It’s about time.
More than three years ago, then-Premier Andrew Fahie’s newly elected government unlawfully disbanded the Climate Change Trust Fund Board, stalling years of hard work and showing a callous disregard for the existential threats the territory faces amid the global climate emergency.
Since then, the board has not been re-formed.
Thankfully, that should change soon. The new cross-party government is now promising appropriate steps to rectify Mr. Fahie’s mistake in what we hope is a sign that it will take climate change more seriously.
Last month, Natural Resources and Labour Minister Mitch Turnbull made us proud: He rightly apologised for the 2019 decision that disbanded the board less than two years after it was appointed, and he invited members back to their positions.
After such poor treatment, they could be forgiven for turning down the offer. But we hope they come back.
We would love to see them resume the good work they were doing before they were so unceremoniously sent home.
The 2019 decision — which came shortly after Mr. Fahie inexplicably transferred the trust fund from the NRL Ministry to his own portfolio — reversed years of progress.
Before Mr. Fahie came to power as premier, the previous National Democratic Party-led government had laid a solid groundwork for tackling climate change that made the territory a regional leader for a time — at least on paper.
In 2012, for instance, 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 territory became the first in the region to adopt a legal framework for a Climate Change Trust Fund overseen by an independent board.
An environmental 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 put the territory on the cutting edge of climate policy in the Caribbean, implementation was unfortunately very slow. The great majority of the deadlines in the 2012 policy were missed, and the environmental levy money remains untapped to this day for reasons that have not been adequately explained.
The trust fund board, however, was a notable exception. The unpaid members — who possess a wealth of relevant expertise — were appointed in mid-2017. In the absence of promised funding from the environmental levy, they got to work in earnest with the help of donations from their own pockets.
Before Mr. Fahie’s government sent them packing, they drafted an operations manual and completed other important work, and they were waiting for the levy funding to come through before hiring a CEO.
Mr. Fahie’s government put a stop to that progress. And to rub salt in the wound, he quickly gave consultant Claude Skelton-Cline — who as far as we know had no expertise in climate change — a $98,000 no-bid contract for six months of wide-ranging work that included providing “strategic advice on the creation of a climate resilience and renewable energy unit, and advice on projects linked to climate resilience.”
Since then, we have heard precious little about any progress Mr. Skelton-Cline may have made in that regard.
In other words, Mr. Fahie dropped the ball in a big way.
Kudos to the current government for its apparent plan to turn over a new leaf. We hope to see the board filled straightaway with the original members or other qualified candidates.
But progress also means ensuring that the independent board gets the funding it needs — including at least 40 percent of the environmental levies collected from tourists since 2017, as well as a similar percentage of future earnings from the tax. Only then will the board be able to fund adaptation projects and carry out other important work.
Moreover, the new government must revisit the 2012 adaptation policy as soon as possible. The document was due for a public review in 2017, but that never happened. The new government should prioritise this exercise, which will show that most of the policy’s promises still have not come to fruition 10 years later. Once that ugly truth is on the table, the territory can decide how to make it right.
Only when sound policy is backed by action will the territory’s efforts to address climate change bear fruit. Mr. Turnbull’s announcement last month was a welcome step in the right direction. But there is much more work to be done.