The economic benefits of environmental protection
Sustainable economic growth cannot come from environmental degradation
Volunteers from Sandals Resorts International, Sandals Foundation, and The University of the West Indies' Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory gather to plant mangrove seedlings at the Salt Marsh Mangrove in Trelawny.

THERE are political and business leaders who do not care if economic growth causes environmental damage and there are environmental advocates who do not believe you can have economic growth without causing environmental damage. The truth is, the environment does not need to be in conflict with the economy and vice-versa.

This week, Sunday Finance starts a series called Eco Buzz, which is aimed at showing the economic case for environmental protection. We hope in doing so, we can advance the dialogue of protecting our environment for sustainable wealth creation.

IN the last two decades, issues surrounding the environment have become hot-topic discussions in Jamaica — from the protection of the Cockpit Country to the intensity and frequency of storms, garbage collection, mangrove destruction and the unbearable summer heat everyone is talking about.

Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation who has oversight responsibility for the environment and climate change, is hoping that on his 'leg of the relay' much will be done to advance environmental protection in Jamaica both by preserving the island for future generations as well as by way of current economic benefits which he believes can increase immensely from just protecting the environment.

SAMUDA..You genuinely have to protect your natural assets if you are to develop. (Photo: Karl Mclarty)

"You are 100 per cent correct that we won't start protecting the environment until we are able to see how it impacts our pocket," Samuda said at the start of the interview with Jamaica Observer.

Costa Rica's example

"Costa Rica is a prime example of the economic benefits of environmental protection," he continued, as he repeated a quote from the prime minister that "sustainable economic growth cannot come from environmental degradation nor can inclusive prosperity be realised, steeped in pollution".

"You genuinely have to protect your natural assets if you are to develop, and Costa Rica — if you look at their economic growth and their per capita GDP [gross domestic product] — has grown to 2.4 times Jamaica's from them simply protecting more space."

Costa Rica's GDP per capita is at over US$12,000 while Jamaica's hovers just below US$5,000.

An aerial view of Albert Town, a section of the protected Cockpit Country (Photo: Jason Tulloch)

Costa Rica's environmental credentials are impressive: more than 98 per cent of its energy is renewable, forest cover now stands at more than 53 per cent after painstaking work to reverse decades of deforestation, and around a quarter of the country's land has been turned into protected parks and reserves. In 1985 less than 25 per cent of Costa Rica was in forest cover.

"It certainly hasn't hurt their growth rates," Samuda observed.

"There's economic benefits to be derived from that; their eco-tourism yields are significant. There are also growth in diving and fisheries — and that comes from them protecting their marine space — so they are a very good example of environmental protection leading to economic growth," he outlined.

Jamaica's progress

Turning to the issues with Jamaica, Samuda pointed out that, "At its core, Jamaica has...three major risk areas...national security risk, global financial markets and the other area is environment in nature."

On the environment, he espoused, "It is not only related to large-scale and very climatic events; it is related to the daily, slow march to degradation that is taking place in many countries and some communities in Jamaica. People think about climate change as one cataclysmic event...that will happen in the future, but it's not."

To reverse the degradation, Samuda said his ministry's "target for environmental and climate change management is to ensure we are building resilience", but he said how it is to be done "is a long process and a long story".

"As a developing economy you want to do ten things but your resources say you can only do two, so you have to prioritise.

"You have to look at the risks, you have to look at the opportunities. A lot of what we have to do to build resilience starts with preservation through protection of spaces, and the other is restoration."

Samuda pointed out that Jamaica, being a signatory to the High Ambition Coalition, has committed to protecting "30 per cent of the land mass, 30 per cent of the marine environment in the country's exclusive economic zone by 2030".

Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. (Photo: Karl Mclarty)

"Jamaica is at about 25 per cent of land mass protected. We are well on our way, with the recent declarations of the Black River Morass area and the Cockpit Country, to hit our 30 per cent target for protection.

"In the ocean space, though, we are lagging behind with only between 12 and 13 per cent currently protected — and that is because studies that go into the marine space are extremely expensive. And the way we interact with the oceans also gives pause. I have found that negotiations and discussions around protected areas at sea seem to be more contentious because of how we use our oceans and how, especially the fisherfolk of Jamaica, interact with it and, unfortunately, how unstructured that industry is."

Protecting mangroves

Another area that is now damaged is the mangrove forests. The global average is that about 45 per cent of mangrove forests have been negatively impacted over the last 40 years.

"We are pretty close to the global average which, for us, is a big issue as a small island developing state," Samuda observed.

"The mangrove issue is becoming more prominent in discussions now and people are more focused on it a lot more now than they used to be. The need for healthy mangroves is multifaceted. You hear about the need for coastal protection; you absolutely need nature-based solutions to protect the coast because 70 per cent of the population is within five kilometres of the sea so you can't afford to continue having the level of coastal erosion that some places are having — and the mangroves can help you fight that," he explained.

The Forestry Department has reported that between 1998 and 2013, Jamaica lost 2,123 hectares of mangrove and swamp forests. A rescue effort has been launched to restore Jamaica's dying mangroves through a $360-million, British-funded project — but even with that, there are risks because evidence from the restoration project shows it is notoriously difficult to regrow destroyed mangroves.

"You can't hit your mitigation targets for climate change if you lose mangroves. And for us who are badly affected, we have to protect it. It's not just a moral issue, it's a practical issue," Samuda argued.

"It provides protection for small fish and gives them a chance to develop. It's home to several species of birds, crabs, and it's where oysters grow."

He recounted how fisherfolk in Westmoreland who were part of a mangrove restoration programme have seen significant increases in fish catch two years after the programme began, even though they were reticent about the benefits of doing the preservation and restoration work.

With that evidence in hand, Samuda proposes to intensify the programmes "to redeploy your fisherfolk in many of the areas that are overly degraded and overfished, to do other things at sea that they are comfortable with".

"One of those things, the Government has a project to replant mangroves. The fisherfolk are very comfortable in that space so that's the sort of project that you need to give them while you protect an area to give temporary reprieve so that the ocean can replenish. In essence, you pay them to manage coral-planting initiatives, you pay them to replant seagrass, and other projects like that. So you upskill them for environmental management, you upskill them to become wardens for the protected areas, but you have to put the financing in place."

He said trying to protect the coast with concrete structures can prove to be more expensive.

"The coastal revetment in Rae Town, Kingston, is one kilometre and it is US$10 million per one kilometre," he said, to illustrate his point.

There are also prospects for increasing tourism.

"One of the greatest draws for tourism is diving. Nobody is going to dive in a barren part of the sea where the coral is dead, with no serious marine life, and biodiversity is reduced. You need a lively area to attract people to dive so there's benefits all around — even if we have not quantified the benefits.

"The fishing industry can gain genuine economic benefits from protection. There is sustainability so the yields don't decline and then if you extract that benefit in a sustainable way it can be enormous, and that's not something that is widely understood."

"People have always been wary of taking steps to protect the reefs because Jamaica, due to not having the fiscal space, was never able to put in the financial safety net to subsidise the fishermen — essentially, paying them to help protect the reefs instead of exploiting them."

Economic value

Expanding on protection on land, Samuda said greater efforts will have to be made to not only declare areas protected, but to ensure they remain so for the climate and economic benefits.

"In essence, your forests have to be healthy if you are to have a healthy groundwater supply. Water is the basis of all life; healthy forests create the water supply that we need, not just to survive but to thrive so that is critical in terms of your primary and secondary forest protection.

"You protect your forests, you have water to develop any way you want. You protect your forests, the country is cooler, you're burning less energy to keep the place cool — economic benefit. You protect the ocean space, your fish yield could increase tenfold sustainably, the economic value of increasing your fish yield will be huge. You would be importing less, you would be feeding your people home-grown protein versus importing feed for other categories of protein, and [you woluld be] providing jobs for the fisherfolk."

He argued that if people can agree that protecting the environment is critical then efforts must be made to restore areas that have been degraded "as quickly as possible to their original state as is possible, if you can".

"There is economic resilience built in from restoring these areas. There is economic resilience built in by planting more trees because it would bring more regularity in rainfall," he said as he pointed out that in the month of May, Kingston and St Andrew received only 11 per cent of its 30-year-average rainfall.

"That's your economic reason for protection, that's your economic reason for restoration — because you can't build and develop without consistent and reliable access to water.

"People will say 'Well, what is the economic benefit of protecting the environment?' and I will say 'Well, we are a service-based economy and a large part of our services industry is tourism-related; there's sports tourism, there's eco-tourism, but there is no garbage tourism. There is no economic benefit from not managing your solid waste properly.

"You can't talk about agriculture without talking about climate health because if the heat is affecting soil and air quality and water access, agriculture cannot gain. You can't talk about tourism because people come for the sun, sand and sea. The environment is the product plus the people.

"Jamaica has done some good work but we have also lagged behind in many areas. Jamaica's vision as it relates to environmental management is to become a centre of excellence. The cynics among us may say, 'You have a long way to go.' Absolutely! But you must have ambition — and the ambition is to get it right because we haven't gotten it right for a long time. There are some things we have done very well, but there are some things which we haven't done very well. We have a raft of legislative fixes that have been tied up for a long time so we are trying to unclog that pipeline. We have capacity issues in enforcing what we have on paper, which we have to address if we are to get it right because there is genuine economic benefits and quantifiable economic benefits for managing spaces properly."

BY DASHAN HENDRICKS Business content manager hendricksd@jamaicaobserver.com

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