It is vital that we move towards a greener economy. This isn’t really news to anyone with passing knowledge of climate change or its effects. Children learn quite early about the importance of protecting the environment, the ozone layer and even about the tenets of recycling.
Learning about the importance of a greener world is vital to developing the culture necessary to transition away from our old modes of energy production. Transitioning is important. The 2015 Paris Agreement embodies the global challenge to hold global temperature increases to two degrees, preferably 1.5 degrees, and establish ways to adapt to a warmer world. It’s worth taking a look at why climate change action is so important to the future of the world we live in.
We’re already seeing ominous signs of climate change and its impacts on our lives. Climate change is defined as a change in average conditions such as temperature and rainfall in a particular region over a long period. Global climate change refers to the average long term changes across the entire planet. Of course, earth’s climate has always been changing however scientists have observed unusual trends that go beyond the normal, natural processes. According to NASA studies, earth’s average temperature has been increasing rapidly over the past 150 years, and it helps to understand what’s behind these changes that have worldwide repercussions. The entire world has a critical stake in undertaking actions to address climate change that have the potential to influence the kind of world we live in, our health and the strength of economies and ecosystems that support life as we know it.
There are several factors influencing climate change but scientists agree that the shifts being observed, with increasingly warmer conditions in the past 50 to 100 years, are anthropogenic in nature or manmade. Our current patterns of energy production and consumption, trace back to the industrial revolution of the 19th century and only proliferated during the 20th. These modes of energy creation, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, did not account at all for the emissions that are produced when they are burned. These emissions, known as greenhouse gases, are exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels to power our vehicles, industries and homes and they are warming up the planet to dangerous levels. Here in Trinidad and Tobago, while our contributions to global output of greenhouse gases that cause climate change is less than one percent, our emissions relative to our size are concerning. We too have a stake in ensuring that the world actively reduces emissions that lead to the worst impacts such as weather volatility like flooding and drought, and food insecurity to name a few. In Trinidad and Tobago an assessment done in 2019 of the sectors vulnerable to climate change shows the scale of climate change impacts. Agriculture will suffer from reduced rainfall, saltwater intrusion and more pests. Coastal communities and industrial ports will be at risk because of sea level rise caused by melting polar ice caps. Even tourism could be severely affected as beach erosion and the loss of biodiversity in our forests and reefs undermines the appeal of our tourist destinations. There are a few climate change centred frameworks already underway in T&T including the NDC implementation plan. After the ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2018, we’ve committed to a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from our three main emitting sectors, power generation, transport and industry by 2030. Our second is reducing emissions by 30 percent in public transportation also by 2030. Under the Paris Agreement we are obligated to track our progress in meeting these targets and report on this progress to the United Nations. Several stakeholders are involved in gathering all the required data, ranging from the Ministry of Planning and Development to the Environmental Management Authority to the emitters themselves whether they are energy companies, manufacturers or public entities. In Trinidad and Tobago, most of our greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the industrial sector. Under the NDC implementation plan, one of the many initiatives expected by the industrial sector is to reduce venting and flaring, or essentially burning off excess fossil fuels to achieve a 15 percent cut. They will also have to embrace more energy efficient technologies to meet this goal. There are other initiatives built into the Paris Agreement that are aimed at encouraging nations to reduce their emissions. Over the years, there has been a suggestion that carbon emissions come at a cost. For example, if a business or government was made to pay a tax for their emissions based on the already well-established polluter pays principle, it would motivate them to emit less greenhouse gas and incentivise others to find ways to offset those emissions; this is known as a carbon pricing mechanism. T&T is now exploring the feasibility of a carbon pricing mechanism as well as the potential for participation in carbon markets where carbon credits are bought and sold thereby raising further funding to finance climate action. Of course, we can’t discuss climate change actions without examining the energy sector which is the major contributor to economic growth in Trinidad and Tobago.
Power generation is expected to continue to move to more energy efficient combined cycle power plants, and eventually to renewables like wind and solar. In fact, Trinidad and Tobago has already begun the shift towards renewable energies with the installation of utility scale power generation of 112 megawatts of power. In the transport sector, the CNG conversion rollout will continue. While CNG reduces carbon emissions, it won’t get us any closer to the ideal of zero carbon where we don’t produce any global warming gases but it’s a step on the way to weaning ourselves off of fossil fuel burning vehicles. Climate experts from the Ministry of Planning and Development foresee the development of an ‘E-mobility’ policy, meant to actively promote the use of electric vehicles putting our decarbonization strategies into high gear. In other sectors, such as agriculture for example, adaptation measures include installing water saving irrigation and on-farm water storage facilities. Additional recommendations for protecting against the ravages of climate change include the building of sea walls along our vulnerable coastlines to keep rising seas at bay. Also proposed is the stricter enforcement of building codes that take into account rising sea levels and flooding from torrential showers that are projected to become more frequent. These initiatives would require active, monitored and sustained policy changes to shape the future development of our society.
As we transition to a greener economy, where will all our energy sector workers go, but even more than that, where will the future workers come from? It’s a big question that planners want to answer with a ‘Just Transition Policy’ that addresses the types of skills we will need in a green economy. There are significant opportunities that lie in the creation of green jobs which are projected to increase in demand as we adopt new low-carbon technologies and lessen our reliance on fossil fuels. Therefore, another key plan under development is the retraining and retooling of the labour force for participation in a cleaner, greener economy, as well as providing the training for the required skills to develop future generations. Many of the climate change actions will seem remote from your everyday life but there is also a role for you, the individual, in T&T’s plan to fight climate change. Every one of us can support the goal of a 15 percent reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. You can be more conscious of the electricity you consume. T&TEC has already distributed energy efficient LED light bulbs to some consumers. You can choose to buy energy efficient appliances. If you are a vehicle owner, you might switch to CNG or consider the purchase of an electric vehicle. Your choices matter. Every citizen has a role to play in the climate actions Trinidad and Tobago must take to secure our future. They all add up to the national goal of achieving a low carbon horizon and adapting to the world’s changing climate.