Greenrock: Budget Can Influence Sustainability

February 23, 2016

“While the Budget makes plenty of references to ‘financial sustainability’ there were opportunities for this Budget to influence sustainability in a wider sense, encompassing a holistic understanding of social, economic and environmental sustainability,” Greenrock Executive Director Jonathan Starling said.

“Budgets, and the financial instruments available to Government, can play an important role in influencing behaviour and contributing to a sustainable Bermuda,” Mr Starling said. ”Some opportunities that we would have liked to have seen along these lines in the 2016 Budget would have been:

1]    A budget commitment for the economic evaluation of marine protected areas, including the Blue Halo concept. In June 2014 the Government argued that it was ‘premature to establish a firm or definitive position’ on the future of Bermuda’s marine EEZ, without additional analysis, specifically the need for a full economic analysis of the various options. We remain hopeful that this economic analysis will be completed, and think it would tie in nicely with the 2017 America’s Cup.

2]    We’d love to see a single-use [disposable] bag levy. We know from overseas jurisdictions that this greatly contributes to reducing the amount of plastic bag litter. After introducing such a levy, Wales has seen the number of such bags used by 71%; we know this proposal works.

3]    The vehicle tax system could be reformed to encourage less polluting vehicles. Currently annual registration and licensing of cars in Bermuda is based on vehicle size – the larger the vehicle, the more one pays. An alternative system could be that the less emissions, or the more efficient the car, the less one should pay. This could help encourage a shift to less polluting traffic over time.

4]    In 2009 there was a proposal to consider congestion charging, to encourage carpooling or greater use of public transport. This would greatly reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Other alternatives, already implemented in other jurisdictions, include a vehicle-miles-travelled tax to encourage smart travel, based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

5]    It would also have been nice to see a budget commitment to setting up the infrastructure required for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles [the BMW i3] were featured at last year’s America’s Cup festivities, and will also be prominent during the actual America’s Cup in 2017. However, without the investment in the infrastructure needed to support them, the potential for their having a long-term up-take in Bermuda is limited.

6]    There is the potential for introducing ‘deposits’ on batteries and electronic goods. This would be a revenue neutral policy, but it would contribute to the responsible of these products, reducing the risk of heavy metals and other pollutants contaminating our island home.

7]    We support the concept of a beverage-container-deposit system, which has been shown to increase the rate and efficiency of recycling elsewhere. This also has a public health aspect, as litter composed of such containers can contribute to mosquitoes breeding.

8]    Other jurisdictions have looked at mandatory recycling and ‘pay-as-you-throw’ waste management systems for non-recycling household trash. These are options that could be looked at to increase the efficiency of waste management in Bermuda.

9]    The Budget highlights the various infrastructure plans for the next five years, including the airport, the causeway, the swing bridge, the Hamilton waterfront, a BELCO LNG build-out, the airport solar PV farm and various other projects. It would be useful to have a holistic National Infrastructure Plan to ensure that these are paced in a sustainable manner with consideration for all their potential impacts, social, economic and environmental.

10] There is a growing body of evidence showing that large income differences within countries are damaging, while also linking greater equality to better social relationships within societies – levels of social cohesion, including trust and social capital, are higher in more equal countries. Greater equality is also linked to economic progress and stability, whereas inequality has been found to drive status competition, which itself facilitates personal debt and consumerism – which are major threats to sustainability. Sustainability should be at the heart of all of policy-making and action in Bermuda, and that includes ensuring we take [to quote from the Sustainable Development Plan] ‘holistic decisions, evaluating and incorporating the social, economic and environmental costs and benefits of our choices’. One of the proposals of the Sustainable Development Plan was for all Government policies to be subject to Sustainability Impact Assessments, and we would hope that the policies outlined in the Budget are conducive to realising sustainability, including the impact on equality.

“Greenrock also notes that the Sustainable Development Department appears to be being merged with the Central Policy Unit,” added Mr Starling.

“The intention of the Sustainable Development Strategy and Implementation Plan was that sustainable development would be at the heart of all Government policy, and so we hope that this move reinforces that intention.

“It is our hope that the Sustainable Development Strategy and Implementation Plan continues to be fully implemented in this new role.”

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