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At the beginning of November 2022, a group of visiting professors from the University of Saskatchewan participated in a ‘World Café’ event, coordinated by Jennifer Ahearn and her colleagues at the Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resiliency.
One of the major takeaways from that session, which also included attendees from the Department of the Environment (DoE), water, solar and electricity sectors, was that there is a need in the Cayman Islands for wider political commitment to curb long-term climate change impacts.
Importance of political commitment
Generally speaking, wider political commitment is crucial because, under the constitution of the Cayman Islands, it is our Legislature (made up of His Majesty and Parliament) which has the power to make laws.
A renewed level of political commitment is now urgently required to ensure that new Acts are passed and that some existing Acts are revised to strengthen the legislative infrastructure.
This will lead to a number of outcomes:
These outcomes can be achieved with the right level of political awareness and political commitment to create the right environment and support needed to pass the right legislation.
In terms of the required Acts, these include:
Clean Air Act
While it may not be obvious at first, a slight poke of one’s head above the cloud of Cayman’s hustle and bustle allows one to see that there are a number of actors that impact our air quality.
These include the Department of Environmental Health (DEH), whose director confirmed that DEH uses its incinerator to burn at least six thousand pounds of medical and other waste each week with no emissions monitoring, and others who run generators or routinely burn garbage and other chemicals on their properties.
In addition to these existing actors, the previous government administration signed a contract with DART as a new actor to design, build, finance and maintain a new integrated solid waste management system (“ReGen”).
One of the projected outcomes of the ReGen project is to reduce the volume of garbage deposited in the George Town landfill by as much as 95 per cent.
In connection with this, it is understood that the ReGen project will utilize an incineration process, whereas ReGen will utilize the latest technology and filtering systems to reduce the number of gases that are eventually released into the air.
Notwithstanding these systems and the fact that DART will adopt what is said to be the high standard of the European Union Industrial Emissions Directive, it is still possible that some toxins may be released into the air.
In order to guestimate the impact, it is expected that an environmental impact assessment will done to confirm what might be expected from the new ReGen facility as well as what existing nearby actors have been contributing to the air prior to the ReGen facility.
Single-Use Plastics Act
As to what will be burned in the new ReGen facility and what is currently being incinerated by others, it is understood that everything, including plastics are candidates.
While these plastics are waiting to be incinerated in the new ReGen facility or by other facilities, environmental groups like Plastic Free Cayman (who have collected over 15,000 pounds of plastic from Cayman’s beaches since the organisation’s inception) continue to advocate for the Islands’ reduction of plastic use, in particular, via a legal ban on single-use plastics in Cayman.
Regarding what has been done to date, Plastic Free Cayman has led public discussions on the topic and met with various government officials over the years. However, to date, there is still no Single-Use Plastics Ban Act.
Revised Litter Act
In the case of plastics and other items that don’t end up on the George Town landfill, our beaches and other public areas are the home for some of the garbage.
Unfortunately, our current Litter Act is from 1997 and is outdated, with a mere $500 fine or six- months imprisonment if convicted.
Other Acts referring to litter are also not strict enough and sometimes complex to enforce as each law designates a different agency as the authority to deal with litter (note that derelict vehicles also fall within the definition of ‘litter’ under some Acts).
In this case, what is needed is a stricter infrastructure with steep fines where individuals and corporations can be ticketed (without having to go to court).
In addition, only one Act, perhaps incorporated into a Revised Litter Act, is required to cover all litter and garbage offences (including debris from construction sites) rather than having litter provisions spread across many different and complex Acts and regulations.
Stormwater Management Act
Regarding the litter that is not dumped directly into a landfill or burned, some of it ends up in drain wells or is carried by rain to other locations and is mixed with dirt and other particles, contributing to the overall stormwater management issue.
To address this issue, a stormwater management committee prepared a report in 2003 and a new stormwater management committee was established in 2021 under the Ministry of Planning & Infrastructure to look at the 2003 report and consider next steps.
In addition, it is understood that the CPA issued the “CPA Guidelines on Stormwater Management 2009.”
Notwithstanding these acts of good faith, it does not appear that any strict legislation was put in place to compel developers to ensure that developments contain a range of stormwater management friendly techniques.
Had extensive stormwater management been mandated by an Act, developers would have had to include in their consideration the creation of, or use of, retention ponds, swales, building other systems to flow into dormant quarries, and using treatment systems to remove contaminants from water before it ends up at its final destination.
Long-term sustainable development plan
It is also critically important that any stormwater management plan be a part of an overall, long-term sustainable development plan or Act and that will guide all future development in the Cayman Islands.
Without this plan, piece-meal development and rezoning of areas for special interests will continue, ultimately leading to a loss of protection that certain areas once afforded.
As a picture speaks a thousand words, it is, perhaps, better to illustrate the foregoing statement by using a diagram to show the impacts of not having a long-term sustainable development plan, not updating the development plan for many years in Cayman and building anywhere and everywhere.
As shown in the diagram to the right, the natural areas, ponds or swamps where rainwater and stormwater would normally flow in Cayman are frequently replaced by buildings and parking lots that change the direction of the water flow, sometimes channelling floodwater to neighbouring properties or actually taking it nowhere, eventually leading to a flooding of the neighbour’s property or one’s own newly built property.
The government is then called in to assist with the floodwater issue, which could have been remedied by having a long-term sustainable development plan or Act in place with strict requirements for developers at the planning stages to include proper protections in the design of their properties.
All of the foregoing shows that our individual actions, supported by a wider political commitment to implement legislation can do a lot to curb possible climate change impacts for the Cayman Islands. In addition, political commitment and the long-term sustainable plan must be factored into the plans for each ministry, not just the Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resiliency.
Lastly, but most importantly, such political commitment and implementation of the relevant mechanisms to combat climate change impacts must backed by sufficient funding. As to the source of such funding, monies could be reallocated to a long-term sustainable fund from annual infrastructure fees from big developments or from the Road Fund where import duties on gasoline are currently deposited (note that only a portion of the Road Fund is allocated to the NRA).
Source: NRA presentation on stormwater management
Alric Lindsay is a financial services professional, serving as a non-executive independent director to Cayman Islands based investment funds. Alric is also a volunteer in the community, assisting in a number of areas, including Meals on Wheels which delivers meals to the elderly and shut-ins.
Alric believes that the policy makers should change the economic formula for measuring a country's success so that it includes a value for natural capital i.e., our natural resources.