OAG reveals Cayman’s lack of sustainability

| 21/03/2023 | 18 Comments
George Town landfill (photo by Protect Our Future)

(CNS): As the Cayman Islands Government embarks on an independent initiative to help it link policy with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the Office of the Auditor General has revealed the existing lack of sustainability and some major challenges ahead in dealing with climate-related issues in Cayman. The country is generating five times as much rubbish as the global average and three times the emissions; only 3% of its power comes from renewables, the housing is unaffordable, and the CIG has still not ringfenced the Environmental Protection Fund.

The premier’s Minister for Sustainability and Climate Resiliency has contracted PricewaterhouseCoopers as consultants to undertake the internal review to help shape public policy toward these goals. But in her first public interest report looking at the UN Goals and the environment, Auditor General Sue Winspear found that significant effort is needed to meet the goals and existing important targets.

Winspear’s report and the government’s announcement about its own internal review follow recent news from the UN IPCC panel warning that the world is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next few years. Scientists have said that “an immediate and drastic shift away from fossil fuels” is now needed to prevent the planet from dangerously overheating.

The OAG raised concerns about the inadequate data available to measure and report on many of the UN goals. With plans for further performance audits focusing on environmental issues, Winspear has said the office will use the data in this report as a baseline.

In this first audit into environment and sustainability in public policy, Winspear acknowledged the efforts by the government to protect the marine environment and increase land under conservation, as well as its success in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and protecting lives. But the public auditors found limited or no progress in other important areas relating to the UN goals, such as the National Energy Policy targets and dealing with the mountain of waste that the islands continue to produce.

She said that there had been limited progress in increasing renewable energy and improving energy efficiency, given the cost of power bills here for consumers.

“The Government’s National Energy Policy 2017 – 2037 set an ambitious target of 70 per cent of energy to be renewable by 2037,” she said. “However, as of February 2023, only three per cent of Grand Cayman’s energy was renewable, and there are no publicly available data for the Sister Islands.”

The IPCC said in the new report that greenhouse gases need to be slashed in half around the world by 2030 to give the planet a 50% chance of limiting warming to the Paris agreement of 1.5 degrees Celsius. While Cayman’s emissions in the grand scheme of things are marginal, they are very high per capita and no action has been taken that could result in them being halved within the next seven years.

Winspear also found limited progress in the provision of a sustainable transport system, the National Development Plan or affordable housing. While she welcomed plans to build 64 houses in North Side and West Bay and the restart in Cayman Brac after the programme there has been stalled since 2019, she noted some of the fundamental issues regarding Cayman’s well-documented housing crisis.

“The average cost of a starter home is at least $300,000, and the average price of a house is about $1 million, making homeownership a challenge for many. In addition, the average household spends 55 per cent of its income on rent,” Winspear said. “The National Housing Development Trust (NHDT) has a waiting list of about 400 applicants but only constructed 11 houses in Grand Cayman between 2020 and 2022.”

Another major issue noted in the OAG report is the time it is taking to deal with the country’s waste management as well as the amount of waste that each person in Cayman generates, which is significantly higher than the world average, with only very limited recycling.

“On average, each person generates about 11 pounds, or five kilograms, of waste daily, more than five times the global average,” Winspear said, adding that less than 3% is recycled. “I note that the Cayman Islands welcomes significant numbers of tourists relative to its population annually, but we found no correlation between the tourist numbers and the waste generated per capita.”

Government is still in talks with Dart over the public–private partnership for the national integrated solid waste management system, known as ReGen, and Winspear said she hoped the final contract delivers a project that will improve the islands’ waste management and provide value for money. The preliminary contract was signed with a consortium led by Dart just weeks before the general election two years ago, but the premier has since pointed to a number of challenges with that original deal.

While the Winspear has also welcomed the government’s recently completed climate change risk assessment, which is forming the basis of the revised climate change policy, she said the data available shows carbon dioxide emissions here at 15 metric tonnes per capita, more than three times the global average and 68% higher than the government’s 2030 target, largely due to the use of diesel to generate electricity and the number of cars on the roads. She said that action was needed to reduce the impact.

Another major issue in relation to government’s inability to address some critical environmental and climate-related issues is the fact that the Environmental Protection Fund, which is financed by departure fees levied on travellers, has not been properly ringfenced.

Under the law, it should only be used for acquiring and managing protected areas, species and habitats. Ten years on, parts of the National Conservation Act ringfencing the money for environment-related purposes have not been brought into force. Urging the CIG to protect this money, Winspear said that some 15 months ago, in December 2021, the fund balance was $48 million.

The sustainability ministry said it supported the aim of the OAG’s timely report and its own “comprehensive review”, which would include the information gathered by the OAG.

“Independent analysis of public sector efforts play an important role in promoting accountability, transparency and achieving best value for public money,” officials said. “While the OAG report focuses on a selection of the Goals most closely linked with the natural environment, the SDGs are a holistic, integrated framework for achieving peace and prosperity for people and planet, both now and into the future.”

See the OAG report: Overview of the Cayman Islands’ performance against the Sustainable Development Goals focused on the Environment, in the CNS Library.

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Category: Climate Change, Government oversight, Politics, Science & Nature

Comments (18)

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  1. Concerned Caymanian says:

    The zero progress with regard to alternative energy is driven almost entirely by the need to sustain CUC profitability. As a company, as a government and as a nation profitability has trumped the environment. The company relies on the monopoly mandated profit level to exist, the government supports CUC through the monopoly agreement and the many CUC shareholders rely on the dividend income. There has been no pushback. As a nation we enjoy sufficient solar, wind and thermal resource to supply significant amounts of our power needs but all attempts are consistently quashed by CUC and Government. Look no further than the building control led demands imposed on those wishing to install home based Solar capability. Building control are being driven by CUC and Government to prevent progress. In Cayman profit is considerably more important than the environment which as a small island nation at the forefront of tidal rise is astonishing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Everyone over 5,000 people on Cayman is unsustainable. That’s all nature had ever been able to support. Everything else is parasitic directly or indirectly on people and things in other places.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Fix the damn dump already Wayne!

  4. Anonymous says:

    We cannot meet 15-Minute sustainable commuting and access targets without an incorporating urban plan. It has to include safe bicycle/scooter corridors, sidewalks and footpaths. This should be a top infrastructure priority. Much higher priority than the East/West arterial.

  5. Anonymous says:

    If Wayne had any interest in sustainability, leaf blowers would be banned by now.

  6. Anonymous says:

    There are some simple short term solutions we could implement right away while we wait for ReGEN someday. Shred all the yard waste and give away or sell as mulch and/or compost. Grind all the glass and give away or sell for use in the asplalt and concrete plants. That would cut down the volume by a lot, and reduce material costs for homeowners, landscaping companies and construction industries. What’s not to like? Short money for these pieces of equipment.

    • Don’t waste your breath says:

      I say sarcastically, save your comments, they don’t count, they aren’t written and signed off on by a large consulting firm. Even then they could be discounted, ridiculed or thrown to the dump.
      Some credit is due to Dart in that he has exemplified the inadequacies of our government to ever implement proper waste management on its own. Crushing and reusing of waste glass in Cayman was a smart ploy by Dart to get people on board with waste recycling and reuse. But more importantly this demonstrated that when Dart terminated the experiment there was a public outcry. This clearly shows government is least concerned with implementing a national solid waste management solution or any waste solution whatsoever. More to the point they never have been.

  7. Anonymous says:

    If USA and Canada’s national “Earth Overshoot Day” was surpassed March 13, ours has almost certainly been booked for the year as well – probably in February.

  8. Anonymous says:

    another glorious day for cig and the civil service….zzzzzz
    time for class action lawsuit against the incompetence of the civil service and cig.

  9. Anonymous says:

    direct rule for 2 years while a new raft of political candidates are selected/vetted based on qualifications, experience and integrity. then we have new elections.

    • Anonymous says:

      A less radical approach: Voters might petition the Governor to replace the non-performing regime-straddling DG and his obstructive managerial style of civil service non-performance. He’s demonstrated over time that he’s unbothered with successive negative OAG, AG, or PAC reports and/or shaming public headlines. Time to go, and “best of luck in your future endeavours”, as they say.

  10. Anonymous says:

    caymanians elect these people so you have no-one else to blame but yourselves.
    and to make things worse, you also prevent the most qualified and successful people on island from being elected…
    welcome to wonderland.

    • Anonymous says:

      just like everywhere else in the free world. What is your point? Should we have elected you?

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