Samuda accuses Bunting of presenting outdated Google Earth images in State of the Nation debate
CABINET Minister Matthew Samuda has dismissed as “false assertions” some of Opposition Senator Peter Bunting’s claims of depleted forest cover and other environmental transgressions, which Bunting raised in his contribution to the State of the Nation debate in the Senate last December.
During his contribution to the debate on Friday, Samuda said Bunting used outdated Google Earth images in his presentation highlighting areas in the country showing decreased forest cover.
Samuda, who is minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, argued that the information presented was false as the ongoing national Land Use/Land Cover Assessment (LUCA), which started in 2023, shows that forest/vegetation cover across the island has increased.
“This major undertaking utilises high-resolution satellite imagery acquired in 2023… not the Google Earth images presented by Senator Bunting,” Samuda said.
During his presentation in which he called for a gradual phasing out of the bauxite/alumina industry, Bunting, in seeking to highlight the extent of the destruction of forests and farmlands caused by mining, showed fellow senators slides of Manchester South and Central in 1984 which were well-forested, as opposed to 2021 “where there is hardly any forest; it’s just scrub” he said.
“Scrub is when they do the so-called reclamation. Even with the six inches of topsoil, which is all that is required, the first heavy rain comes, washes off that six inches of top soil, and the scrub that’s left cannot grow crops, cannot even grow grass properly — so you really have a permanent deforestation of the areas,” Bunting said, adding that the same obtains in some areas of St Ann and Clarendon where mining is carried out.
But on Friday Samuda came to the Upper House armed with his own updated images showing increased forest cover, particularly in reserved areas.
He said LUCA, which is now more than 84 per cent complete and scheduled to be finalised before the end of this financial year, is designed to support the country’s planning and development processes.
The exercise, he noted, will not only advise on gains and losses with respect to forest cover but will also provide invaluable information on land use and land cover to inform all planning activities.
“It is anticipated that once this work is complete, it will confirm the results of a small-scale land use assessment activity using dated national data obtained from the recently concluded REDD+ [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation] capacity project (2018-2022),” he said.
REDD+, which was created by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is a climate change mitigation programme that incentivises developing countries to reduce or remove forest carbon emissions by awarding them carbon credits.
Samuda said the REDD+ assessment not only showed an increase in forest cover but the restoration of mined-out lands as well.
“That preliminary assessment provided indicative information of approximately 52 per cent forest/vegetation cover, which would be a notable increase over the 2013 figure of 40 per cent,” Samuda said.
He said that while current trends strongly suggest that the regeneration of forests on formerly mined-out areas or inactive agricultural lands has supported this net gain of forest when compared to losses, the Forestry Department anticipates that the completion of deeper analysis of the contributing factors through the ongoing Land Use/Land Cover Assessment will provide better and deeper insight to inform decision-making.
Turning to another assertion made by Bunting about mining in the Cockpit Country, Samuda said it was the Cabinet, when the People’s National Party was in Government, that approved exploratory mining licences of lands within the Cockpit Country.
He said the Cabinet displayed cowardice by not accepting the recommendations of the National Environment and Planning Agency and the Forestry Department for the declaration of the Cockpit Country as protected.
Samuda insisted that Jamaica’s land and forest management is in a better place today than it was in 2015, and highlighted several initiatives the Government is embarking on to ensure greater environmental protection.
He said that the Forestry Department, in collaboration with the Bureau of Standards Jamaica and with funding from the European Union Budget Support programme, “has secured for Jamaica a prestigious marker of sustainability”.
“Jamaica now joins the ranks of a very few emerging economies to have standards, backed by the International Forest Stewardship Council, which will allow greater access and increased prices for all forest products bearing this certification. This shows that we can grow Jamaica sustainably,” he said.
In addition, he noted that the Forestry Department has commenced work on the preparation of a Bill to repeal and replace the 1996 Forest Act.
“The new law is intended to modernise the legislative framework governing the forestry sector. Promulgation of the new legislation is advanced, and in fact we will ensure the prime minister will be able to table this in the other place during his [contribution to this year’s] budget debate,” he said.
Further, Samuda noted that the National Mangrove and Swamp Forest Management Plan is now complete; and that a White Paper for the Watersheds Policy for Jamaica is to be completed this calender year.
“Once this [Watersheds] Policy has been finalised, the Government will turn its attention to the updating of the Watersheds Protection Act, 1963,” Samuda said.