Environmental Assessment Workshop for territories

| 17/07/2009

(CNS): At an Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) sponsored workshop last April in Brussels, Belgium, Sustainable Development Coordinator Lisa-Ann Hurlston-McKenzie shared with other Caribbean territories the Cayman Islands’ experience with implementing current EIA procedures, a government release has revealed. Hurlston-McKenzie’s presentation on “The EIA Process in the Draft National Conservation Law of the Cayman Islands”, she explained how the proposed EIA process would essentially codify existing informal arrangements with various approval authorities, and the manner by which triggers – such as locations and project types – would initiate the EIA process.

“The two-tiered system would afford better environmental scrutiny of land-based and coastal works applications, plans and policies but would not necessarily result in full EIA studies carried out for all such proposals,” commented Hurlston-McKenzie. “Where full EIAs are not required, the National Conservation Council would recommend conditions of approval for which the authorizing agency (such as Central Planning Authority, Development Control Board or Cabinet) would have to consider when granting final permission under existing approval processes.”

The workshop focused on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA). These two methodologies describe systems of incorporating environmental considerations into policies, plans and programmes, and the government release says reports which follow the event indicate that shared concerns and solutions should have significant long-term benefits for all involved.

The OCTA is comprised of 17 countries and territories associated with four major European Union (EU) Member states, and incorporates the Caribbean’s Dutch and English-speaking territories. There were 49 conference participants from countries throughout the hemisphere – from Greenland to Bonaire. Their respective environmental and developmental situations were especially relevant in discussions of symbiotic goals and plans.

The Cayman Islands was represented by a four-member contingent of Deputy Chief Officer for the Ministry of Environment Samuel Rose, Planning Director Kenneth Ebanks and DOE representatives Research Officer II Joni Kirkconnell and Hurlston-McKenzie.

Reporting on the Brussels event, OCTA states that some recommendations coming out of it included ‘possibilities for capacity-building and training of OCT officials dealing with EIA/SEA matters’, noting that this would ‘help facilitate sustainable development…and create a framework for incorporating environmental issues within the economic and political decision-making in the OCTs.’ To this end, regular meetings are already being planned.

The organisation further states that it was ‘pleased with the great success due to the high amount of participants and the values of the knowledge and information made available and shared.’

“It is encouraging to know that Cayman is on the right track, generally, and not inconsistent with international practices,” said Rose. From a perspective of local policy development, he reports: “It was always clear that we need improvement in the process of our environmental impact assessments. This is part of Cayman’s Draft Conservation Bill, and it would benefit all stakeholders – developers, the people, and the environment – if the process is clear and consistent with international best-practice. Credible developers are accustomed to transparent and fair EIA processes, with relative timeframes for involvement of government agencies.”

Speaking of the experience of the Brussels conference, Rose acknowledged that there are differences in the application of environmental impact assessments amongst the English, Dutch and French territories. “While there are advantages and disadvantages in each approach, there is no single ‘right way’ and it was useful to develop new perspectives.”

Kirkconnell emphasised this position, stating, “Each country is unique and therefore the process needs to be tailored based on the country’s needs.” She added that having the opportunity to meet and discuss the process with the OCTs helped with this tailoring process, and “provided a better understanding of SEAs and the realization that when it comes to environmental impact assessments, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.”
The Director of Planning stated that, “Even though there are major differences between the countries and territories, the workshop reinforced the position that we share some common challenges, and also numerous opportunities. From these we have the ability to create territory-specific communities that improve the quality of life and experiences for all.”

Ebanks noted that networking with participants also increased opportunities for collaboration in areas of technical expertise or “lessons learnt”. “For example, Greenland is going through the planning process for what will probably be the world’s largest aluminum smelting plant. Bonaire is developing a land-use plan.
If Cayman received a similar development application, or experienced a particular impediment with our land use plan, we could consult with those counterparts. We would not have to follow their processes, but could select what is applicable locally.”

Stating that he is looking forward to receiving the revised SEA template so that it can be modified to local use, Ebanks concluded that, “Engaging in the SEA exercise was very useful as this tool could be utilised to predict unanticipated environmental problems as a result of a particular programme, policy or plan.”

Concluding, Policy Analyst in the Cabinet Office Christina Rowlandson clarified that this conference was the third segment of the OCTA Sustainable Development Conference Programme for civil servants in the OCTs.

“The programme, designed to address necessary issues concerning the environment and the challenges of climate change, has also dealt with waste management and water sanitation, as well as sustainable energy policy,” she said. “The conferences will facilitate future policies and actions and enhance networking among public sector leaders.”

The event was funded by the EC Technical Cooperation Facility and supported by leaders of the OCTA Ministerial Conference, in particular OCTA’s Executive Committee, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, and the Cayman Islands. OCTA and the EC regularly brings professionals from OCTs together at major conferences, at which the networking and presentations facilitate the sharing of information, knowledge and expertise.

Laurens Warnink of the Netherland Antilles is OCTA’s president and chairman of the executive committee. The Cayman Islands chaired OCTA during 2008. The Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) comprises 17 members: Anguilla, Aruba, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, French Polynesia, Greenland, Mayotte, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, St. Helena and dependencies, St. Pierre and Miquelon, French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Wallis and Futuna.

Photo: (L-R) Planning Director Kenneth Ebanks, DOE Research Officer II Joni Kirkconnell, DOE Sustainable Development Coordinator Lisa-Ann Hurlston-McKenzie, and Deputy Chief Officer for the Ministry of Environment Samuel Rose.

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