By Lindsey Turnbull
At the National Conservation Council’s General Meeting held on 24 November 2021, West Bay member Lisa Hurlston-McKenzie with responsibility for Sustainable Development & Climate Change, gave her thoughts on the outcome of COP26 (the UN’s recent Climate Change Conference) and the implications for the NCC’s work.
She acknowledged the NCC’s pleasure at seeing the Premier Wayne Panton - whose responsibility includes sustainability and climate resiliency - attend COP26 which was held in Glasgow, Scotland, along with the National Trust youth contingent, and hoped they had offset their carbon footprint from their travels.
Meeting COP26 pledges
She felt, as part of the global community, the NCC’s challenge ahead was to devise measures that would meet some of the various pledges that were set out in the Glasgow Climate Pact, in particular, ending deforestation and reversing or restoring degraded lands by 2030, as well as cutting methane emissions by 30% by 2030. This would effectively avoid 0.3 degrees of warming by 2040.
“But, despite these pledges and the nationally determined contributions by most contracting parties to halve their emissions by 2030 and be net zero by 2050, this only limits global warming to between 1.8 and 2.1C above pre-industrial levels, far from the 1.5 degrees needed to avert the worst effects of climate change on small island in low lying states,” she warned. “With current warming at roughly 1.2C, our people are already witnessing climate impacts on their homes, livelihoods and natural environments. Therefore, the Cayman Islands must stand up policies actions within this decade to adapt to this sobering, longer-term reality of yet more delayed action and ambition from the international community.”
Since COP26, the Paris Agreement now officially extended to the Cayman Islands and there were aspects of it which required reporting on the state of adaptation efforts and other priorities that would be required.
As a result, the NCC had much work to do, in particular on the ground work already laid for tracking deforestation rates by the DOE, which continued to report on the wetland loss for the west side of Grand Cayman.
“Expansion to include other forest habitat loss would address the Glasgow Climate Pact under the Paris Agreement and complement the National Energy Policy’s requirement for tracking the rate of development,” she stated.
Protecting precious resources
They also needed to follow up on calls from the public to ramp up protected area nominations for Cabinet consideration, particularly high value conservation areas that function as important carbon sinks and enhance the resiliency of settlements and these natural systems.
“Being very strategic about these nominations would entail accounting for removals of these natural systems in our national greenhouse gas inventory to better report per capita emissions, that recognise the role of sinks and reservoirs in offsetting some of our current 15 tonnes per person greenhouse gas footprint,” she explained. “It would also allow us to better site select for systems rehabilitation and enhancement projects delivered by government, hopefully in consort with the private sector and others.”
The NCC needed environmental protection fund allocations in the coming years that were commensurate with the task of enhancing Cayman’s natural system of protected areas for these purposes.
Mrs Hurlston-McKenzie urged the NCC to look with greater focus at Plan Cayman and to marrying it to an updated climate change policy. This would utilise information from the natural capital accounting project, incorporate opportunities for nature-based solutions arising from the upcoming climate change risk assessment into specific area plans, and supporting regulations, and develop user-friendly climate risk resilient tools for development of project reviews.
Finance sector seeks climate resiliency
The multi-dimensional vulnerability index still under development was one to watch, she said, having already provided preliminary scores for the Cayman Islands, as well as the global resilience index initiative being employed by some insurers and financial institutions.
“I’m encouraged by those banking and financial institutions with local presence but global reach, who spearheaded COP26 sessions that have sought advice on reducing biodiversity loss locally and climate impacts in an effort to adjust their lending and investment practices and to develop products seeing that greater uptake of renewable energy across the sectors, green infrastructure and other adaptation projects,” she stated, adding that such entities were those which may have signed up to the UN Principles for Responsible Banking or Investment.
The methane pledge would also require the Cayman Islands to have a focussed management of existing forest and grasslands and to limit their conversion to other land uses, and also when directing Cayman’s agricultural, waste disposal and water treatment practices and embracing technological opportunities. And, of course, for reducing transport emissions, particularly from cars, she added.
Mrs Hurlston-McKenzie said she remained hopeful that the NCC would get the support to deliver these tasks ahead which would set the Cayman Islands on track to aligning with the global targets pledged.