Barbados’ Environmental Double Standards
Submitted by Mohammed Degia (Originally posted to Extranewsfeed)
Senator Maxine McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, addressed the UN earlier tonight at its annual General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. This was her 8th time speaking at the UNGA and tonight’s speech was the standard repetitive language one has come to expect from the Minister. It therefore came as no surprise, particularly with the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, that she would mention climate change and the environment.
Ms. McClean delved straight into it, referring to UNGA speeches by Prime Ministers Thompson and Stuart, in 2008 and 2015 respectively, where they warned about the seriousness of the climate change threat and the pressing need for strong action. She noted similar admonitions from other leaders of small island nations and lamented that what we were seeing happening in the region was because “this clarion call from the Caribbean was ignored.” Ms. McClean reaffirmed Barbados’ commitment “to ambitious action on climate change and contended that its “support for global climate change action is a component of its overall policy of promoting and protecting the environment.”
The Minister also spoke about Barbados’ people-centred and inclusive development and the need for the international community to take action to implement the commitments made by all countries in the SAMOA Pathway, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
A few weeks ago, I read a GIS press release which informed that Mr. Denis Kellman, Minister of Housing, Lands and Rural Development, had attended a UN High Level Meeting on The Effective Implementation of the New Urban Agenda in New York and delivered a speech. According to the press release, Mr. Kellman told the meeting that Barbados had put measures in place “including amendments to the Physical Development Plan to ensure that development on the island continued to be progressive, orderly and sustainable”. He also said that “Government encouraged developers to locate housing for seniors close to amenities and services to meet daily needs, promoted the development of new housing which was fully accessible to people with disabilities, and continued to require that new developments and significant renovations in public spaces be accessible to all.” Finally, he threw in the usual jargon about green economy, renewable energy and environmentally-sound waste management and all of their concomitant socio-economic benefits.
The drastic difference between the claims of Ministers McClean and Kellman and the reality in Barbados is such that one wonders if they are speaking of the same country. They both convey the impression of an island in which development benefits everyone and safeguards the environment. I wonder then how do they explain the wilful lack of a comprehensive set of environmental laws in Barbados and the almost non-existent implementation of the few laws that are there. How do they account for the long list of environmental desecration under both political parties that are manifestations of the total opposite of what he told the UN?
Environmental destruction caused by Sandals
How do they rationalise the decision to build a Hyatt right next to one of Barbados’ most beautiful beaches, Browne’s Beach, and the absolute lack of transparency in the entire approval process? What about the chaotic monstrosity that is now Warrens? Are Coverly, Grotto and the South Coast sewage fiasco examples of this progressive, orderly sustainable development? What about Sandals and their decimation of the environment in the area of their resort? The same Sandals that their government has with much secrecy provided massive incentives to at the expense of Barbadian taxpayers. What about Four Seasons and the overnight destruction of trees some years ago? What about Greenland and Cahill? What about the relentless concretisation of much of Barbados at the behest of both parties? Or the fact that much of the coast has been decimated by tourism based infrastructure and one can drive on large parts of the South and West coast of the island without knowing that one is next to the water. That much of the flooding in Barbados is as a result of our insistence on building in a way that destroys natural water courses and a fragile ecosystem. That this is further exacerbated by the Bajan addiction to littering and dumping, especially in gullies. Or that successive government have barely attempted to tackle the dumping problem despite repeated statements every few years about some type of strong action that will supposedly be taken. What about the elephant in the room? The fact that the entire maritime delimitation exercise with Trinidad and Tobago had nothing to do with fishing. That both administrations are dedicated to offshore drilling in the hope that Barbados can “diversify” its economy with oil. The two obstacles to realising this have been finding a willing partner and their own inefficiency, one of the only times government ineptitude can be said to be something positive. The environment doesn’t factor in when there is a thirst for oil! And I could go on listing for pages.
Environmental destruction caused by Four Seasons. Photo from http://www.barbadostoday.com
The two Ministers though are not alone in what they communicate to the international community contradicting what actually occurs at home. Over the years, different Ministers, irrespective of party, as well as government officials have ventured on the international stage and waxed lyrical about sustainable development, climate change and the environment. I used to be one of these government officials, both speaking myself and writing some of the speeches for Ministers. We have talked about our commitment to sustainable development, our vulnerability and the need for the international community to do more to help us including financially. We have championed ourselves as the grandfather of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and a voice for climate action. Yet, at home, we engage perversely in destructive environmental practices. The assertions about Barbados’ devotion to environmental protection are therefore far-fetched. This may be discomforting to hear for those who have bought the story of Barbados and SIDS but it is the truth.