Protest, climate change and the environment

Highly national in character, environmental protest is on the rise across the Caribbean. From French Guiana, to Suriname, Guyana, Barbados, Antigua, Belize, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Cayman, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, local groups and coalitions of eco-friendly interest are becoming increasingly vocal and litigation.

Their concern is primarily related to extractive industries, reflecting the recent rapid increase in external investment in offshore oil and gas recovery and exploration and exploitation of onshore mineral deposits. This year also operators have opposed mega resorts and unseen seafront proposals, developing ecologically sensitive sites, and opposing reef-damaging investments in new cruise terminals.

Such concerns appear to grow as governments, facing the challenge of economic recovery after COVID, are caught between agreeing to projects that will generate new sources of revenue and employment, and making unpopular technical decisions concerning the environmental damage caused by new investments. it can cause.

In the Bahamas, one such decision causes many citizens to clash over what is best for an island chain that until now has been almost entirely dependent on tourism.

There, the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), a Isle of Man headquarters company, plans to start operations this month on its # 1 Persistence well on its deep Cooper license, about 90 miles Southwest of Andros island and not far from the country’s maritime border with Cuba.

The government’s decision to allow this is being legally challenged by the umbrella environmental group ‘Our Islands, Our Future’. It seeks an injunction if the company does not suspend its proposed activities pending a judicial review of the environmental authorization that allowed it to look.

The group argues that the project should be legally suspended on the grounds that the environmental impact assessment for the project is flawed, and that there is a lack of appropriate consultation. He has also expressed concern over the absence of dialogue with the Bahamian government and called for transparency in relation to the drilling licenses, BPC insurance coverage, and its environmental sensitivity mapping.

In response, BPC has questioned why it took so long to bring the legal challenge when its intentions were known earlier this year, arguing that all the necessary precautions required were in place. He also stresses that once scientific tests on the exploration well establish whether or not oil is present, it will be permanently sealed.

In a strongly worded statement, the company’s Chief Executive Simon Potter suggested that the activist environmental group challenge the Bahamian government’s “sovereign right” to determine whether a potentially significant natural resource exists within its maritime boundaries . He also claimed that “a silent multitude of Bahamians favor knowing whether commercial oil reserves exist in the Bahamas”, noting that a successful discovery could boost government revenues by billions in royalties and create new contracts and employment. BPC has previously indicated that oil in commercial quantities could generate up to US $ 5bn in revenue over a 10-20 year period.

Paradoxically, the surge in interest in Caribbean oil and subsea gas comes at a time when the world seems to be moving towards binding commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused primarily by the sought-after hydrocarbons and now found throughout the region. It also occurs when there is growing consensus that non-renewable forms of energy have a limited future and so much oil majesty is diversifying and channeling revenue into sustainable power sources.

It is also happening just as the political environment in relation to global warming is changing.

A few days ago, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered a speech in which he stressed the urgent need for climate action. Observing in unusually direct terms that “humanity is fighting a war on nature” he told governments that the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris 2016 climate agreement provide solutions but that “global unity” is needed in “the pivotal period to come ”.

His remarks came shortly after US President-elect Joe Biden named John Kerry, former Secretary of State, as a special cabinet-level presidential ambassador on climate change, making the matter national security in the United States United States. Mr. Biden has also committed to signing an executive order on his first day in office that will see the United States rejoin the climate change agreement; assemble within 100 days of a global summit; see the United States achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050; and commit US $ 2 trillion to green US transportation, power generation, construction and infrastructure.

This implies that the President-elect to tackle climate change is to become an overarching theme during his presidential term: an issue that can reintroduce multilateralism and interdependence and restore western trust in US leadership.

During the Obama Presidency, despite strategic differences, the United States and China agreed to work together on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This may be possible again.

In September, China established a carbon neutrality timetable similar to that of Mr Biden, potentially offering a bridge to more normal relations. Speaking to the UN General Assembly via video link, President Xi said China’s objective is “to top CO2 emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060”. He also argued that the post-pandemic world should focus on a green recovery to the world economy, comments widely interpreted as paying much more by its government and China’s capital markets and its investors operating overseas. future attention to their impact on climate change.

These issues will culminate in the next full UN climate summit in Scotland in December 2021. There, each country is expected to present its new long-term goals; agreeing rules for a carbon market; and agree the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

For the first time in four years the real hope is that global warming can be tackled in a way that provides long-term security for the Caribbean and other low-lying and small island states.

Major hydrocarbon discoveries, the continuing wave of exploration across the Caribbean, increasing environmental activism, concerns over economic recovery after COVID, the willingness of the US and China to commit to climate reduction targets, and a limited future for hydrocarbons, however, are now all suggesting that the regional response requires more definition and a new narrative.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

[email protected]

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