Swell in Cane Garden Bay March 2018
A wave batters the road in Cane Garden Bay during a major swell in March 2018. The road and shoreline has since been repaired, but rising sea levels mean that future swells could come higher. (File photo: FREEMAN ROGERS)

The new government’s bumbling on climate change is endangering the territory’s future.

On April 24, the Cabinet decided to revoke the membership of the Climate Change Trust Fund board, a diverse body of carefully selected experts who eventually would have been responsible for allocating millions of dollars each year to help the territory prepare for global warming.

The government’s only explanation for this decision — which appeared to overstep Cabinet’s legal authority — has been the exceedingly flimsy excuse that replacing boards is a new “policy.”

Now, two months have elapsed with no new members appointed and no timeline disclosed for getting it done. Meanwhile, the government has given consultant Claude Skelton-Cline — who as far as we know has no related expertise — a $98,000 no-bid contract for six months of wide-ranging work that includes providing “strategic advice on the creation of a climate resilience and renewable energy unit, and advice on projects linked to climate resilience.”

Taken together, these actions seem to suggest that the new government plans to go back to the drawing board on climate change.

This would be a giant step backward.

The previous government laid a very solid groundwork in this area, accessing international expertise in order to implement systems that made the territory a regional leader in many respects.

In 2012, for example, the Cabinet adopted the Climate Change Adaptation Policy, setting dozens of specific deadlines for needed measures that in many cases had been promised for decades. Then in 2015, the Virgin Islands became the first in the region to adopt a legal framework for a climate change trust fund overseen by an independent board. An eco-levy followed in 2017, with officials promising that a portion of the $10 collected from each non-cruise-ship tourist would go directly to the trust fund.

Though this groundwork was well conceived and put the territory on the cutting edge of climate policy in the Caribbean, implementation was unfortunately slow. The great majority of the deadlines laid out in the 2012 policy were missed, and the eco-levy money remains untapped for reasons that have not been adequately explained.

Nevertheless, there has been some progress. The trust fund board was appointed in 2017, and its unpaid members got to work in earnest. Before being unceremoniously dumped by the new government, they drafted an operations manual and completed other important work, and they were waiting for the eco-levy funding to come through as promised before hiring a CEO.

Given this background, the new government’s decision to disband the board was inexcusable, especially considering the lengthy process required for finding and appointing new members.

Moving forward, the Cabinet should apologise and reappoint the previous members so that they can return to work. Then it should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the promised portion of the eco-levy money is transferred to the trust fund as soon as possible.

In other words, rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, leaders should build on the existing foundation and try to succeed where their predecessors struggled.

The onus falls directly on Premier Andrew Fahie: After his government took power, the trust fund was inexplicably transferred to his Finance Ministry from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour. If Mr. Fahie won’t reappoint the board and direct the eco-levy proceeds toward its efforts immediately, he should explain in detail why he is shifting course midstream and what he plans instead.

Climate change is one of the most pressing dangers facing the VI today, with likely effects including more frequent and more intense storms; rising sea levels; flooding; and droughts, among others.

Real progress has been made in preparing for those threats. Scrapping it in order to start from scratch would be an egregious mistake.