IN reflecting on Jamaica's natural environment over the last 50 years of Independence, there are some things of which the island can be proud, according to players in the sector.
Not the least of these has been the passage of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act (1991) to which all other laws are subject when it comes to the environment.
Other achievements, as noted by stakeholders, include:
* the passage of other legislation, including the Fishing Industry Act (1976), the Watersheds Protection Act (1963) and the Forest Act (1996);
* the creation of National Parks, including the Montego Bay Marine Park, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, the Portland Bight Protected Area, and the Port Antonio Marine Park;
* the designation of some protected areas, including the Palisadoes-Port Royal Protected Area, as Ramsar sites which sets them apart as being wetlands of international importance; and
* the requirement for Environmental Impact Assessment studies of large developments, including housing and hotel developments.
Rounding out the list is the establishment of the National Environment and Planning Agency as well as the capacity of all Government agencies and ministries to engage international donor organisations to benefit the environment.
Also included in the list of things identified as worthy of note are:
* the ability of Government agencies and ministries to say how aid received for the environment is spent;
* the removal of lead from gasoline and the introduction of ethanol at the pumps;
* environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which, despite funding constraints, continue to "educate the public about the environment, implement short-term projects, advocate for improved environmental management and enforcement by the government, push for conservation action such as the establishment of protected areas, and in a few rare cases, take legal action against the government";
* the increased awareness among members of the public of the value of natural resources and, at least in some cases, their refusal to see them destroyed; and
* the Access to Information Act, which makes it possible for everyone, including environmental NGOs, to get their hands on, among other documents, those that are relevant to the environment.
Still, sector players argue that there is some way to go if Jamaica is to safeguard its future.
"We may never have enough planning inspectors, but when breaches are detected, if the full measure of the law is applied, then we may be able to adequately address those breaches," said Ronald Jackson, director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management.
"Ultimately, the environment is what we draw everything that is Jamaica from. Our livelihoods, our beauty, our history, our culture: all of it is linked to our natural environment and if we destroy it, we destroy everything that is Jamaica," he added.
Environmentalist and former head of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation Peter Espeut stressed the need to build on the achievements of years past.
"We have some good things, but really and truly they are half measures and cosmetic gestures. What I would need for the next 50 years is for us to take stock of what natural environment we have left and do what is necessary to conserve it," he told Environment Watch.
"What I would like to see is a systematic review of all environmental regulations, and their rationalisation. Where regulations are to be enacted, they should be put in place and be properly enforced. Protected areas are vitally important and the Government should pay attention to them. They have tremendous potential to earn tourism dollars, but they must be properly managed and therefore properly funded," Espeut added.
Wendy Lee, executive director of the Northern Jamaica Conservation Association, said it was time to get the framework for environmental management in order.
"We have been floundering for the last 50 years, trying to copy the lifestyles of other people who have begun to realise their mistakes and are turning now in another direction," she said. "Yet, we are still following the mistakes; we still have an idea of development based on possession and economic wealth instead of the wealth of this wonderful island that we live in."
Added Lee: "It is important to move towards an improved framework for environmental management. But it is also important to move from planning and having workshops and doing it over and over again. Maybe it is time we started to read about the last 50 years, to look back at the past recommendations and [implement the ones that are applicable to current realities].