‘Mixed bag’ on environment

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  • Jonathan Starling

    Jonathan Starling

Two of the island’s leading environmental advocates have touched upon a pair of unrealised promises made by the One Bermuda Alliance 4½ years ago, and offered their insight on the greatest issues facing the island that the next government must address.

In its 2012 platform, the One Bermuda Alliance pledged to “protect Bermuda’s fragile environment for future generations and present-day enjoyment”.

Among 25 stated priorities were to build on Bermuda’s white paper on energy, with the goal of generating at least 20 per cent of energy from renewable energy sources by 2026, reduce the cost of electricity by regulating the energy sector, and to incorporate environmental considerations into all government decision-making.

Jonathan Starling, with Greenrock, said the Government had mustered a “mixed bag” when it came to delivering on its promises.

While pleased with progress on initiatives such as the Electricity Act 2016, he said the organisation was dismayed and disappointed on other matters.

“We’re particularly disappointed about the Blue Halo concept being dropped and no alternative idea for the area really proposed,” Mr Starling said.

The project looked at turning a large portion of Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone into a protected marine reserve.

While consultation on the proposal did take place, Mr Starling said the idea was effectively killed in late 2014.

“As far as we can tell [Government] has ceased to proceed with the continuing consultation and research that the Premier said was needed before making a decision on the issue,” he said.

The promise of opening the Southlands National Park has also failed to come to fruition.

Stuart Hayward, with the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, said the group was “disappointed” that the area had not been listed within the island’s national park system.

“That’s something we were anticipating, that’s something that was stated would occur, and it hasn’t so far,” he said.

The property was obtained by the Progressive Labour Party Government of the day in 2011 as part of a land-swap agreement that saved it from being used as the site of a hotel. The move paved the way for the Morgan’s Point hotel project.

This spring, a government spokesman confirmed that an amendment to the National Parks Act 2009 was to be tabled during the parliamentary session, which would make the area a park.

The matter was effectively halted when Parliament was dissolved by the call for the election.

Asked if the group would pursue the matter with the next government, Mr Hayward said that BEST represented “hundreds, if not thousands” of people who had signed petitions, took part in walks and held signs against development on the site.

“It’s not fair for them to be left disappointed with a change in government when so many opportunities and assurances were given that Southlands was going to become part of the park system,” he said.

With its new platform — unveiled this week — the OBA outlined its new plan to “protect, maintain and improve” the island’s environment. Natural resources, the party said, would be managed for “sustainable results”.

Protecting marine resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, converting the Government’s small-vehicle fleet to electric within five years, extending public transportation hours, expanding community gardens, and examining a “Bottle Bill” and a charge for single-use plastic bags are among the outlined pledges.

For its part, the PLP has also promised to convert government vehicles to hybrid and electric — although no timeframe is given — and more community gardens.

It has also vowed to produce a green paper for consultation on establishing a mandatory recycling programme, outfit government buildings with renewable energy-generating technologies, and to lease government land to boost domestic food production.

“The PLP will work to protect our environment, usher in a new era of renewable energy which will reduce our cost of living, and reduce waste and litter in Bermuda,” the party said in its platform release last night.

The greatest challenge facing the island, Mr Starling said, is the same facing the rest of the world.

“Climate change is going to impact all aspects of Bermuda,” he said.

“From the economy, tourism, the natural environment, our built heritage, food security, agriculture, freshwater resources, and so on.”

A two-pronged approach is needed to tackle the problem, Mr Starling said — the reduction of greenhouse gases, and the climate-proofing of infrastructure.

“The next government, whoever it is, really needs to put addressing climate change at the forefront of its policy agenda,” he said.

“It affects all aspects of Bermuda and every single ministry and department.”

For his part, Mr Hayward said exceeding the island’s carrying capacity — compounded by polarisation and a lack of willingness for calm and rational discussion — was the biggest issue facing Bermuda.

A real commitment, he said, was needed by both parties on their calls for transparency and co-operative efforts.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence from either of either,” he said.

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