Can Grenada deliver for Branson at Caribbean sustainability summit?

In just over a fortnight’s time the leaders of Caribbean nations and corporate CEOs will join together to discuss potential solutions to the challenges facing the region in the fight to develop green economies.

Grenada’s recently-elected premier, Keith Mitchell will co-host the Caribbean Political and Business Leaders Summit alongside the British Virgin Island (BVI) leader at Sir Richard Branson’s private island in the BVI. It won’t be the first time Branson has acted as a matchmaker for social change initiatives. His Carbon War Rooms project connects entrepreneurs with funders to create clean technology innovations. For the prolific entrepreneur saving the world makes good business sense.

Aside from making his family home in the Caribbean, the Virgin founder is a keen champion of investment in the region (two years ago he launched the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship in Jamaica) and is equally passionate about conservationism and the environment.

The tiny Caribbean island of Grenada caught the Virgin founder’s eye during his trip to the Rio +20 Conference in Brazil in 2012. During the talks Grenada’s Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas was hailed as a transformative figure in the fight for green economies especially for Small Island States.

In the run up to Rio, Thomas had urged the UN to ensure that the need for an adequate and legally binding global response to climate change to remained at the top of the global agenda and the island had carved out a well-respected place for itself and even consulted Nobel Prize winner Mohan Munasinghe to develop methodologies for mainstreaming environmentally progressive policies.

But with Thomas’ party swept out of power after a domestically disastrous term in office is the new Grenadian government up to the job?  As the head of one local NGO has asked, “Will government now seek to sell our environmental interest to investors to escape Grenada’s debt crisis?”

The environmental credentials of New National Party (NNP) are at best unproven. Worryingly they have recently reinstated the practice of sand mining from local beaches, which had been banned during Thomas’s government, despite opposition from environmentalists. In the island of Carriacou there NNP has renewed its push to move forward a marina project in Tyrrel Bay, which has the potential to have a negative impact on local mangrove ecosystems.

While the new Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, has promised to install Chinese LED light fixtures in government buildings to cut energy consumption, environmental issues are marked by their absence in the budget published in April.

As co-host of the event (alongside Orlando Smith of the British Virgin Islands) there will be a huge opportunity for Grenada to use its skills, influence and experience to drive change. The Summit aims to build and expand on the Caribbean Challenge Initiative commitments of placing 20 per cent of near shore marine area under protection by 2020 and developing sustainable finance mechanisms to finance the management of protected areas.

If Grenada is to play a meaningful role, environmentalists and local civil society have a tough job to do in persuading the government to take its responsibility seriously.

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