It is important for NGOs to get involved with climate change oriented policy. Public awareness, governmental support and community-oriented organisations are all critical in the arsenal when thinking about fighting climate change. Over one hundred Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are operating in Trinidad and Tobago, doing their part to protect the communities and the natural environment. CSOs have a very important role to play in the achievement of national environmental goals as well as the objectives of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). They provide a valuable link between policy and the on-the-ground work to effect meaningful progress in the fight to protect our natural environment. They work on a wide range of environmental issues such as biodiversity conservation, environmental education, climatic change and disaster risk reduction, ecotourism, waste management including recycling and sustainable agriculture.

The Caribbean Natural Resources Institute CANARI is one such entity. CANARI is a non-profit technical institute dedicated to preserving the natural environment throughout the Caribbean. They are one of the many CSOs doing work with stakeholders from different sectors including rural community groups, academic institutions, private and public sector as well as other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to safeguard and protect our natural environment. Nicole Leotaud, Executive Director at CANARI, spoke on the initiatives taken by CSOs with regards to implementing and helping the further integration of environmental policy. She pointed out, “A recent survey for the Ministry of Planning and Development found over 125 Civil Society Organisations actively working on supporting delivery of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements in a variety of areas. The kinds of roles they are playing – they are actually delivering results and change on the ground in a really meaningful way that’s actually addressing the needs of the most vulnerable people and priority needs, so this is one of the critical roles they are playing.” Leotaud provided some examples of the type of work taking place with biodiversity and climate change to support meeting the obligations under the MEAs. “CANARI has been doing work to help them understand how they can sustainably use nature and biodiversity and also contribute to protecting it. So this is one of the small areas of work that the civil society of Trinidad and Tobago is doing a lot on. A second example is that under the Climate Change Agreement, global climate change is very important to everyone and Civil Society Organisations really play a key role in delivering that local response to climate change. It cannot only be addressed in international meetings, we have to change what we do everyday. And so, CANARI works with local communities to do what we call community-based and nature-based adaptation to climate change. So for example, we have done a lot of work on the ground with communities helping them to say: “How is climate change going to affect me and my community?” and to create things like maps and videos analysing what the impacts are going to be and therefore, how they need to respond and what they need to ask the government and other partners to do in response.” The partnerships, Leotaud said, are essential if the country is to contribute significantly to ensuring our resources are sustainably used.

She emphasized the importance of CSOs in bridging the gap between government signed agreements and policies and actual on-the-ground active results. She further added, “To really change our thinking, that it is all up to the government and how the government does it and if it is government controlled. We really need to embrace more collaborative approaches.”

As our environment faces increasingly serious threats, CSOs can continue to use their expertise and experience to, for example, advocate for the environment, serve as independent monitors of our MEA obligations and act as a valuable resource for information and research. One area in which CSOs can play an increased role in the future is influencing and observing negotiations on MEAs. So, in order to effectively implement the MEAs Trinidad and Tobago has agreed to, CSOs are a very important stakeholder group that need resources to continue their significant work and achievements towards environmental protection.