The purpose of the State of the Environment (SOE) Report is to provide readily available information on an annual basis about Jamaica's environment and natural resources use. It outlines in summary the nation's environmental agenda and provides a basis for the public to participate in development planning and environmental protection. In future years, the SOE will record progress towards meeting identified targets.
This first State of the Environment Report covers the present state of the economy relative to the country's natural resources. It summarizes institutional roles and programmes and indicates the priorities and strategies of the principal environmental management institutions. The Natural Resources Conservation Authority is responsible for,preparing the SOE in collaboration with other regulatory and resource management agencies and in consultation with academic, research, and non-governmental organizations.
Before Independence the Crown was responsible for protecting and managing Jamaica's natural resources through various government ministries and statutory organizations. The passing of the Harbours Act in 1874, prohibiting pollution of selected marine waters, demonstrated an early concern for the environment. From then up to the 1960's, a variety of laws related to natural resources were passed, including the Forest Act (1937), Mining Act (1944), Wildlife Protection Act (1945), and the Beach Control Act (1956). These were chiefly geared towards regulating the exploitation of natural resources. Specialized institutions were established to administer these laws.
By the early 1960's there was growing awareness of environmental degradation. Passage of the Town and Country Planning Act (1958), Clean Air Act (1961), and Watershed Protection Act (1963) symbolized government response to the need to shift from exploitation to stronger development controls and management of natural resources. New committees, authorities, and commissions emerged which, along with those that already existed, shared responsibilities, and lack of coordination. The result was a fragmented and often ineffective approach to environmental management.
The 1970's brought needed change. The Ministry of Mining and Natural Resources was created in 1972. Its responsibilities included many environmental laws and regulations as well as oversight for the various authorities and commissions empowered to administer them (the Beach Control Authority, the Watershed Protection Commission, and National Parks and Wildlife Committee, etc.). This marked the beginning of a more coordinated approach to environmental management.
The momentum generated by the Stockholm Conference on the Environment in 1972 culminated in 1975 in the formation of the Natural Resources Conservation Department (NRCD) within the Ministry of Mining and Natural Resources. The NRCD became the umbrella environmental management agency with a broad mandate to protect environmental quality. At the same time the Environmental Control Division (ECD) was formed within the Ministry of Health and Environmental Control to focus on pollution control and occupational health. Both the NRCD and ECD were included on the Town and Country Planning Authority in an effort to include environmental considerations in the development control process.
By the 1980's it was clear that a more comprehensive framework for environmental management was necessary, as well as a stronger NRCD. As a result, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority was established by the NRCA Act in June of 1991. Its function was broadly defined "to take such steps as are are necessary for the effective management of the physical environment of Jamaica so as to ensure the conservation, protection, and proper use of its natural resources."
The 1990's saw Jamaica joining the rest of the world in embracing the concept of "sustainable development." By this is meant meeting human needs and providing for continued economic growth while not compromising the earth's ability to continue doing so for future generation. Jamaica's aspirations towards environmentally sustainable development are demonstrated in the passing of the NRCA Act and the policies, institutional arrangement, programmes, and projects which followed.
The 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in Brazil, like the stockholm Conference twenty years earlier, was a milestone. Out of it came Agenda 21, a comprehensive blueprint for the global and local actions required for the transition to sustainable development. Agenda 21 helped set the framework for the Jamaica National Environmental Action Plan (JANEAP) 1995. The JANEAP measure progress, sets priorities and identifies actions to guide national policies, programme planning, investment decision and budget preparation.
There are many constraints on the path to sustainable development. These include inadequate legislation, uncoordinated planning inadequate levels of public awareness, illiteracy and poverty. The erosion of traditional values and attitudes that uphold nature and the introduction of new high consumption lifestyle also are major obstacles.
Still, progress is being made. To start with, the NRCA, after just five years of existence, continues to provide national leadership on the environment. This is evidenced by:
The NRCA cannot meet the challenge alone. As Agenda 21 cleary states, the path to sustainability requires partnerships and sharing of responsibilities. Support continues to come from agencies and institution throughout the public sector and from the civil society. Examples include:
The growing NGO movement, and the activities of the business community complement and support the work of government. This is evident through:
Finally, many individuals across the country have joined in the effort. Teachers guide students in understanding the importance of local wetlands. Children clean up beaches and become junior rangers. Farmers minimize their use on chemical. More citizen are being volunteer NRCA Game Wardens. Land developers avoid cutting down trees along gullies to minimize erosion. Consumers avoid buying products which have excessive packaging. the list goes on and on, as Jamaicans realize that individually and collectively they need to take action and make choices which take action and make choices which take need to take the environment into consideration. This is the path to environmentally sustainable development.
The 1992 report on the environment identified several factors which reduce Jamaica's ability to achieve sustainable development. There are institutional constraints, inadequate legislation, lack of planning, little public awareness, illiteracy and poverty. All work to impede progress. Other cultural constraints, such as the erosion of values that uphold nature, and high consumption lifestyles, are major obstacles. Economically, the country's hard currency earnings have to be diverted to foreign debt, thus leaving little for development activities.
To meet national goals stated in the 1992 report, the Government of Jamaica agreed on the following:
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