The Dominican Republic ranks second with respect to its wealth of land and water biodiversity among the Caribbean islands. It is also home to 5,600 plant and more than 300 bird species. What initiatives is the Ministry taking to preserve natural diversity?
The Dominican Republic has 26% of its geography designated as protected area, amounting to a vast area of national parks. Therefore, protection of the fauna, flora, and biodiversity of those areas is a core activity of The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. It is crucial for the Dominican Republic to preserve such natural areas as they give the country its unique heritage that must be passed on to future generations.
According to the Central Bank, the annual GDP growth rate in the Dominican Republic averaged at 5.5% from 1993 until 2014. In your opinion, which segments of the economy hold most potential for future development?
The future growth of the economy will mostly be based on tourism, although the agribusiness will also play an important role. The latter sector, for example, has increased its export figures considerably over recent years. This growth enables us to keep inflation below double-digits and simultaneously achieve macroeconomic stability.
Today's world faces many environmental challenges. What issues is the Dominican Republic currently addressing?
The main challenge we face is the management of the watershed and river basins. Water is an essential element for our country for both human consumption and industrial usage; for example, to generate electrical energy and support farms. One of the main goals of our Ministry is to recover and preserve the watershed and river basins across the country. We have already done some extraordinary work with, for example, the Yuma and Ozama rivers. This work includes close cooperation with local communities. I would say that deforestation is another key challenge, especially when it comes to the illegal trade of wood and the search for particular plants. Meanwhile, we continue working towards increasing forest cover; we had increased it from 12% in 1967 to 39% by 2014. Our objective is to plant 70 million trees over the next four years. To date we have planted 25 million, and are therefore on the right path. The Ministry also implements a plan to preserve beach areas from climate change and extensive tourist activity. This is a key project of ours, because in order to maintain tourism growth, we must invest in the preservation of our beaches and the surrounding areas.
Could you tell us more about the situation in Loma Miranda? How, in your opinion, can a compromise be achieved?
We first received the environmental impact report from the company that wanted to exploit the area in 2012, and analyzed if for around 10 months. Ultimately, the report did not meet our expectations and we denied the permit. Our decision was based on Law 6400 of our Constitution. That is all I can say since we are the institution making the final decision on Loma Miranda. The main element in this entire process is the social license; therefore we need to work on better explaining to Dominican citizens the situation and plans for the area.
US Vice President Joseph Biden recently visited the Dominican Republic, in order to discuss details of the initiative supporting the production of renewable energy. What is your view on the transformation of the energy sector in the Dominican Republic, and what are the prospects for the future of clean technologies and renewable energy production?
We favor the implementation of renewable energy projects as well as the transformation of the national electrical energy matrix. I think the government took the right steps by opening it to private investment, both national and foreign. We prioritize the development of wind and solar energy projects, two weather elements that are widely available in our country. We also see as positive steps the development of less damaging energy production projects in the country, as the main problem the Dominican Republic has traditionally faced concerns its highly polluting energy generation systems. We also have some projects with energy generation companies to plant mahogany trees, which have high CO2 capture levels, around the areas where they have production facilities. Let me add that in the near future we will continue leaning toward the implementation of wind and solar energy projects.
What are your main goals for 2015 as Minister of the Environment, and where would you like to see the country at the end of the year?
We are pursuing presidential goals, and expect to further advance in the recovery of the river basins along the Yuma and Ozama rivers, two rivers that play an essential role in the production of water in the country. We also want to successfully implement the planting of the 70 million trees I previously mentioned. I want to increase the current 39% of forest cover to 41%.