Richard Branson Backs Legal Bid to Protect Virgin Island Mangroves

The outcome of a case pitting an environmental charity organization against the British Virgin Islands (BVI) government and several developers could determine the future of the Caribbean environment and set the groundwork for the creation of an international environment court, writes The Independent's Robert Verkaik. The Virgin Islands Environmental Council (VIEC), whose legal efforts are being backed by none other than Sir Richard Branson (who, it must be said, owns a family home on Necker Island, one of the Virgin Islands), is trying to block the construction of a multimillion-dollar luxury resort on Beef Island.

The campaigners argue that the resort would cause irreparable damage, and could possibly destroy, one of the region's most vulnerable mangrove systems. Under the developers' plans, one of the golf holes for their course would be located right in the middle of the threatened mangrove swamp.

VIEC officials hope to set a precedent that will facilitate future efforts to challenge other large projects that fail to take environmental considerations into account. A spokesman for the group put it thusly: "The case will serve to define more clearly the government's responsibility in adhering to environmental laws when granting or refusing planning permission."

The charity's ultimate goal is to redesignate Beef Island as a Caribbean national park. It also hopes to make it easier for future governments to buy up land and designate vulnerable areas as national parks; the remainder could be used for sustainable developments -- like the eco-resort Branson plans on building on Mosquito Island, which will comprise 20 villas and a beachfront restaurant all powered by wind and solar energy.

The case's real contribution, though, could be laying the groundwork for an international environmental court:

The BVI dispute is expected to be used to illustrate the case for an international environmental court which will be debated at a high-profile symposium at the British Library in London today. An International Court for the Environment (ICE) has been championed by Mr Hockman and has been given a cautious welcome by Gordon Brown. The Prime Minister told MPs earlier in the year that the first stage of moving towards an international environment court would be persuading all countries to agree to binding targets.

I have a hard time imagining an international court ever getting off its feet. Trying to convince all of the world's leaders to agree to binding targets will be exceedingly difficult -- if not impossible (at least for the foreseeable future). That's not to say it could never happen; once more countries start feeling the effects of climate change, prompting them to adopt new environmental protections or to prevent certain forms of development, there could be a need for international adjudication.

Images from EarthFirst and F H Mira
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