Transportation and electrical power are modern marvels. For most of human history, the world was too vast for the level of interconnectedness and speed we know and take for granted today.
Goods and people took a few weeks to a few years to go from their starting destinations to their end points. All this changed with the advent of the industrial revolution and the proliferation of the use of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Suddenly, miraculous transportation vessels like trains, planes and cars sprung up around the world, electricity began lighting our homes and streets, making communication and transportation easier than it had ever been before in human history. Now, a trip to another country on a plane would be considered long if it exceeds eight hours. These luxuries were bought at a price though, unfettered expansion, production and energy consumption has had catastrophic effects on our environment.
Climate scientists agree that the burning of fossil fuels used to do things like drive our cars and refrigerate our food is warming the planet. Their combustion produces greenhouse gases that allow sunlight in but trap heat from that sunlight over long periods preventing it from leaving the atmosphere. This has a profound effect on climate as the accumulated heat is dissipated through the climate system. Greenhouse gases have been in the earth’s atmosphere for billions of years but never at the levels they are today, a result of human activities.
The world is now experiencing unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases and climate change, and many of the world’s governments have recognised the need for more efficient, and greener modes of energy production and transportation. Any strategy to arrest the worst effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gases must begin with an assessment of how much greenhouse gas is being released into the atmosphere and where these gases are coming from, specifically in what concentrations and what sectors contribute the most.
One of the key tools for achieving this goal is known as the greenhouse gas inventory or the GHG inventory. So how does it work? Well, the GHG inventory is developed each year by signatory countries to track trends in greenhouse gas emissions from all man-made sources such as cars, factories and power plants. This inventory is submitted to the United Nations in accordance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The GHG inventory uses international standardised methodologies to quantify national emissions output according to specific sectors. Trinidad and Tobago as a signatory to the Paris Agreement has been examining our output of greenhouse gases. Between 2017 and 2021, the Ministry of Planning and Development spearheaded an initiative to determine just how much climate warming gas T&T had emitted between 2008 and 2018. The main emitters from identified sectors of the economy were surveyed to find out how much greenhouse gas each was producing. The resulting GHG inventory for the years 2008 to 2018 shows that industry produces 48% of T&T’s total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, the energy sector produces 42% and waste management produces 5% of CO2 emissions. Our biggest emitters of climate changing greenhouse gas are the energy sector and downstream petrochemical industry. While these processes are important to the national economy, we must find ways of reducing emissions from these sectors in alignment with global efforts to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Trinidad and Tobago also used the GHG inventory to track commitments under the Paris Agreement relative to a ‘Business as Usual (BAU) scenario’. ‘Business as usual’ is really a baseline figure, a way T&T represents our commitment under the Paris Agreement known as the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a policy tool in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The BAU baseline expresses how much greenhouse gas we expect to emit in the future if there are no steps taken to reduce it. With the BAU baseline, we can compare future emissions and assess measures to reduce them. What we know though, is that from 2006 to 2018, T&T’s total greenhouse gas emissions went up. Overall, the three main emitting sectors; industry, power generation and transportation have been targeted with reducing their total emissions by 15% by year 2030 under the NDC. This is equivalent to reducing our output of carbon dioxide equivalent gases by 103 million tonnes by 2030. The costs of inaction are increasingly clear from higher temperatures and water shortages to more intense storms. That’s why the greenhouse gas numbers and the GHG inventory are so important
The aforementioned Paris Agreement is one of the most important multilateral treaty tools being used to fight climate change, and the obligations to be met under its stipulations are for the general benefit of the world. The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees through measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory to this landmark agreement.
There are many moving parts to the Paris Agreement, all of which are meant to work in concert to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. Trinidad and Tobago might be a small country, but our GHG emissions are of concern. We are also highly vulnerable to climatic changes and must play our part in reducing GHG emission by complying with our obligations as a signatory to the Paris Agreement.