Speech by the Prime Minister

Prime Minister Andrew Holness Remarks at the Launch of National Tree Planting Day

Bishop C. Everton Thomas for our prayers

The Most Honourable Juliet Holness

The Honourable Audley Shaw

Honourable Daryl Vaz

And other members of the Cabinet

Minister Chuck

Minister Henry

I see here the minister of state in the Ministry of National Security, the Honourable Rudyard Spencer; very alert, who will be planting many trees with us.

Mayors and members of the municipal councils

Our friends in the diplomatic community who are here

You would have heard from Her Excellency Ambassador Wasilewska

Ms Marilyn Headley, Chief Executive Officer and Conservator of Forest and other members of Forestry Department

Mrs Miriam McIntosh Robinson, Vice President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica

Other members of civil society and other stakeholder groups who are here

And a special acknowledgement to our beautiful students who performed for us from the Jamaica House Basic School and our excellent drummers from Ardenne High School.


The challenge with reading prepared salutations and protocol lists is that sometimes these are prepared beforehand and they leave out very important persons who may be in the audience and then the prime minister gets blamed for overlooking the important people who are in the audience so all the important people who I didn’t get to acknowledge and who are too many to name, I see the attorney general is here, I see the deputy speaker of the House is here, I see minister of state, Alando Terrelonge, I see all the ambassadors who are here; all the important people. I see the head of the NHT who is here who has remained very quiet in the informal pledging ceremony that is going on. You noticed I’ll soon have all the important people name here on this list because all of them will have to pledge.

Today is about investing in our future. We will be planting trees today for a prosperous tomorrow. I am pleased to see the turnout of persons from public and private sectors, students, the civil society, the diplomatic community and even the entertainment fraternity I gather is here.

The protection of the environment is critical to our survival as a nation. The forestry department has been doing a very commendable job in securing our forested areas. I use this opportunity to commend the CEO and conservator of forest Ms Headley, and here team at the Forestry Department for the work they have been doing in not only protecting and conserving the forestry resources of Jamaica but in educating the public about the value of our forests and trees and providing the opportunity for all Jamaicans to contribute to islands forest cover and beautify their surroundings through the observance of National Tree Planting Day.

Our trees and forests are critical to our sensitive ecosystems which produce our clean air and water. The global research on climate change confirms that small island developing states like Jamaica account for less than 1% of greenhouse gases. Small island developing states are, however, among the most affected states by climate change. Indeed, small island developing state you would say are on the front line; literally. They are the states who are, mist likely to lose their coastlines. They are the states that are more likely to be affected by hurricanes or cyclones. They are the states, however, that are least prepared both in terms of institutions and in terms of their fiscal ability to respond to disasters that may occur as a result of climate change.

Jamaica is in the forefront of climate action leading through the United Nations in raising awareness and resources to aid in climate action. Last week I was heavily involved in the United Nation’s  Climate Action Summit and the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

My participation in an international forum such as the high-level panel on Sustainable Ocean Economy the first of its kind ensured that Jamaica was instrumental in helping to create a measurable road-map for using the ocean to provide solutions to climate risks. It was an extremely hectic week where Jamaica sought to mobilize action to close the financing gap for implementing our sustainable development goals. I used the opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges Jamaica continues to face as a small island developing state to external shocks particularly natural disasters.

Ladies and gentlemen, climate change is real. We must address it in order to secure our future, our children are depending on us. Indeed, climate variations have resulted in our intensified drought and now the unpredictable rains we have been having recently.

At the UN General Assembly last Friday, I announced that Jamaica would embark on a national tree planting initiative through which we will plant over three million trees in three years. I believe we could do it faster if we all make solid commitments. Based upon what I’m hearing we’ve gone almost a million trees already so when the NHT joins us, when the KSAC joins us, when we hear from the Tourism Enhancement Fund, when we hear what all the line ministries are going to do and what the Parliament itself is going to do- the Parliament should do two trees per MP,  right Frank or even more and the church; can I get a wow? I believe we could do it even faster. Planting trees, of course, is one of the ways in which Jamaica is taking deliberate, strategic and decisive actions to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The National Tree Planting initiative which will include the Blue Mahoe will see the expansion of existing forested areas publicly and privately owned forests as well. Our aim is to improve the resilience of our coasts, hillsides and plains while also improving the beauty of our urban centres, major thoroughfares, parks and the added effect of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. We will focus on three areas with this national tree planting exercise. We will be replanting our mangroves and it is said that mangroves are the most effective in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. We will be doing a programme of urban forests- that doesn’t mean that we’re going to knock down buildings and plant trees but where buildings and urban spaces exist we will integrate more trees in those spaces so that the trees complement the built environment that already exists and the newly built infrastructure to come will have greater respect for trees and integrate them in the planning of the infrastructure and I believe within the urban space, for those of you who have the opportunity to fly over Jamaica, the next time that you have the opportunity and you’re able to look down on some of our towns you will see that there is an increasing urban sprawl; that there is a spread of residential, commercial and sometimes agro development and you can see a sea of zinc roofing, sometimes concrete slab roofing but what is usually absent  is the greenery, the shades, the trees. Cutting down those trees to expand human activity will have an impact on the climate and it will affect our weather systems. there is no question about that so for us we’re not saying we’re planting trees because it sounds good or it is now the political flavour of the month to do, we’re planting trees because it is a strategic path of our response to the real issues of climate change.

While forests cover 40%  of the island only 19% of that amounts to what is called closed broadleaf forests or primary forests and Marilyn will tell you; she educated me well on this, I’ll never forget the explanation that you gave that the closed broadleaf forests or the primary forests would be the forest that Christopher Columbus saw when he came to Jamaica so form that time until only 19% of it remains.

Of course, there are other forms of forests, degraded forests where the tree cover doesn’t form a canopy and that is still good, still effective especially if you have it on hillsides but we need to increase that. We need to increase the primary forests cover and we need to protect even the degraded forests that we have and we have been doing work so net in terms of what is cut down and what is replaced, we have between 1998 and 2013- we have measured that we have a net gain approximately 0.41% of forest cover. Do you see how small that is?  I would still clap for it Marilyn because the trend in other countries is that you don’t have a net gain that in other countries we’re cutting down more forest, more trees than we’re replacing but in Jamaica we’ve had a programme in place and that programme has at least been effective in replacing what we’ve cut down and still give us a less than 1% bet gain but with this initiative I’m hoping that we will see a net gain in excess of 5%. Marilyn said we won’t achieve that but I’m still ambitious because who knows maybe every single Jamaican citizen will get the message and seek to plant two trees instead of one.

Now, it is for this reason that the government is protecting over 74,000 hectares of the Cockpit Country. This area comprises the majority of the vulnerable ecosystems in that region of Jamaica as well as sensitive hydrological and ecological assets and cultural assets that exist there. While the country continues to develop the government’s aim is to ensure that there is no net loss of Jamaica’s forest cover.

Today is the 17th National Tree Planting Day and our national tree planting initiative is three million trees in three years; plant a tree today for a prosperous tomorrow. An important aspect of this initiative will be the training of over one thousand interns in forestry management through the Housing Opportunity Production and Employment Programme,  HOPE,  and these HOPE interns will be trained and certified in basic core elements of forest management including seedling production, tree establishment and maintenance and forest law in addition to one thousand HOPE interns that will benefit under the programme, employment opportunities will be provided for persons from communities adjacent to areas to be planted. Two million timber seedlings will be planted on or over three hectares of land and the remaining one million timber or ornamental tree seedlings will be distributed to the public for planting as well as planting in parks, along roadways and major thoroughfares in major towns across Jamaica.

The Forestry Department will be responsible for the reforestation and maintenance activities carried out on lands under its control and management however for trees distributed to and planted by the public, the government through the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and the Forestry Department will seek to engage the private sector and other stakeholders in the development of a Geographic Information System application meaning that we want to create what was described to be as a mobile app using GIS technology to be able to track all the trees that we plant so will know where they are located and we will tag them and so we will know how to find them, we will know how to monitor them so we’re going to be seeking a partnership with the private sector to develop this app and I believe that they have already started that process.

The success and longevity of this programme can only be achieved with the meaningful inclusion of every sector and every individual. The planting of the three million trees though significant will only be a small part of the overall programme. The critical component will be the medium to long term maintenance of the seedlings ensuring they remain viable and transition into healthy forests. We’re taking a different approach with this project to ensure its success. Over the next three years, we will be rolling out different aspects of the initiative through public education campaigns focused on the preservation of the environment. I want to use this opportunity to call on the support of private landowners and corporate Jamaica to use these resources to make this programme, not just a reality but a great success. Private individuals with land that are not under productive use can dedicate a portion or all of the land for planting trees and corporate entities can adopt a hillside and Marilyn you have to start to mark out the plots so that we can start to knock on the doors of corporate Jamaica and say there is a particular hillside in the Most Honourable wife’s constituency which by the way is a very hilly constituency, east rural, and I see Juliet Cuthbert here as well, west rural  that is very hilly. The Honourable Attorney General, her constituency is flat but urban tree planting would be good there.

In May pen where you have a lot of flooding Minister Henry coming off the hills as well, that would be a good candidate for tree planting to make sure because in the recent rains Clarendon was heavily affected. In fact, that was the worst affected parish with landslides which lead to road blockages and that is directly as a result of the denuding of the hillsides.

We are committed to this initiative; three million trees in three years, we can do it.