Protecting the golden goose: sustainable development for the BVI

Two sets of remarks stand out from the many spoken during a two-day workshop last week organized by the Governor’s Office in conjunction with the UK’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC):

“As we embark on our review of this (Tourism Development) plan, all stakeholders including our environmental organisations will be brought to the table to discuss our agenda going forward. Even as we seek new approaches to improve our accessibility to our visitors, we are committed to doing so in a sustainable way. We are very conscious of our need to protect the golden goose that makes the BVI so attractive to visitors and that is our environment.” – Dr the Hon Orlando Smith, Premier

“Perhaps in no other setting than a small island is the connection and dependence between the environment and man so explicit and we depend on finite or limited and fragile resources and we have the capacity to fundamentally impact our environment and the impact we have on our environment eventually has an impact on us. At the heart of the concept of a “Green Economy” is a fundamental understanding and respect for these facts and that to believe otherwise is simply a state of denial.

“The global business community is awakening to this reality and it is time that we here in the Virgin Islands do so also…Unless and until the environment becomes everyone’s business, and is thought about, and seriously considered in every decision we make, we can forget about an environment that will be in any condition to maintain our economy, secure our development or continue to provide the lifestyle that we now enjoy.” – Dr the Hon Kedrick Pickering, Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour

The title of the workshop was “Greening the Economy, Sustainable Development in the BVI”.  And these two extracts encapsulate what the whole event was about: raising awareness about the critical importance of the natural environment to the BVI economy and helping policy-makers recognise the value of building environmental consciousness into the decision-making process at all levels: “mainstreaming the environment”.

The workshop was funded by the British Government’s Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) and organised by the UK’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC, the main adviser to the British Government on conservation matters).  OTEP has been around for a number of years and has been used to fund a wide range of projects in the territory, most recently to assist the Island Resources Foundation in creating environmental profiles of the islands.

The facilitators were Caribbean-based environmental consultants CANARI.  But the identification of the themes for the workshop and the selection of participants were in the hands of a local project oversight group.

The involvement of JNCC reflects the strengthened commitment of UK Government Departments to do what they can to assist the governments of British Overseas Territories such as the BVI in developing their policies and building their capacity in areas such as the environment.  This approach has been welcomed by the BVI Government and will be spelt out in more detail in the White Paper, which is due to be published by the British Government this spring.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together consider public sector, business and NGO representatives to consider what key actions need to be taken – short, medium, long term – to ensure that the environment is taken properly into account in planning the economic future of these islands.  Hopefully the 60 or so participants will have emerged with a clearer view of what we need to do going forward.  A report from the workshop will be presented to the government as soon as it is ready.

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