The Earth’s climate is constantly changing, showing variations in temperature and rainfall patterns.
In recent times the climate has changed significantly, mainly due to the use of fossil fuels and the resultant release of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.
The drastic changes being experienced have been termed ‘climate change’, and without climate action – deliberate moves to curb contribution to climate change and safeguard ourselves against its effects – the environment, on which all life on Earth depends, will no longer sustain us.
“The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calls for collective action, and I think it should be understood in that way. Every country that is party to the Convention has a responsibility to emission reduction and that is why irrespective of what others are doing, we have a responsibility to make our contribution,” Principal Director of the Climate Change Division in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Una-May Gordon, tells JIS News.
“We take our responsibility seriously; we signed and ratified the Convention and the Paris Agreement, so we have a responsibility not only to ourselves but also to the global community to implement the actions we said we would,” she adds.
The Division manages the Government’s climate change agenda, ensuring that steps are taken to make the country climate resilient. The Division is also responsible for the implementation of the country’s climate change policy framework, which is one of the Government’s responses to climate change. Among the work of the Government in this arena are several mitigative actions.
“Mitigation is about avoidance and emission reduction from greenhouse gases released from the burning of fossil fuels. At this point, Jamaica is taking steps for the introduction of electric vehicles, the reduction in the use of fossil fuels and our fuel consumption. The establishment of the Wigton Wind Farm and solar parks like Paradise Solar Farms are all mitigation activities,” explains Ms. Gordon.
At present, pilot projects for the use of natural gases in public vehicles, such as the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses, are under way. Besides mitigation, the Principal Director says adaptation is a key focus area of the Division. Adaptation activities require much stakeholder engagement for behavioural change and buy-in to the climate change agenda.
Among the agencies working in furtherance of the climate change agenda and engaging stakeholder groups while doing so is the Forestry Department.
The Department manages State-owned forested areas, which amount to approximately 25 per cent of Jamaica’s forest cover, with a focus on maintaining forest cover and carrying out reforestation activities.
Forest covers are promoted as one of the most affordable ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, because of the role they play in the carbon cycle. Trees and other plants act as carbon sinks, storing large amounts of carbon dioxide, which helps to stabilise the climate.
Acting Chief Executive Officer and Conservator of Forests, Rainee Oliphant, says the Forestry Department has been working to promote and preserve local forested areas for their benefit to the country.
“We started our ‘Adopt-A Hillside’ Programme in 2010 and since then we have planted over 20 hectares of land – that’s a little over 12,000 trees – with the assistance of seven partners. We have our National Tree Planting Programme and National Tree Planting Day in October every year and we encourage persons to come out and get free timber seedlings and we sell fruit trees that we have in stock,” she says.
“We also have an annual reforestation activity we undertake, which is usually between 100 and 120 hectares of land that we plant on an annual basis. We also have a carbon stock monitoring system under the European Union-funded Budget Support Programme, which will allow us to have a clear determination of above-ground and below-ground carbon stock levels. This will allow us to more accurately assess the amount of carbon our different forest types are able to sequester,” the Conservator of Forests explains.
She shares that the Forestry Department is also exploring the development of a National Mangrove Management Plan, because mangroves are one of the forest types that can store significant amounts of carbon dioxide.
The National Ozone Unit in the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is also working to reduce the use of ozone-depleting substances. Through its efforts, Jamaica completely phased out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigeration in 2006, and is ahead of its 2025 schedule to phase out the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons.
The Forestry Department also works to engage owners of the remaining 75 per cent of Jamaica’s forests through incentives to keep the land under forest cover.
“We have a Private Land Declaration Programme where we encourage persons to consider declaring their land under the Forest Act of 1996. They would then be able to benefit from a remission in property tax. We also have our Private Forestry Programme where persons can come in and get seedlings. If they have lands that they want to farm, we generally give the timber seedlings free of cost to those individuals,” says Ms. Oliphant.
NEPA, through its work in environmental protection, notices some impacts climate change is already having on the environment and explain how they could be exacerbated.
“The impact on our resources is projected to be significant. For example, Jamaica is having less rainfall when most of our water resources depend on rainfall. We will have to take adaptation strategies to protect those. Also, a healthy forest cover will reduce the impact of hurricanes because well vegetated mountains and hillsides can absorb some of the impact of the wind and rain,” Director of Environmental Management and Conservation, NEPA, Anthony McKenzie, explains to JIS News.
“Ocean temperature change will impact our sensitive and important coastal ecosystems like our reefs, which are really temperature-dependent. If we do not have the coral reefs to protect us, then we will have beach erosion, increased storm surges from hurricanes, our fish – which we eat for food – will be impacted. We’ve seen areas around the coast where we are having significant beach erosion and the beaches are important economic resource for us. If the trend continues, sea-level rise can result in significant beach change,” he says.
To mitigate some of the impacts, a multi-agency approach has been taken in some areas to include the Division and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).
“We find a lot of farming in our upper watershed areas so we collaborate with the Forestry Department and RADA to provide training in best agricultural practices to reduce forest degradation and the impact on the water quality of our rivers and streams and reduce forest fires that can destroy large areas of land,” says Mr. McKenzie.
NEPA, through the planning and regulatory aspect of its work, is ensuring that climate change is factored into development plans.
“In our planning, we seek to ensure that we have a minimum ‘step back’ for developments along the coast. We accommodate for sea-level rise so the beach can progress landward. Also, in the plans we approve as an agency, we establish guidelines for water storage for alternative use, for example, the use of treated waste water for irrigation,” says Mr. McKenzie.
While climate action can be costly for small island developing states like Jamaica, fortunately, funding is made available to small countries to carry out public and private adaptation projects. One such funding avenue is through the Green Climate Fund (GCF) under the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
“The Climate Change Division is the National Designated Authority for the Green Climate Fund and the Ministry is the Operational Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility. It means that we are the interloper between the country and the Fund, so we target the projects and priorities of Government and other partners, assess the need for funding and make representation to the Fund on their behalf. The Fund itself has a ‘Readiness’ window for countries to access quick and easy resource allocations to prepare them to access the large resources of the Fund,” explains the Principal Director.
“To qualify for payments, we need to develop a national strategy or action plan, a national reference level for emissions, a national forest monitoring system, and a safeguard system for stakeholders in and around the forested areas. Through the Green Climate Fund, in 2018, we obtained US$618,000.00 to facilitate the completion of this process,” Ms. Oliphant shares.
As the National Designated Authority, the Division also accesses the GCF on behalf of the private sector. Through GCF funding, a coping study to look at the barriers to private-sector engagement in climate action has been conducted and now a technology needs assessment and a barrier analysis are being done.
“We want persons to get to that stage where they do not take the land around them with forest cover for granted. As a country, we have been blessed with natural resources. I want to encourage everybody to appreciate what we have been given and blessed with as a country and to continue to preserve and protect it,” says the Conservator of Forests.