are publicly available for major projects (although not mandatory in Cayman) while in Anguilla EIAs are secret documents considered in closed meetings and public input is limited.
Major progress had also taken place with regard to the information being made available as baseline data for natural resources and biodiversity. Monitoring programmes were in place in Cayman, Anguilla, Ascension, St Helena, Tristan de Cuhna, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. Ensuring that polluters are adequately punished is an important commitment of the Environmental Charter, however a major setback on the Turks and Caicos and Anguila was that it was doubted that pollution monitoring occurred or was enforced in these two jurisdictions.
On the plus side, most territories have environmental education initiatives in place, another important commitment. [Read more on this in the next edition of The Journal.]
In summation, Quick said that it was a “rather mixed picture” and there had been less progress than most would have hoped for with regard to the implementation of Environmental Charters (with a few notable exceptions) but that conservation personnel, which included the UK government, had not received the tools necessary to do the job.
“It might be worthwhile to look at what the blockages in fulfilling the Commitments are and what can be done to address them,” she stated.
Read an update to the progress made on Cayman’s own Environment Charter in next month’s Journal.