‘Our lives are inherently linked to the wellbeing of the environment’

Carolyn Labey Picture: DAVID FERGUSON

IN west Cumbria, on the very edge of the Lake District, a fierce row has been going on for some weeks now.

There are plans for a new coal mine near Whitehaven, the first in Britain for more than 30 years, and opinion over it is bitterly divided.

Its supporters say it will create hundreds of jobs and produce the coal that is needed for the UK steel industry. But the British government’s own climate advisers and local environmental groups say the mine would be bad news for the planet – and that the last thing we should be doing at the moment is setting fire to yet more fossil fuels.

The issue exemplifies the widespread impression that what is good for the environment tends to be bad for the economy, and vice versa.

But it is a popular misconception, and one that Deputy Carolyn Labey is keen to dispel.

The Island’s Minister for International Development is also chairman of the Island’s professional aid organisation, Jersey Overseas Aid. She points outs that more often than not, protecting the environment and economy go side by side, not head to head, and that a healthy planet can also be a wealthy one.

‘It is estimated that nature services contribute approximately $125 trillion each year to the global economy,’ she states. ‘More than a third of humanity is directly dependant on nature for its livelihoods, including through fishing, farming and forest-related products.’

Warming to the subject, the Deputy added: ‘All of our lives are inherently linked to the wellbeing of the environment. When habitats are destroyed and natural resources are exploited, this frequently leads to the destruction of livelihoods, the rise of food insecurity and, in some instances, the displacement of communities.

‘This, we are learning, leads to serious environmental, social and economic consequences for everyone.’

That is where JOA comes in. One of its current programmes is called Conservation Livelihoods and Deputy Labey sums up its purpose as ‘to improve the wellbeing of communities living in poverty by supporting them in developing a mutually beneficial relationship with their environment’.

She cites examples such as the five-year project in Madagascar being implemented by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

‘It aims to work across 20 communities to enhance the wellbeing of 28,035 people by increasing food security – through improved farming practices – and by providing better access to loans and reproductive health services.’

And yet it has its massive environmental dimension as well.

‘The project is facilitating the protection of 126,000 hectares of land, parts of which are home to a variety of endangered species,’ she explained.

‘Another example of a great initiative that we are supporting is a three-year project being implemented by Farm Africa in the Eco-Bale region in Ethiopia.’

The region provides food security for more than 13 million people but Deputy Labey says: ‘It is increasingly at risk due to deforestation, which not only threatens the health of the ecosystem but also results in soil erosion and flooding that also impact nearby communities.

‘Through this project, we are working with 10,000 people to support the implementation of forest management plans to reduce illegal deforestation.’

Again, economics and environmentalism fit together.

‘By enabling communities to develop their livelihoods through initiatives such as coffee and honey production, and by growing woodlots, we are working to reduce the pressure being placed on nature – and providing a means for people to improve their livelihoods in harmony with nature.’

JOA provides funding to help alleviate humanitarian crises, as well as to support development to improve lives overseas. Development projects account for approximately 70% of its work, and Deputy Labey says Conservation Livelihoods programmes are a substantial part of that.

‘For example, four out of the nine development projects launched in 2020 were a part of our Conservation Livelihoods Programme.

‘These four projects, which are each between three and four years long, are together intended to reach more than 100,000 people and improve the lives of many thousands more through better opportunities for income, improved access to a diverse range of food, and reduced levels of pollution due to improved cooking technologies.

‘At the same time, these projects will be restoring degraded land in rural Ethiopia, protecting biodiversity in Rwanda and combating deforestation in Nepal.’

And she says: ‘Since 2018, we have been refining the thematic areas Jersey supports to ensure that our aid is efficient and makes long-term improvements to people’s lives. In 2020, we decided to go forward with three areas where Jersey is able to add particular value: Dairy, Financial Inclusion, and Conservation Livelihoods.

‘By focusing exclusively on areas where Jersey has specialist knowledge, we are better able to harness local expertise. In addition, it has also allowed us to dedicate more time and resources to these three areas, ensuring that our aid has the best impact possible.’

It may be that protecting the environment overseas and helping economic development have an impact across the world, even in the wealthier and more developed parts.

Yet there are always those who argue that charity begins at home. And, in difficult or uncertain economic times, with job losses, housing shortages and people in Jersey relying on food banks, overseas aid may be seen as an additional extra that the Island cannot afford.

Charity may well begin at home but, Deputy Labey argues, it does not have to end there.

‘There is a growing understanding of how our lives are intrinsically linked with the environment and, as a result, with the communities that depend on the environment.

‘As an island that has grown in close relationship with the land and sea, and as people who were fortunate enough to receive much-needed aid during the Second World War, it is important – and a matter of pride – that we are now paying this aid forward to support those who are currently in need.

‘I’m delighted by the level of support Jersey’s Overseas Aid programme receives, whether it’s from members of the public, volunteers or local professionals sharing their expertise.

‘I think this truly captures Jersey’s spirit as a philanthropic island.’

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