December 9, 2015
In considering the future of the biodiverse Cockpit Country, Jamaica may take a cue from one of the emerging messages from the Paris climate talks: just because you have resources does not mean you have to exploit them.
For several weeks earlier this year, technocrats from the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change were engaged in discussion with others from the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining on a boundary for the area which has long been in dispute.
In July, they submitted a recommendation to Cabinet for the area, which contains billions of dollars worth of untapped bauxite.
Still, the matter has yet to be resolved, with the group reportedly asked to hold further discussions, even as civil-society actors, including the Windsor Research Centre, wait impatiently to have the matter resolved.
“There are a few issues still to be worked out,” said Col Oral Khan, chief technical director in the environment ministry.
He was speaking with The Gleaner along the sidelines of the global talks here yesterday.
The nature of the recommendation made to Cabinet is not clear. However, there have been six contending boundaries of record:
– The Cockpit Country Stakeholders’ Group – advanced by environmental and community actors – which constitutes the largest area of those proposed, and which, if selected, would cost the bauxite industry a projected 300 million tonnes of bauxite, valued at some US$9 billion;
– The Ring Road boundary, including Trelawny and St Elizabeth, which would deny the industry access to 150 million tonnes, or US$4.5 billion worth, of the ore;
– The Sweeting-University of the West Indies boundary, projected at US$4.2 billion, or 140 million tonnes of bauxite;
– The Maroon boundary, which would amount to US$3 billion in losses, or 100 million tonnes, of bauxite;
– The Forestry Reserve boundary, which would herald a loss of US$0.45 billion, or 15 million tonnes; and
– The Jamaica Bauxite Industry boundary, projected to have the least impact on access to bauxite resources, with losses estimated at US$0.30 billion, or 10 million tonnes.
“The environment ministry knows what it wants for a boundary because we have made our proposals already. That is on the table,” Khan remarked.
“You don’t have to realise every potential that you have. This conference is saying, I think, that two-thirds of the reserve of petroleum that still exists will have to remain underground,” the retired army man added.
RESOURCES GOOD TO HAVE
“So, we are just technocrats, but we would think that would be a good example to follow; that not because we have resources means that we have to exploit those fully. While the resources are there, we will always have them; it is a good thing to have, but we will see,” he said further.
Meanwhile, the Cockpit Country’s bauxite value aside, there is also the issue of freshwater supply and forest cover, which are vital in the face of climate change.
Climate change brings with it warmer days and nights, extreme weather events, such as droughts and sea-level rise – all of which are already being experienced on the island as elsewhere in the Caribbean.
“The last time I heard Minister [Robert Pickersgill] speak, he reiterated the critical importance of our forests and if anything, this conference is driving it home even further that we must preserve and extend areas under forest and we are looking forward to incentives that can help us to expand our areas under forest,” Khan noted.
“And so from the environment ministry, we have not lost any steam in terms of preserving and giving full protection to the Cockpit Country,” he added.