Kudos to the new government for finally re-appointing the Climate Change Trust Fund Board, which Cabinet unlawfully disbanded in 2019 at the behest of then-Premier Andrew Fahie.
Now, leaders must ensure that the fund receives the money it needs to do its important work.
After eight years of disappointing delays, this can’t happen soon enough.
The Virgin Islands broke new ground in 2015 when it became the first Caribbean jurisdiction to pass a legal framework for such a trust fund. The board members were initially appointed about two years later.
But the fund never received a dime from the government despite a sound mechanism in place to ensure its financial viability.
Since 2017, the government has been collecting a $10 environmental levy from non-cruise-ship tourists. The Environmental Protection and Tourism Improvement Fund Act 2017 requires 40 percent of that levy to be earmarked for activities related to climate change and environmental protection, with another 40 percent going toward tourist sites and tourism-related activities and 20 percent devoted to tourism marketing.
Leaders have previously said that the first 40 percent would go to the Climate Change Trust Fund. But the money was not tapped as planned because of legislative bumbling and other issues — which we suspect include politicians’ reluctance to turn over any money to an independent board that they don’t control.
By now, the collective take from the past six years should be in the millions. Without further delay, 40 percent of it should go directly to the Climate Change Trust Fund.
And the regular funding from the levy should continue from there.
This will enable the board members, who have expertise in various relevant areas, to carry out their mandate to apolitically allocate money to environmental initiatives and other projects designed to help the VI prepare for climate change.
In an age when climate disasters such as hurricanes are increasingly common, the board’s work is indispensable, particularly given the government’s slow progress in related areas.
The 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Policy is a telling example of this inaction. The policy is wide-ranging and well-conceived, but the great majority of its goals — most of which were set for completion in two to four years — remain undone. Nor have leaders held the five-review that the policy requires.
Stalled for even longer is the urgently needed comprehensive environmental law that successive governments have been promising for more than 15 years.
Against that backdrop, the Cabinet’s 2019 decision to disband the Climate Change Trust Fund board was shameful — particularly after members had donated their own money to get the body off the ground.
The re-appointment last week was a step in the right direction. So was the recent creation of the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change, which is headed by Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.
We hope these early steps are signs that Dr. Wheatley’s new administration is serious about preparing for the existential threats associated with climate change. This work, after all, is urgent.