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EAG issues clarion call at COP26 for focus on conservation in climate change fight

By Orville Williams

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The Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) is stressing the importance of conserving natural ecosystems in the climate change fight at COP26, after restoring more than a dozen of Antigua and Barbuda’s offshore islands.

The majority of the discussions taking place in Glasgow are focused on reducing emissions and transitioning to clean energy, but Executive Director of the EAG, Arica Hill, says those efforts could prove futile if the groundwork is not done to restore and strengthen the struggling ecosystems.

“You can have all the solar panels you want on your house, but if you don’t have mangroves [and other important elements of the ecosystem], it’s really not going to matter. You’re going to be able to turn on your lights and see that your house has washed away.

“So, what we are talking about is really how important it is to have conservation at the heart of climate change discussions.”

More than a dozen of Antigua and Barbuda’s offshore islands have been rescued by the EAG in recent years, with multiple projects to eradicate invasive species and restore endemic colonies resulting in a complete turnaround.

These projects include the Redonda Restoration Programme and the Offshore Islands Conservation Programme.

Healthy native flora has replaced the dry landscape on many of the islands and those islands that were previously rat-infested are now teeming with various species of birds and lizards, as well as the Antiguan Racer snake.

The EAG is representing the twin island nation at COP26 as the only non-governmental organisation (NGO) and it is grasping that opportunity with both hands, highlighting the many benefits to be gained if the necessary attention is paid to conservation.

 Hill, alongside EAG Programme Coordinator, Shanna Challenger, led a presentation on the issue yesterday on the sidelines of the COP26 negotiations.

“We spoke a lot about what the EAG has been doing for the past 30 years, which involves removing invasive alien species [like the] rats and mongoose from Great Bird Island and 17 other offshore islands, as well as removing the rats and goats from Redonda.

“And not just talking about the removal, but what we have immediately seen as a result of that is how the whole ecosystem, the island, regenerates itself. Whether it’s through the vegetation, through birds coming back [or] lizard populations increasing,” Hill explained during an appearance on Observer AM.

As part of the presentation, titled ‘Biodiversity Conservation: Underpinning Ecosystem Resilience for Locally-led Climate Change Action in Antigua and Barbuda,’ the EAG also spoke on the importance of funding being available and accessible to address threats to natural ecosystems.

Acquiring funding has been a longstanding challenge, not only for the EAG but for similar NGOs and other groups.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically the financial strain it has put on governments and private sector entities, could very well mean the challenge is worsened going forward, at a time when funding is arguably needed more than ever.

According to Hill, the EAG’s audience, which included COP26 participants from Antigua and Barbuda, the region and across the world, shared the same sentiment in that regard.

“What they all agreed on and what we have all agreed upon is the need for really putting money where it matters, which is in the hands of community-based, faith-based [and] non-governmental organisations that are on the frontline and doing the real work.

“So, when you think of the Horticultural Society, Parham and Willikies community groups, all of these people who are really doing significant work, [it’s about] making sure that they get the financing to do it.”

The EAG is also taking in as much new information as possible during the COP26 experience, to hopefully replicate different ways of approaching natural ecosystem conservation here in Antigua and Barbuda. 

“We’re not a part of the [COP26] negotiations, but we’ve been going to all of these different events that other organisations are hosting and that has been quite interesting.

“It’s good to see what people do and how you can possibly take an idea here or there to use it in Antigua. So, we’re hoping to continue to have really great conversations with people and see what we can do when we get back home,” Hill said.

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