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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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A Sustainable Future for the Overseas Territories

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On a Ministerial visit to the Cayman Islands Meg gave the following speech to the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.


I’m delighted to be here in the Cayman Islands. Not just to exchange the December cold at home for the temperature here, although that is a bonus. But because I wanted to find out for myself what it is that makes the Cayman Islands a successful community.


At home people often think of places like the Caymans, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos, as a Paradise on earth. Places where people come to sunbathe snorkel and forget their day to day lives - as the “islands time forgot”. 


But you have made the Cayman Islands a thriving and modern community. A community that will build on what you have now, for a future that will be as successful. A future that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.


Last week I hosted the Overseas Territories Consultative Council in London. The discussions I had then, with Kurt Tibbetts and the representatives from the other Territories are still fresh in my mind.


The UK Government’s priority at last week’s Council was to help secure a successful and profitable future for all the Overseas Territories. Like the UK, all the Overseas Territories are island nations. We all try to build strong links with the rest of the world, secure the trade we need, ensure access to oil, food and the other necessities of modern life. We all face the same global challenges; it’s only the scale that may be different.


I want to talk about two of these global challenges today:

  • first, the urgent need for collective agreement for practical policies to make sure we have climate security, and
  • second, to ensure continued economic success and growth we need good direction; good management so that it will continue and its fruits can be more widely spread. 

With good governance we have the chance to manage these global challenges, not merely watch from the sidelines. Every individual, as well as every country, can make a difference.


You have your own history to learn from:

  • 1802 the population was 933 people, with an economy dependant on Turtle fishing,
  • 1906 there were 5000 people, and a fifth worked as sailors, and now
  • around 55,000 residents spanning more than a hundred nationalities, with a thriving tourist industry and financial services sector.  

Through the canniness and resilience of the people, the islands have completely transformed themselves. The eighth highest GDP per Capita in the world, with an average income of $42,000 per annum. Success doesn’t happen by itself, it has to be managed.


But successful management means constant questions about how to develop, how to ensure it will be sustainable. What sort of Islands do you, the people of Cayman, want to have? What do you want to leave for your children?


The greatest challenge facing us all, especially island people, is climate security. I’m sure you understand this better than most:

  • we stand just a few feet above sea level, especially vulnerable to sea level rise,
  • more extreme weather has a special meaning for you, vulnerable as you are to hurricanes, and
  • the bleaching of the coral reefs has implications for your tourist industry. 

The Bali meeting currently taking place has brought much of the world together and shows that climate change is recognised as an international challenge. The world must take serious note of what will happen unless we change what we have been doing.


I understand that earlier this month the islands hosted delegates from other Caribbean Territories, as well as the UK, to launch a three- year programme to adapt to climate change. If we start to work up and implement adaptation measures, to make ourselves more resilient to climate change, we will secure a better future for our communities.


In the UK we are committed to domestic as well as international action. We are encouraging renewable energy, developing new wind farms as well as solar, hydro and geothermal power and are bringing in measures for better energy efficiency.


The challenge for us in the UK, for you, and for every country, is to become a low carbon and environmentally sustainable economy. Indeed, the Governor here has just installed solar technology at his residence as part of the Foreign Office’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2012.


There is no trade off between economic success and climate security. I know that the growth of the tourist industry has put pressure on the reefs and the mangroves. Also reducing dependency on oil for electricity generation is making more and more sense. Oil is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive.


But tackling climate change will create new business opportunities, including eco-tourism and, for the financial services industry, carbon-trading.


I look forward to my trip to visit the mangroves, to see for myself the work that has gone into replanting, after the loss of 80% of the mangroves during Hurricane Ivan. I understand that the mangroves form a natural barrier against storm surge. There’s an irony, following this careful replanting, in other places mangroves are being cleared for ocean front development.


I know that there is keen debate here on exactly this sort of environmental question. We can have a healthy economy and a healthy environment. If we get these questions right we can build a healthy society and sustainable communities.


I know that the Cayman Islands are good at this.  Earlier this year we had the preparations and management in the days before Hurricane Dean struck, and the aftermath of Ivan.


It wasn’t a miracle that so few people died during Ivan. It was the result of foresight and planning by government and the community.


We see that foresight in area of the economy. Since 2004, the financial services sector has grown and Cayman remains the world’s sixth biggest banking sector. You have got tourism back on track.


Like every economy in the world, Cayman needs to diversify to ensure it is not over dependent on any one industry or any one part of that industry. Your history is practically a text book example of this. An ongoing task is to continue to ensure that prudent financial management keeps Cayman strong against external shocks.


Central to economic success, and the key to prudent environmental policies, is good governance.


Good governance in the Overseas Territories is one of the UK’s key priorities. We will ensure the highest standards of governance with transparency and accountability at all levels of government. I commend the recent enactment of a Freedom of Information Law.


We will also ensure that our Overseas Territories meet international norms, whether a Caribbean Financial Action Task Force evaluation or a UN convention. For example, at our meeting last week, we agreed to extend conventions on Child Labour, Discrimination against Women, and Corruption to the Overseas Territories.


I look forward to constitutional talks. The desire for greater autonomy is a natural one, and we will consider any proposals carefully. But the British government must retain certain powers relating to good governance and law and order. Any new constitution has to give due weight to human rights. The challenge for us now, is to find the right balance.


We share a great deal, bonds of history, of responsibility, and affection. We have to keep the strong spirit of co-operation and partnership fresh.


You live in an extraordinary place. Cayman has gone from uninhabited island to global financial hub. There has never been anything small about your aspirations or your achievements.

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