As Jamaica’s Prime Forests Decline, Row Erupts Over Protection: By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jun 4 2015 (IPS) – For Jamaica, planting more trees as a way to build resilience is one of the highest priorities of the government’s climate change action plan. So when Cockpit Country residents woke up to bulldozers in the protected area, they rallied to get answers from the authorities.
On May 18, Noranda Bauxite Limited acted on 2004 mining leases and moved its heavy equipment into the outer areas of the Cockpit Country, ignoring unresolved boundary issues. Their actions reignited a simmering row between stakeholders and government over demarcation and protection of the biologically diverse area.
Bauxite mining is said to be the single largest cause of deforestation on the island.
Whilst the company denies that it has begun mining, its officials admit to prospecting. Noranda’s actions however, raised suspicions that government had reneged on a promise made in 2006 when several prospecting leases issued to Alumina Partners were revoked. Back then, authorities had promised residents that the Cockpit Country would be off-limits to bauxite mining.
Junior Minister for Mining and Energy Julian Robinson has reiterated his government’s commitment to preserving the area, but many continue to be wary.
Michael Schwartz, director of the Windsor Research Station, is fearful that government will seek to “placate” the people with “a token boundary” which defines the Cockpit Country to an area “where there is no bauxite to be mined”.
“My concern is that GoJ [the government] seems to be completely ignoring the Public Consultation Report, which they commissioned in 2013, and is going to come up with its own boundary,” he said in an email response to IPS.