Monday, January 22, 2018

Sensitising the public to climate change


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The Express ran the first in a series of weekly columns submitted by the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) on January 19. These articles seek to highlight not just local environmental issues but those which affect the population on a global scale. Questions and comments can be emailed to

On March 7, 2012, FFOS was invited by the Ministry of Housing and Environment (as it then was) to nominate someone from the organisation to be its "focal point" (designated person) for Multilateral Environmental Agreements ("MEAs") and Climate Change.

This was agreed to by Cabinet at its meeting on November 24, 2011. The duties and responsibilities of this person are indeed important; according to the letter of request, and responsibilities (in shortened form) are as follows: to liaise with the ministry on the organisation's role and function as they relate to national obligations arising under the various MEAs; provide advice concerning the implementation of these obligations arising under the MEAs; provide data to assist with country-reporting requirements, and work with other stakeholders to enhance cooperation.

Admittedly, this correspondence was met with some degree of scepticism concerning the seriousness of the venture. When is the environment ever taken seriously?

Unless there is some tragedy involving cute or endangered (or both) animals (recall the recent turtle tragedy), severe flooding, or it comes racing through one's living room in the form of a landslide, people are generally rather unconcerned about environmental issues, as there is general faith that the scientists will fix the problem or that nature will right the wrongs on its own.

This is not an indictment on those who are truly passionate about environmental issues in a sustained manner, simply a statement that we are relatively few in number. The numbers do seem to be growing, though, as the popularity of the environment and environmental studies is growing. Not to mention, increased funds are being made available to assist those wishing to pursue such studies. Nevertheless, FFOS complied and nominated its "focal point", the designated person. Some five months passed before another correspondence was received on the same topic. It was an invitation to the focal point to attend a sensitisation and capacity-building workshop.

The focal point attended, expecting the usual talk shop with people droning on endlessly, enjoying the sound of their voice, and completely unconcerned about the schedule or the fact that others would like to contribute as well and, perhaps, in a significantly more meaningful manner.

Others, of course, would be communicating almost non-stop on their smart phones because they are oh-so-bored/cool/important. Yawn… Moreover, these fora are often used as a punching bag, with people venting their frustrations concerning lack of action from the top tiers of government without making any useful input whatsoever.

Proceedings started about twenty minutes late—what's new? Proceedings cannot begin until the feature speaker is present! Anyway, as soon as the Minister of Environment and Water Resources, Mr Ganga Singh, arrived, the session began. What an unexpected and pleasant surprise that he kept (for the most part) to his time allocation. In fact, most of the speakers kept to their times or ran only just slightly over.

The speakers were all very articulate and generally familiar with their area of designated competency; this observation is noted only because many of the speakers were relatively young and this is to be commended. In addition, the presentations all met the requirement of "sensitising" the audience about the work of the Ministry's Environmental Policy and Planning Division, which exceeded the expectations of FFOS' attending focal point who was not aware that such work was taking place.

The session was well-attended; there were about 120 people present representing a variety of stakeholders from government, academia, industry and the NGO movement.

Of great concern and consternation, however, was the noticeable absence of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA). Many members of the ministry were present, but the EMA was not there. How could this be? Even the Minister attended, however briefly.

The EMA is the government body established by the Environmental Management Act, Ch 35:05 "to co-ordinate, facilitate and oversee execution of the national environmental strategy and programmes". Section 4 states that the EMA is to "(d) develop and effectively implement written laws, policies and other programmes for and in relation to (iii) the government's international obligations." MEAs are directly the obligation of the EMA, yet, there was not representative there. The EMA is the main executing agency for