Nearly a decade ago, a never-implemented draft climate change policy set out broad-reaching ambitions for the Cayman Islands.
The policy, ‘Achieving a Low Carbon, Climate-Resilient Economy’, established a five-year action plan to address climate-related issues such as safeguarding marine and terrestrial resources, energy security, water resources, food security, critical infrastructure, and the tourism, insurance and financial sectors.
While select goals have been met – such as establishing both a National Conservation Law and a National Energy Policy – the 2011 draft policy sought much more ambitious and immediate action, explained climate change consultant Lisa Ann Hurlston, chair of the National Conservation Council’s Climate Change Committee.
“The [climate change] policy sought to achieve specific, immediate actions within a short period of time,” Hurlston said in an email to the Cayman Compass.
The policy came after a four-year consultation period facilitated by the UK that focused on adaptation strategies, action plans and public education.
During that process, she said, the idea of also addressing climate change mitigation through a plan to lessen Cayman’s own greenhouse gas emissions came into focus.
The draft climate change policy came two years before publication of the National Energy Policy. But unlike the energy plan, the climate policy never went to Cabinet.
Hurlston added, “It was with much hope that the draft [climate change policy] could be revived in light of the 2017-2037 energy policy, which incorporates some [greenhouse gas emission] reduction targets based on some calculations I provided to [the Department of Environment], as the [climate change policy] did not contain any.”
While she believes the climate change policy was on the right track in its legislative and policy goals, it wasn’t perfect. It lacked a cost component, for example.
“We had been trying to get Government to fund or seek external funding for this prior to completion of drafting,” Hurlston said.
“The [Department of Environment] continues to rally for a … review to be conducted for the Cayman Islands, so we understand the true economic implications of projected climate changes and know the cost of and when the interventions need to be put in place to adequately climate-proof various sectors, vulnerable communities, stretches of coastline, etc.”
What about the National Energy Policy?
While the National Energy Policy sets out certain climate-change and carbon-reduction goals, Hurlston said its strategies are not ambitious enough, given the current reality in Cayman.
“Since the [climate change policy’s] drafting in 2011, much development, habitat loss and associated increase in emissions have taken place, especially in Grand Cayman, although some recommended action in the policy has come to pass,” Hurlston said.
She said an updated Development Plan, which is in the works, may also bring some previous recommendations on environmental and coastal zone management into effect.
For now, the National Energy Policy, established under the remit of Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew, is the only enforced policy in Cayman to mention climate change. Hew said the policy takes aim at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No. 7 on affordable and clean energy, and seeks to achieve the climate goals of the Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol.
“We are all aware of the threats of global warming, rising sea tides. As small island countries, we have no control over the things that are affecting us but we have to be prepared and focused on how we mitigate against these threats,” Hew said in a written statement.
“Sea level rise, for example, poses an obvious threat to us in the Cayman Islands and so we have to think differently about development if we are to meet these challenges successfully. We need to think in terms of greater set-backs and higher building heights so we give room for the sea. These issues are being addressed in the comprehensive ‘Plan Cayman’ process that my Ministry is leading on behalf of the Government.”
Hew highlighted recent positive environmental steps such as duty incentives for electric vehicle imports, work to retrofit government buildings to improve energy efficiency, announcement of a single-use plastics ban and a public transportation study.
Actions outlined in the 2011 draft climate change policy:
• Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through energy conservation and greater use of renewable energy;
• Enhancing infrastructure resilience through measures such as increased coastal and mangrove construction setbacks, and avoiding new construction in vulnerable areas;
• Promotion of water conservation and improved rainwater harvesting;
• Enhancing ecosystem resilience through measures such as:
– Development of a Seven Mile Beach renourishment contingency plan
– Greater monitoring of coral reefs and sources of pollution to reef ecosystems
– Expansion of mangrove replanting;
• Strengthened food security through increased use of locally produced food;
• Creating more environmentally responsible tourism while enhancing the resilience of tourism infrastructure;
• Development of multi-use shelters designed to withstand Category 5 hurricanes;
• Establishment of community-based vulnerability mapping and disaster planning.