The legacy of our treasured heritage spans generations. The freedom and privileges that we enjoy today and that some may even take for granted; we owe to the fortitude of our National Heroes. Our heritage defines who we are as a people, strong resilient and assertive. Those who continue to preserve, protect and promote our heritage today are national heroes.
This week, we recognize outstanding individuals among us who have been inspirational forces, contributing positively to the growth and development of our community and our country at large. As I salute our National Heroes, I also congratulate all Jamaicans who will be honoured for their contribution to nation-building. This year, I encourage all Jamaicans to reflect with genuine pride on our cultural and material heritage. Let us celebrate “Our Heritage…A Great Legacy”.
In keeping with my recent advocacy on national and international platforms; I wish to focus on the fact that our natural heritage including our biodiversity and ecosystems are an important part of our material heritage. We readily understand the value of our natural heritage when we are complimented on the beauty of our island, our white sand beaches and welcoming warm weather. We come to an even greater understanding when we consider that our tourism product and the economic activity around it heavily depends on our environment and climate.
This heritage is under threat from our individual actions, such as improperly disposing our waste, slash and burning our hillsides, forests and fields, and overfishing our marine stocks.
However, the historical and current global use of carbon-based fuels for energy which has driven production and consumption patterns since the industrial revolution has had a noticeable effect on the global climate which is felt locally in our communities. The effects of Climate Change have become increasingly more visible in recent years. Research confirms that average global temperatures are increasing.
In Jamaica, when we examine our annual rainfall, there are more extreme swings between flood and drought conditions than there were in the decades before. Coastal erosion and storm surges are more evident. The frequency and intensity of storms and hurricanes have increased and the temperature of our hottest days is rising. These are all evidence of the impact of Climate Change on our environment.
Climate Change has implications for our sustainable development and impacts all areas of our life, including our economy and critical infrastructure. You would have seen recently how an entire island was wiped out in the Bahamas, and locally the serious flooding and dislocations that resulted from a few episodes of intense rainfall. You will also identify with the frequent, extended and intense periods of drought affecting the country, the personal inconvenience to you and the negative impact on our agriculture sector and national economy.
The Government is committed to implementing policies that mitigate and adapt to the effects of Climate Change and build economic and financial resilience.
Jamaica is actively participating in several global oceans initiatives and locally we are ensuring that our marine environment, is being sustainably utilized and managed. We have intensified our commitment to protect and preserve our watersheds and the attendant impact on coastal ecosystems.
We recently embarked on a national tree planting initiative that will see over three million trees planted in three years representing one tree for every Jamaican citizen.
You would have already adjusted to the ban on single-use plastics and shortly a plastic bottle deposit and buy back scheme will be in place.
The Government continues to transform the energy sector into a more efficient and cleaner producer of energy through the replacement of old plants, the diversification of the fuel mix with LNG, but more importantly, increasing the share of renewables in the generation of electricity as demonstrated when we officially commissioned earlier this month the largest solar farm in the English speaking Caribbean.
We have also sought to climate proof our economy by developing financial responses that would reduce the need for borrowing in the event of a catastrophic natural shock.
This includes the re-institution and funding of the National Contingencies Fund with JA$2 billion set aside from this year’s Budget.
Our seven national heroes are recognized today because they had the understanding and courage to take on the greatest challenge of their times, the oppression and enslavement of their people. As a result of their brave actions, they have willed to us today our freedom and independence which we value above all else.
Today, there are still many threats to our freedom and independence and the struggle against these threats continues. Now, we focus on the threat of Climate Change. This threat is of such universal and global scale, that it requires every human being to act. It requires social awareness of the threat and our individual courage to change how we live, to bring our lives in line with the environment. It can be a great inconvenience to keep the plastic bottle until you find a bin, rather than throwing it on the street-side or in the gully but we must change our behaviour.
Turning off lights and appliances when not in use can take some effort but consider how much less oil and gas would be needed if every household conserved on electricity and water.
Think about all the trees cut down daily, consider how fulfilling it is to take shade or eat fruit from a tree, especially one you planted.
I encourage all Jamaicans to plant a tree in your surroundings today and add your voice and action to the millions of enlightened citizens around the world mobilized individually in their locale to protect and preserve their environment and build resilience to climate change.
This will be the greatest heritage we bequeath to our children. We must truly be a nation that takes responsibility starting with each of us.
On this Heroes Day, become a hero for your environment. Let us be able to truly say we did our best to preserve it for generations to come.
God bless Jamaica, land we love.