The main goal of the Paris agreement when it was first opened for signature in 2015 was keeping global warming to well under 2 degrees Celsius with efforts to further limit temperatures to 1.5 degrees compared to pre industrial levels. This was an ambitious goal, but a goal nonetheless that nations at the time, were committed to.
The recent events of the Global Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow, and the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change have shown that these initial goals are not being met at our current rates of emission. It is worth looking at exactly what the Paris Agreement is, and what it aims to achieve holistically, when we aim to understand how we as a nation can better meet our goals and obligations under the treaty. Additionally, understanding our own local frameworks and how they are integrated into the larger global goals that we aim to meet is critical in understanding what can be done to combat climate change locally.
Forged in 2015, this international pact embodies the ambition of 200 nations to halt the advance of increasing temperatures that cause serious impacts for the entire planet. Scientists accept that the current levels of warming, rising temperatures that can lead to catastrophic effects are man-made, triggered by the release of greenhouse gases.
As a signatory to that agreement in 2018, Trinidad and Tobago agreed to help the world meet that rather ambitious goal of restraining global temperatures when it ratified the Paris Agreement. Under the agreement, T&T has committed to cutting our greenhouse gas emission in the major emitting sectors. This commitment is known as our Nationally Determined Contribution or NDC. Our NDC has two parts. First a 15% cut in collective cumulative emissions from the major contributing sectors, industry, power generation and transport. This comes at a price tag of roughly two billion US dollars. That cost includes funding to be sourced from international financing. The second goal is an unconditional 30% reduction in emissions from public transportation to be funded domestically, primarily through the fuel switching programme to CNG. As you can imagine, we first had to find out how to determine these emissions as we cannot manage what we cannot measure. That was done through surveys of contributors from petrochemical processors and natural gas producers to manufacturers. The year 2013 was chosen as the start of the business as usual baseline, or where we would start measuring our output. This measurement considers that emissions will continue to grow as the economy and development continues even as we begin decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions. All cuts are measured against emissions estimated relative to the business as usual baseline. Once we had a baseline for our emissions, we had to secure a way of ensuring that countries around the world are reducing greenhouse gas emissions as they say they will. All nations’ reductions must be measured, reported and verified. This is being done in Trinidad and Tobago through a system known as the National Climate Mitigation, Monitoring, Reporting and Verification System or MRV which is quite a mouthful but nonetheless, important in the policy framework required to meet our targets.
In T&T, the MRV is a structural mechanism to keep us on track with our Paris Agreement climate commitments and is expected to be fully formalised in the legal framework to make emissions reporting mandatory. So how will this accountability mechanism work once fully formalised? Well, at the top of the organisational chart is the MRV coordinating body – The Ministry with the responsibility for climate change, currently the Ministry of Planning and Development. The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is another important organisation as they host the knowledge management system database which is the backbone or data repository of the MRV system. It is where all the crucial information is stored. The Authority gathers reports on emissions from all emitters across multiple sectors including power generation, air, sea and road transportation, industrial processes, agriculture and waste management. Every emitter must submit information about its progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Estimated emissions are submitted on a template designed to capture relevant data for easy retrieval.
The knowledge management system or KMS is an integral component of the EMA’s data collection. It is where data is verified before emission figures are sent up the chain to the relevant ministry with the responsibility for climate change. From there, the Ministry’s climate experts compile that data into reports that go to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement’s monitoring body and that is how the reporting loop is made complete. T&T has several international reporting commitments that must be fulfilled every two years under the Paris Agreement. In time, the MRV system will be enhanced to track climate resilience and adaptation efforts by incorporating new reporting requirements under the Paris Agreement. This is known as the ‘enhanced transparency framework’. Those greenhouse gas reporting commitments obviously depend on the cooperation and understanding of emitters. In January 2020, the Ministry of Planning and Development and the EMA convened 15 stakeholders to voluntarily participate in a pilot project of the MRV. Each was responsible for testing the KMS by submitting data through a secure portal. The MRV system also monitors the funding provided for getting those planet warming gases down. Much of that funding is expected to be sourced from multilateral donors and other international sources, however some funding is expected to be locally sourced including through public private partnerships, commercial banks and government funding mechanisms.
The MRV system is a crucial part of the larger framework for climate action and accounting for emissions and achievement of the Nationally Determined Contribution. The MRV system is the method by which the stated ambitions of the Paris Climate pact go from hope to reality. This tool will help to keep us on track with our climate change commitments, both for reducing emissions as well as tracking climate resilience and adaptation. In the Caribbean and T&T the outlook for generations to come depends on the actions being taken today.