Environmental watchdogs are calling on government to “seize the moment” and create a greener post-COVID Cayman.
In a comprehensive position paper, jointly authored by the Department of Environment and the National Conservation Council, the two bodies recommend a ‘green stimulus’ to put the environment at the heart of the post-pandemic recovery.
“When strategising on the future economic recovery of the country, it is important to take stock and reflect on the position which immediately preceded the onset of COVID-19 and those aspects of life that could be improved or enhanced as part of the recovery plan,” the document states.
“Traffic gridlock, biodiversity loss, and habitat fragmentation were all among the consequences of unbridled growth before COVID-19.”
It suggests that the virus, while devastating from a health perspective, provides a moment of pause for the Cayman Islands to reflect on its growth.
The paper recommends a rethink of Cayman’s approach, including a new focus on sustainable tourism, renewable energy, expanded marine parks and land-based national parks.
It also suggests Cayman capitalise on the COVID work-from-home trend and accelerate infrastructure development that promotes cycling, jogging and walking over car use.
“No one is looking forward to sitting in stand-still traffic again,” the report states.
“The changes we have experienced under the Shelter-in-Place restrictions can be leveraged into long lasting change so that we can be more productive as a society, spending less time in our cars.”
It suggests several changes in eight key sectors including:
- Energy independence and diversification – New focus on renewable energy, including expansion of CUC’s CORE programme for household solar.
- Sustainable tourism – Refocus from mass cruise tourism to upmarket visitors, including ‘carrying capacity’ assessment for natural attractions.
- Building renovations – Grant schemes and green loans to make existing buildings more energy efficient.
- Sustainable mobility and transport – Encourage work-from-home policies and invest in bicycle and public transport infrastructure.
- Recovery of biodiversity – Pass legislation to expand marine parks, invest further in culling invasive species, and incentivise measures to protect turtle nesting.
- Sustainable agriculture – Protect land for agriculture and support modern methods, like hydroponics and vertical growing, to enhance Cayman’s food security.
- Amenities and connectivity – Develop neighbourhood plans with recreational space for people to walk, jog or play.
- Circular economy – Reduce waste by creating initiatives to repurpose and reuse the things we throw away.
Handled correctly, putting green initiatives at the heart of the islands’ economic recovery should create jobs, the report states.
It adds that it will also help Cayman survive the next great threat to its future – climate change.
“For small, low-lying countries such as the Cayman Islands, the science is now clear that current and future climate-related drivers of risk during the 21st century include sea-level rise, stronger tropical cyclones or hurricanes, increasing air and sea surface temperatures and changing rainfall patterns,” the report notes.
One broadly noted element of global lockdowns has been the reprieve that the absence of humanity has provided to nature.
The report argues that this should serve as a wake-up call for people to change their approach to the natural world.
“How we emerge from the state of lockdown will have lasting effects on global biodiversity,” it states.
“The reduction in environmental degradation as a result of the pandemic has the potential to trigger enormous benefits on biodiversity and conservation outcomes… We are calling for a plan for nature, one that sufficiently invests in the protection, restoration and sustainable management of biodiversity, and that repositions nature at the heart of sustainable development.”
It added that this could be integrated with a tourism plan that focusses less on cruise travel and more on high-end tourism, including natural experiences.
For residents, too, it suggests shelter-in-place regulations have caused a shift in priorities, with more people focussed on using their 90-minutes exercise for jogging and nature walks, rather than spending time in the gym.
Investment in neighbourhood trails could make this a sustainable solution, it states.
The report suggests the pandemic has created an unmissable opportunity to rethink Cayman’s future.
It adds, “COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways that may have seemed impossible. Surviving the transition to COVID-19 protection measures was hard, but moving forward in a sustainable way will be easier.
“Through collective, planned and deliberate action, we can make key changes that will have long-lasting effects on the environment and provide for a sustainable future and a better quality of life.”