The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund was established by The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund Act, 2015 as an independent entity responsible for raising, managing, and disbursing funds to build our resilience to climate change impacts and to reduce our carbon emissions. It is the first of its kind in the region. The Trust Fund, as established, can support actions by the Government, private sector and civil society, including on-the-ground projects, capacity building, education, research, studies, introduction of innovative technologies, changes in legislation, policy/strategy development and establishment of incentive programmes.
In real terms, the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund provides a vehicle to access large-scale international financing to ensure the Virgin Islands can survive in a changing climate that is hotter and drier with more extreme weather events, rising seas and new diseases. Resources pooled in the Trust Fund can support investment in schools, health facilities, ports, roads and other infrastructure and facilities that are hurricane and flood resilient. It opens room for innovative opportunities like financing programmes for home and business owners to make their own properties resilient. The Trust Fund is our best hope for protecting our low-lying coastal communities from sea level rise and stronger storm surge, by restoring and protecting our coral reefs and mangroves. The Trust Fund is also our ticket to funding our transition to energy independence and security, while being an example to the world, through large-scale conversion to clean, green, renewable energy.
The list goes on and on. There is no shortage of need – The Virgin Islands Climate Change Policy, 2012 outlines 133 specific priority actions for adapting to climate change and they come with a big price tag.
The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund is built around best practice in international climate finance and its success depends on adherence to the following core principles enshrined in the Act, including the mechanism for appointing and removing Board members:
- Responsible Resource Management;
- Fair and Equitable Access; and
- Blended Funding Sources
The Act provides that the Trust Fund is governed by a Board of Trustees comprising nine (9) members, six (6) of whom are non-Government representatives who must apply to serve through an open, public, transparent process as described in the Trust Fund Act. Selections are made based on specific criteria defined in the Act and appointments are made by the Minister responsible for climate change.
Following the process outlined in the Act, the First Board of Trustees was appointed on July 17, 2017. On April 24, 2019, as a part of its blanket policy to revoke and reconstitute the membership of all statutory boards, Cabinet decided to revoke the membership of all non-government members of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund Board. This decision was in direct contradiction to Section 16 of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund Act as advised by the Attorney General of the day, and substantiated by the Commission of Inquiry Report.
It is important that I highlight that Cabinet’s decision came at a critical stage in the life of the Climate Change Trust Fund – transitioning it from a legal entity merely on paper, to a functional entity achieving it objectives. Just prior to the elections of 2019, the former administration had substantially paved the way for the Trust Fund to access a portion of the Environmental and Tourism Levy, as seed funding to support its enactment. On the heels of that milestone, at their meetings in 2019, board discussions focused around finalization of a budget for 2019-2020 and hiring of key staff positions, including a Chief Executive Officer, to begin the process of bringing the Trust Fund to life. The decision of April 24, 2019 immediately halted the urgent and critical work to operationalize the Trust Fund and it has remained dormant for over 3 years.
So we find ourselves in an unfortunate position, set back several years. As the Commissioner summarized in his report, “Any momentum that the board had in obtaining international funding – or, indeed, any funding at all – has been lost.” A great disservice has been done to the people of this Territory and a great wrong to the members who served faithfully on the Trust Fund Board with the highest levels of commitment, enthusiasm and integrity.
The members met regularly and, in the absence of seed funding for the Trust Fund and in the wake of the unprecedented disasters of 2017, the nascent Board, only in existence for 1 year and 9 months, was able to achieve significant milestones towards the Trust Fund’s implementation, including:
- Development of the Trust Fund’s Operational Manual at a standard to meet the requirements for accreditation by the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest source of international climate funds. Development of the Operational Manual is a major accomplishment of the Fund, fulfilling a basic legal requirement for the Trust Fund to become operational;
- Efforts towards development of the Trust Fund’s Business Plan, also a legal requirement for establishment;
- Establishment of a bank account and production of financial statements for 2017 and 2018;
- Development of a website at the domain www.vicctf.org in keeping with the guidance in the Operational Manual. Given the dismantlement of the Board, the website is now defunct; and
- Creation of a logo and seal for the Trust Fund and official email accounts for Board members to build the Trust Fund brand and facilitate outreach.
It is important that I point out that all members served without any form of compensation and were so committed to the implementation of the Trust Fund that, in the absence of seed funds, they donated their personal funds to achieve the milestones indicated above with the exception of the Operational Manual, funded by the European Union.
Through their experience on the board, including hands-on involvement in development of the Operational Manual and engagement with regional and international climate change experts, Members built a high level of capacity in the international climate finance landscape and climate change issues more broadly. The board was trained in the requirements of the Operational Manual and Green Climate Fund accreditation requirements. This institutional knowledge and expertise will be essential to successful implementation of the Fund.
The board was highly energized – all members were qualified, hardworking, committed, passionate and high performing. Revocation of their appointments was not only counterproductive and wrong, it was unlawful.
It is now incumbent upon me as the Minister for Natural Resources and Labour with whom responsibility for climate change rests, to offer a sincere apology on behalf of the Government of The Virgin Islands to each member of The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund Board who was duly appointed and serving and whose membership was wrongfully revoked on April 24, 2019 – the Chairman Mr. Edward Childs, representing any sector responsible for making contributions to the Fund; the Deputy Chairman, Mr. John Klein, representing the tourism sector; Dr. Katherine Smith, representing an academic or research organization; Dr. Shannon Gore, representing a non-governmental organisation or community-based organization; Ms. Shelly Bend, representing the financial services sector; and Mr. Ronnie Lettsome, representing an individual ordinarily resident in the Territory.
I have outlined the significance of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund which is directly tied to the urgent need to re-establish the Trust Fund Board. Based on all of the history and facts that I have outlined, it is only right, fitting, in the best interest of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund, including its international reputation which is paramount, and in the best interest of this Territory, including respecting the rule of law, to reinstate the board by humbly inviting all members whose appointments were revoked on April 24, 2019 to serve again with a reset of their terms of appointment.
On the basis of the official apology issued today and this administration’s commitment to move forward with implementation of the Trust Fund, strictly adhering to the noble principles on which it was established, it is my hope that all former members would be willing and able to serve again. Where this may regrettably not be the case, to ensure that the work of the Trust Fund is continued, any vacancies will be filled following the open, transparent, public process outlined in the Act.
There are innovations and moments in the course of each country that shape and define its potential and future. The Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund is one of those innovations and this is one of those moments. Legal establishment of the Fund put this small Territory boldly on the map, regionally and internationally, as an innovative leader in sustainable financing for climate change adaptation and mitigation in small islands. Let’s take this opportunity to right a wrong and put the Trust Fund back on a path to success, to safeguard the future of these beautiful islands we are blessed to call home.
As Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, I look forward to a fully appointed board in short order and I pledge my support in the successful implementation of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund.