By Lindsey Turnbull
The Cayman Alternative Investment Summit took place last week at the Kimpton Seafire with two themes running throughout presentations: ‘Global. Digital. Responsible’ and ‘Preparing for Geopolitical Challenges’. Joseph Hew, Minister for Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure, told the assembled delegates that the two themes were inextricably linked and impacted Cayman is a very real way.
Cayman’s very future, he said, was high digital, low carbon.
“It cannot be any other way for us,” Minister Hew confirmed.
He outlined how the Government recognised that, alongside maintaining Cayman’s strength in the financial services industry and its position as one of the world’s premium tourism destinations, it had to diversify its economy. It was for that reason that the government put in legislation to protect intellectual property, he said.
“We already have some of the best professional service firms in the world able to support the development of business in Cayman. With the legislative framework and support ecosystem in place, we have begun successfully to attract new digital business to Cayman; however, we recognise we cannot just sit back and wait for business to come to us,” he confirmed.
It was anticipated that the new government Ministry, the Ministry of International Trade, Investment, Aviation and Maritime Affairs headed by Chief Officer Eric Bush, would help to advance Cayman’s international reputation and attract more inward investment, he said.
The issue of becoming a low carbon jurisdiction was equally important, Minister Hew said. He advised that he had recently attended a conference alongside the Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness presenting on strategies for advancing infrastructure sustainability and resilience in the respective islands. Throughout the conference there was a recurring emphasis on low carbon solutions to infrastructure needs for the islands in this region, he advised.
Probably Cayman’s most pressing infrastructure problem right now is how to deal with the traffic problems we are currently facing. While government has prioritised a network of improvements that would increase road capacity and reduce congestion, the long-term solution needed a different answer, Minister Hew said, employing a new and innovative approach to public transportation.
“We intend to use the time that our road improvements will give us to identify and deliver the best option for public transportation in Cayman,” he advised.
Central also to Cayman’s efforts towards a low carbon future was to more towards a more sustainable energy production and usage, the Minister advised.
The National Energy Policy represented an ambitious approach with a target of 70 per cent of renewable energy by 2037. This would be achieved through enhancing and embracing a sustainable lifestyle through responsible and innovative energy supply and consumption. The Minister said that this policy gave them a 20-year road map for change and that Government was now turning that into a clear set of tangible initiatives that would deliver the transformation they were seeking.
They would do this by encouraging the use of green energy such as solar power and other forms of renewable energy across all three islands including government facilities. The renewable mix would also include power from the new waste to energy plant, he said.
This approach made sense for the environment but it also delivered on two other crucial objectives: the need to create technical and vocational jobs for the next generation as well as opportunities for small business owners and, in addition, it would help to improve Cayman’s energy security, which was currently at the mercy of energy markets, he said.
“Renewables gives us a path to self-sufficiency in energy generation,” he advised. “Sustainability is not just about the environment’ it’s about a future economy that delivers sensible growth and employment. It is about social progress and a resilience of people and communities.”
Minister Hew said that some might think it was unnecessary for the people of these three small islands in the Caribbean to be concerned with geopolitical challenges; however, they had compelling reasons to do so, he stated.
“If one of the most significant challenges facing all of us is climate change then islands like ours are in the front line,” Minister Hew said. “Sea level rise poses a very obvious threat; at the same time, we are exposed to increasingly severe hurricane risk as weather patterns grow extreme.”
As a result, Cayman needed to think differently about development if the Islands were to meet these challenges successfully.
“It is the Caribbean, so everyone wants to build as close to our beautiful sea as possible, and in order to keep the feel of the islands we wanted the development heights to be restricted. The result has been sprawling development along our coastlines,” Minister Hew outlined.
In the future, we needed to think in terms of greater setbacks and higher building heights to give room for the sea, he said.
“We must also use the spaces created for more natural and green space for both humans and our diverse flora and fauna. All these issues are being addressed in the comprehensive Plan Cayman process that my Ministry is leading on behalf of the government,” he said.