The Caribbean’s natural and infrastructural assets are vulnerable to natural hazards as well as the effects of global climate change, and all sectors –agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, housing – are at risk. The month of September 2017 turned out to be the most active month of any Atlantic hurricane season on record. We saw Category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria batter communities and cause major damage to infrastructure in several Caribbean countries, from Antigua & Barbuda to the Bahamas, Dominica and several more.
Yet despite the impacts of these major weather events, countries in the Caribbean met in September in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago for the Second Regional Policy Dialogue (RPD) on Environmental Licensing and Compliance. The RPD was organized by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to bring together environmental regulators, enforcement officials, and legislative professionals across the region to share experiences and innovations in environmental and social safeguard policies and their implementation in country systems, and to identify best practices and lessons learned.
Meeting and discussing these topics can help countries from around the region strengthen their environmental and social sustainability efforts and increase their resilience in the face of extreme weather events.
A three-pronged approach to the dialogue
Over 40 people attended the RPD in the two-day period. Several Caribbean countries were represented, as well as three regional organizations – the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and the University of the West Indies (UWI); and two international organizations – the European Space Agency (ESA) and the United Nations Environment Programme. Country participants included representatives of environmental management and planning agencies and ministries, town and country planning institutions and environmental permitting and compliance agencies.
The three themes of the dialogue were:
- Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement in Environmental Permitting and Compliance;
- Satellite Derived Information and Geographic Information System (GIS) in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Compliance Process; and
- EIA Legislation and Regulatory Frameworks.
Each thematic session comprised one or more lead presentations on regional or global trends and best practices pertaining to the issue, as well as presentations of case studies of national experiences. Throughout the dialogue, participants discussed how each of the themes can be improved to facilitate better compliance and decision-making processes region-wide. These are some of the recommendations from the participants:
- Meaningful stakeholder engagement
- Adapt policy-making processes for better stakeholder engagement
- Conduct comprehensive stakeholder identification and characterization in early stages of projects.
- Maintain communication with lenders to ensure consistency of all deadlines and to allow stakeholder engagement to be sufficiently inclusive and comprehensive.
- Geographic Information System
- Establish a formal arrangement to facilitate access to up-to-date satellite imagery for the region.
- Strengthen nationally linked GIS data systems to provide access to common basic data sets e.g. lands, forest, coastal resources.
- Conduct capacity training for national institutions; courses should be tailored to fulfil identified needs.
- Legal Framework
- Enhance legal capacity of technical staff in environmental and aligned agencies.
- Develop appropriate training material, procedures, lessons learnt and standard forms.
- Create a portal (regional website) to facilitate access to training materials, case law etc.
A journey toward good practice
Three concept notes were prepared in the final session of the dialogue, one for each thematic area. The notes focused on institutional strengthening; enhancing legal and regulatory frameworks for transparency and accountability; the use of digital technology to improve policy making, implementation and service delivery; strengthening coordination, planning, monitoring and evaluation capabilities; as well as pilot projects that could be used to generate applied knowledge. These will be expanded into full proposals to be delivered to appropriate agencies for consideration for funding.
Last year, roughly 40 high-level officials responsible for environmental and social safeguards from throughout the Caribbean came together in Kingston, Jamaica, to attend the first Regional Policy Dialogue. These officials shared their experiences in environmental licensing and discussed common challenges of ensuring adequate enforcement measures. The resulting conversations in Kingston showed that, in the Caribbean, country safeguard systems are diversely organized, yet despite their different institutional frameworks, the challenges they face are the same.