Senator Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation has said that the evidence of climate crisis has made the benefit of green spaces all the more important.
Samuda, was delivering his keynote address at the Hope Gardens 150th Anniversary Public Forum on Wednesday (May 31). The theme for the botanical Gardens’ 150th celebrations is, ‘150 Years of Hope: A Celebration of the Flora, Fauna and People’.
“The climate crisis is not a far off concept. It is something that we are experiencing right now. In the six months leading up to the end of March, Jamaica recorded its driest period ever. The least amount of rainfall recorded in Jamaica since we’ve been recording rainfall was the six-month period ending in March 2023,” he said.
He added that the climate crisis “is a reality of our time and the challenges will no doubt reflect in our present challenges and, indeed, in our near future.”
“That makes the benefit of green spaces all the more important. Green spaces, as we know, can’t always be left to gatekeepers or to the whims and fancies of others. Oftentimes, there has to be legal protection and there has to be appropriate investment. The need and support that it provides for human health, mental health, environmental health is obviously well known,” he said
Samuda shared that the government recognises the need for protection and investment and highlighted that the government is taking the necessary steps to preserve the importance of green spaces.
He stressed that Jamaica has to scientifically analyse its green spaces and forestry cover.
“Jamaica is a participant in the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) programme. It forms the basis of Jamaica’s analysis of its land use and its forest cover. The project is being done in collaboration with the Forestry Department and at the cost of approximately US$613,000. It aims to assist Jamaica with capacity building and putting in place a mechanism to guiding the country in becoming REDD+ ready including the development of a REDD+ strategy,” he said.
Samuda shared that the first phase was completed and that phase two of the project has commenced.
“Phase one identified that Jamaica’s forestry cover is in incline as opposed to decline. How that is made up and where we’ve had gains is in secondary forest cover, primarily as some forests have reclaimed old agricultural lands which are not in use. Our areas of decline and where concerned citizens should put focus is primarily in our dry harbour forests and in our mangrove cover,” he pointed out.
“Those are the areas that we have not performed well as a state. We’ve had very marginal reduction in our primary forest cover but the expectation is that with the rate of secondary forest growth, within the next eight years, we should actually have increases in primary forest cover,” he included.
Samuda cautioned that the phase one results does not mean “that we should have carte blanche access to do what you want to do in areas that don’t have forest cover. I think it’s important that as we get into the discussion, in terms of how we build our green spaces, that we actually acknowledge just how much of Jamaica is indeed green space and how we will continue to use it.”
Jamaica’s forest cover
Samuda, who serves the Ministry with the specific portfolio responsibilities for Water, Environment, Climate Change, and the Blue and Green Economies, said, “It is well known that Jamaica has approximately 40 per cent forest cover. It is also well known that within that forest cover, much of the forest has indeed been impacted. It is why we have been moving rapidly to increase our levels of protection.”
He highlighted that the country joined High Ambition Coalition which calls for 30 per cent protection of land mass, 30 per cent protection of the world’s land and ocean by 2030.
“That would have been the call that became the basis of the global biodiversity framework. Jamaica has supported this call for a long time. That’s why I’m happy to report that as of today, Jamaica has protected 25 per cent of its landmass and will complete protection of 30 per cent of its landmass by 2025, a full five years ahead of the international targets and agreed in the global biodiversity framework,” he said.
He shared that the landmass protection would have come from the recent protection of over 79,000 hectares of the Cockpit Country and the Black River protection orders which were issued in 2022.
Senator Samuda also shared that the protection framework for 15 ecologically sensitive areas has been completed and ought to be managed cohesively.
“It’s not secret that the government hasn’t always worked in a cohesive manner to implement and to monitor the land use declarations that it makes. These areas have been identified as areas that must have a management committee that constantly monitors the activities in and around these areas to ensure that they are, indeed, protected.
Maintaining and increasing tree cover
The Minister also spoke about the importance of maintaining and increasing tree cover with a significant urban forestry initiative which is to reduce the impact, as best as possible, on tress in urban areas and in some cases safely relocate them or leave them in place. He also mentioned a drive where seedlings were distributed for tree replanting to take place.
“This focus on planting in urban spaces should mean that we protect what we have and we shouldn’t degrade and then try to restore. I think that that at the core is why Hope Gardens is absolutely so critical to Kingston and St. Andrew. It’s why our doctrine for development must change as a nation It’s why we have to look at these sorts of assets and invest in them accordingly,” he said.
“I think the next phase and the next 150 years of the Hope Botanical Gardens will depend on a very important discussion and that discussion will be on the appropriate financing mechanism. The staff doesn’t work for free as committed as they are. The light bill for now wont be free. The cost of fertiliser and other items wont be for free,” he added.
Samuda mentioned that in 2009, the gap cost to sustain Hope Gardens was around J$100 million.
“I’m a little afraid to ask what the gap is now but that is going to trigger the next 150 years. That is going to ensure that the Hope Gardens looks, feels, and accommodates people in the way that we want it to. That is going to remove all asinine discussion of land use [of the Hope Gardens] other than as a garden from the equation and I think that is absolutely important,” he said.
Samuda expressed that there are a number of blended financial options that should be explored in maintaining and preserving the Hope Gardens.
“I’ll make myself and my office available to you to design the appropriate mechanisms that allow us to raise international funds to get the appropriate government allocations and to engage the private sector.
Jamaica is not a rich country. It will take a number of sources to ensure that this, is indeed, protected but you will have the support of my office as we design the appropriate mechanisms,” the Minister added.
Send feedback to [email protected]