(CMR) The Office of the Auditor General said while the Cayman Islands achieved some environment-related successes, including measures to protect the environment, more effort is needed to meet important environmental targets.
In its report, “Overview of the Cayman Islands’ performance against the Sustainable Development Goals focused on the environment,” issued today, the OAG highlighted that more work is needed to meet renewable energy targets, address proper waste management, and provide affordable housing.
The public interest report assesses the Cayman Islands’ performance against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the OAG has determined to be directly related to the environment. The OAG identified eight SDGs and 47 targets that focused on the environment.
The report states that two targets did not apply to the Cayman Islands, and no data were available for 16 targets. The OAG assessed progress against 29 targets. Eleven targets were to be met by 2020, and the OAG assessed that two of these were met and nine were not met. A further 18 targets have deadlines in the future or no target date set. The OAG assessed that two of the 18 have been met, two are on track, some progress has been made with five, and there has been limited or no progress with nine.
Sue Winspear, the Auditor General, said, “This public interest report is our first report on the environment and the Sustainable Development Goals, and our assessment shows a mixed picture.”
The Auditor General added, “There are no data to measure and report on around one-third of the targets. I encourage the Government to start collecting the data needed to measure progress against all relevant SDG targets.”
The report highlights that there are some environment-related successes, including some measures taken to protect the environment. In addition, the Cayman Islands’ COVID-19-related mortality rate compares very well with that of other countries globally.
Ms. Winspear said, “The Cayman Islands proved resilient in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters like tropical storms Eta, Grace, Ida, and hurricane Ian.”
“The Government has taken steps to protect some environmentally important areas. In March 2022, the Cabinet approved 865 acres across five locations for formal risk protection. These areas are home to mangroves and other threatened habitats and are, in addition to the 3,739 acres already protected. About 55 percent of near-shore waters are under some form of area-based management,” Ms. Winspear stated
In relation to affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), the report states that electricity costs are high, and there has been limited progress in increasing renewable energy and improving energy efficiency.
The Auditor General said, “Access to electricity is almost universal, but electricity costs are high, largely due to the reliance on generating electricity from diesel.”
“Renewable energy is environmentally-friendly and may be cheaper for residents in the longer term. The Government’s National Energy Policy 2017 – 2037 set an ambitious target of 70 percent of energy to be renewable by 2037. However, as of February 2023, only three percent of Grand Cayman’s energy was renewable, and there are no publicly available data for the Sister Islands,” Ms. Winspear continued.
Lack of affordable housing
SDG 11 sustainable cities and communities cover a range of issues, including affordable housing, transport systems, and national development planning. The report states that there has been limited progress in providing affordable housing, a sustainable transport system, and a national development plan. The Auditor General said:
“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 percent of its income on rent.”
Ms. Winspear added, “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. However, I am pleased to note that it plans to build 64 houses in North Side and West Bay. The Sister Islands Affordable Housing Corporation did not construct any houses between 2019 and 2022. Although I note that it plans to restart its affordable housing program in 2023.”
Less than 3 percent of Cayman's waste is recycled.
SDG 12, responsible consumption and communities, covers waste management and sustainability practices and reporting. The report states that the waste generated per capita in the Cayman Islands is significantly higher than the global average, and there is limited recycling.
Ms. Winspear says, “On average, each person generates about 11 pounds, or five kilograms, of waste daily, more than five times the global average. In addition, less than three percent of waste 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.” Ms. Winspear adds, “The Government is currently negotiating a public–private partnership for an integrated solid waste management system, known as ReGen. I hope the final contract delivers a project that will improve the islands’ waste management and provide value for money.”
Carbon dioxide emissions high in Cayman
In relation to SDG 13 climate action, the report states that there is currently no climate change policy for the Cayman Islands, and carbon dioxide emissions are high.
The Auditor General added, “I am pleased to note that the Government has recently completed a climate change risk assessment and is currently drafting a climate change policy.”
Ms. Winspear continued, “However, carbon dioxide emissions in the Cayman Islands, at 15 metric tonnes per capita, are more than three times the global average and 68 percent higher than the Government’s 2030 target. Carbon dioxide emissions contribute to global warming, which has key consequences for small islands like rising sea levels, more intense tropical storms, and coastal flooding. I acknowledge that carbon dioxide emissions are high primarily due to the islands’ reliance on diesel for electricity generation and private motor vehicles for transport, but action is needed to reduce these and their impact.”
Environmental Protection Fund
The report states that the Government has an Environmental Protection Fund financed by departure fees levied on travelers leaving the Cayman Islands via the airport or cruise ship terminal.
Ms. Winspear says, “According to the National Conservation Act, 2013, the Environmental Protection Fund should only acquire and manage protected areas and measures to protect and conserve protected species and their critical habitats. However, the Act’s sections that ring-fence the money in the fund for environment-related purposes have not been brought into force ten years later.”
Ms. Winspear adds, “I encourage Cabinet to bring these sections into force as soon as possible so that the funds can only be used for the purpose intended in the Act.”
The Auditor General concludes, “We plan to do further performance audits focusing on specific environmental issues in the future. We will use the data in this report as a baseline for those performance audits.”
Meantime, the Ministry of Sustainability & Climate Resiliency (MSCR) said the report by the OAG underscores the importance of its ongoing efforts and the wider Cayman Islands Government (CIG) to strengthen alignment between the CIG’s outputs and outcomes and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The MSCR said it supports the aim of the newly released report and looks forward to conducting its comprehensive review of the information gathered by the OAG over the next few weeks.
The Ministry also noted that independent analysis of public sector efforts plays an important role in promoting accountability, transparency, and achieving the best value for public money. It further stated that the OAG report is timely as the MSCR recently launched its own project to enhance awareness and understanding of the SDGs within the Government’s entities with the ultimate goal of identifying priority areas of strategic alignment and local targets under the Goals.