Climate change is globally recognized as the single environmental issue of the 21st century that poses unprecedented threats to mankind. The international policy response to global climate change has been through the adoption of two legal instruments: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol, to both of which Trinidad and Tobago is a ratified signatory. The ultimate objective of the UNFCCC is “the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system and in a timeframe that would allow ecosystems to adapt naturally, will not hamper food production and allow sustainable economic development”.
Trinidad and Tobago has no legally binding commitment to reduce emissions but is mandated to pursue development pathways that will follow a low carbon paradigm as far as is possible.
Although a natural phenomenon, building evidence suggests that there is an accelerated rate of climate change as a result of human activity, primarily the increases in concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as a result of fossil fuel combustion, industrial processes and waste management.
The most recent science suggests that the prospect of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, as agreed in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010, is getting bleaker with carbon dioxide emissions reaching a record high in 2010 according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, and continuing to rise.
Projected Impacts of Climate Change in Trinidad and Tobago
Climate change projections for Trinidad and Tobago include for higher temperatures and lower rainfall. The mean annual temperature is projected to increase by 0.7 to 2.6 degrees Celsius by the 2060s, and 1.1 to 4.3 degrees Celsius by the 2090s. Sea-level in this region is projected to rise by between 0.13 and 0.56m by 2100 relative to 1980-1999.
As a small island developing state, Trinidad and Tobago is particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. Sectors that are likely to be impacted are agriculture, human health, human settlements, coastal zones, and water resources as well as cross sectoral socio-economic systems. Accordingly adaptation actions or those related to coping with the expected changes will be pursued.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions for the period 1990 – 2006 indicate that the energy, transportation and industrial sectors account for the bulk of carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for an estimated increase of 278%, 100%, 86.7% respectively.
Although Trinidad and Tobago accounts for less than 1% of absolute global greenhouse gas emissions, the government recognizes the need to address these emissions in accordance with the decisions under the UNFCCC. Accordingly, mitigation actions or those related to the avoidance or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will be pursued.
Justification for Needed Action
Projected impacts of climate change and recent science dictate that suitable actions be implemented. The Government has identified the following reasons for policy and action on climate change:
1. Integration of adaptation into national planning
Impacts of climate change are expected to be cross sectoral, transcending the biophysical and socio-economic systems. Preparedness through adaptation planning is critical to achieving the objective of sustainable low carbon growth towards the development of a green economy and in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
2. Co-benefits of mitigation action
Increased use of alternative fuels, renewable energy and cleaner production technology will increase the quality of the ambient air and improve the quality of lives of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. The conservation of natural carbon sinks such as forests and coastal ecosystems will also ensure continuous provision of food and sustainable livelihoods for communities.
3. Economic opportunities and cost savings
Economic opportunities are available for the development and deployment of climate technologies, participation in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol, as well as realize cost savings in respect of reduced waste management costs through cleaner production technology. Such opportunities will be fully explored across all socio-economic sectors.
4. Enhanced energy security
Enhancing the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency will augment power generation and demand and provide greater energy security.
Trinidad and Tobago as a responsible member of the international community, is committed to pursuing a low-carbon development path, consistent with the principles of sustainable development through the development and delivery of strategies and actions for maximizing renewable energy resources, clean energy and clean production technology as well as adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change through integration within all aspects of national development in its infrastructural, human and socio-economic systems, at an acceptable balance of costs and benefits.
The policy will aim to provide policy guidance for the development of an appropriate administrative and legislative framework, in harmony with other sectoral policies, for the pursuance of a low-carbon development path for Trinidad and Tobago through suitable and relevant strategies and actions to address climate change.
The policy will guided by the following objectives:
i. reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions from all emitting sectors
ii. enhancing carbon sinks
iii. conserving and building resilience of human and natural systems to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change,
iv. the application of cleaner technologies
v. protection of the natural environment and human health
vi. enhanced agricultural production and food security
The climate change policy shall be guided by the following principles:
Strategies and actions that are environmentally sustainable and compatible with low carbon economic growth and social development will be pursued.
Meeting the challenge cannot be the sole role of the government. All relevant stakeholders including academia, research institutions, the public and private sectors, non-governmental organizations, community based organization, business and industry organizations and the citizenry at large will be consulted in developing strategies and approaches to addressing climate change.
The government will not await scientific certainty in order to act. The government shall develop, through a process of thorough consultation, actions that will redound to the benefit of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, for current and future generations consistent with the principles of sustainable development.
Strategies and actions shall take into account different socio-economic contexts, be comprehensive, cover all relevant sources, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and adaptation, and comprise all economic sectors.
The policy shall be revised in the light of new scientific findings.
Policy Directives and Strategies for Action
The government shall implement this policy through the development of a strategy and action plan that will address revising relevant policies where applicable, and legislation.
The government will strive to develop the country via a low greenhouse gas emission economic development pathway across all sectors of the economy. Accordingly, the government will seek through appropriate actions to, inter alia:
• Increase the use of renewable energy;
• Increase energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings;
• Increase the use of alternative fuels and fuel switching in the transportation sector;
• Enhance natural carbon sinks through conserving forests and protecting natural systems that contribute to carbon sequestration;
• Maximise the use of the carbon market;
• Enhance research and development on renewable energy and clean technology.
Adaptation measures would be integrated into the national development agenda by, inter alia:
• strengthening existing institutional arrangements for systematic observations, research and climate change modeling,
• assessing sectoral vulnerability to climate change,
• technological application,
• “climate proofing” new developments and retrofitting existing infrastructure,
• enhancing the resilience of socio-economic and biophysical systems,
• promoting community-based adaptation through expanded use of the Green Fund for capacity building and enhancing resilience
Public Education and Awareness
Education and awareness is critical to the success of the implementation of this policy. Accordingly, the Government shall:
i. integrate educational programmes on climate change impacts into school curricula;
ii. develop and implement within one (1) year of the adoption of this policy a communication strategy;
iii. ensure that national and local stakeholders have equitable access to and benefits from information and knowledge on climate change impacts.
Dr. Moonilal is the Minister of Housing and Environment in Trinidad and Tobago