By Eliza Barclay | Environmental News Network
HAVANA - Despite the tenuous economic relations between the United States and Cuba, Cuban and American environmentalists expressed mutual agreement of the importance of opening and maintaining cooperation on sustainable development at the Fourth International Convention on Environment and Development.
The convention, held at the Palace of Conventions in Havana June 2-6 brought together specialists on environmental science, sustainable development, and environmental education from 21 countries to share information and discuss possibilities for collaboration.
“A better world is possible,” said Dr. Rosa Elena Simeon Negrin, minister of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA) for Cuba. “We surely can move forward and work together to achieve one.”
Delegates from the United States, Europe, and Latin America presented case studies and projects on topics, including clean energy in developing countries, sustainable forestry, mitigation of hazardous wastes, and sustainable cities. Globalization and technology transfer were also key issues stimulating significant exchange between citizens from developing and developed nations.
Cuba has endured the economic embargo enforced by the United States since 1959 and has developed many creative solutions to environmental problems, particularly in the areas of agriculture, biodiversity and land protection, and environmental education.
The United States has maintained heavy travel restrictions on Americans wishing to travel to Cuba. For the first time in the eight-year history of the conference, a sizable delegation of 73 Americans was able to share research and take part in the discussions. The American delegates came to Cuba for educational purposes through Global Exchange, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, and through various American universities.
John Francis, special ambassador to the United Nations, was among the American participants. Francis, who will be inaugurating a Planetwalk across Cuba with a group of more than 60 Americans on June 8, spoke at the conference about walking for food, peace, and the environment. Francis is also the founder of Planetwalk.
“It is very difficult to separate environment from food from peace,” he said. “Bringing people together,
particularly during this time of strained relations between the two countries: The conference did achieve something very important.”
In the final roundtable session on Cuba-U.S. collaboration on the environment, Rachel Bruhnke of Global Exchange highlighted the many areas in which Cuban and American scientists, students, and institutions have been sharing ideas over the years, particularly in the areas of energy, alternative medicine, and agriculture. Cuban and American delegates chimed in to support more opportunities for exchange of research and implementation strategies.
In his speech to the 470 delegates assembled for the closing plenary session, Dr. Ricardo Sanchez, regional director for Latin America for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), talked about the status and need for increased sustainable development in Latin America.
Sanchez said, “There is great opportunity and need for the United States, Cuba, and Mexico to work together on common environmental issues like coastal and fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Eliza Barclay is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.