Camille Robinson-Regis

ENVIRONMENTALLY DRIVEN: Camille Robinson-Regis

THE GLOBAL drive toward net-zero carbon emissions in the next three decades will create many opportunities for businesses in Trinidad and Tobago, according to Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis.

In an interview on Saturday with the Trinidad Express in Glasgow, Scotland, where she is attending the United Nations Congress of Parties (COP26) summit, Robinson-Regis said it is very important not to pre-empt or prejudge the outcomes of the negotiations which are still underway in Glasgow, Scotland, as we speak,” she answered.

“For T&T’s businesses, in addition to the positive societal and environmental benefits, the key word is opportunity. There will be a wave of new technology, products, services and even businesses that will drive the goal of carbon neutrality and even thrive within it. The Government has already begun to put things in place for this in the areas of agriculture, renewable energy and e-mobility. We are also doing work in the construction sector, and we are reviewing T&T’s petrochemical sector to ensure that through green feedstock to the sector and transitioning to net zero, there will be opportunities for businesses to contribute to this development in a beneficial way as well as to profit overall in a world where consumers will seek products and services that contribute to the ambitions of climate change mitigation.

“The old carbon-intensive ways of doing business will soon be passé, so our businesses must begin to evolve and by participating in COP26—and through my meetings with institutions and leaders such as the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Commonwealth, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC) and even companies such as the En+ Group, which is the largest producer of low carbon aluminium globally—there are great opportunities that can manifest. In essence, I would tell the business community opportunity is knocking and we must open the door widely,” she said.

She said the Government’s overall development and policy agenda has been driven by the environmental agenda.

“And we do not intend to stop,” she said.

The environment agenda

Robinson-Regis cited four examples of how integrated into the policy framework the environment is:

1. T&T’s national development strategy, Vision 2030, which was presented to Parliament in 2016, has articulated ‘Placing the environment at the centre of social and economic development’ as Theme 5;

2. T&T’s National Environmental Policy emphasises ‘Addressing climate change and environmental and natural hazards’ as Priority Area 6.

3. The Roadmap to Recovery, the policy being implemented to guide T&T’s development through and out of Covid-19, emphasises ‘Building Climate and Environmental Resilience’, as a key priority area.

4. Also, the achievement of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which has Climate Action as Goal 13, Life Below Water as Goal 14 and Life on Land as Goal 15 is a key factor on the Government’s development agenda which the country has been working towards since 2015.

“We are driven by the understanding that we must ‘green’ every aspect of what we do. From the implementation of a Just Transition Policy for the workforce as highlighted by the Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, in his COP26 statement on November 2, aimed at reskilling, retooling, and developing new capacity for a low-carbon economy through T&T’s workforce, again beneficial to how our business processes and systems operate,” she said.

To this end, she observed that T&T is in the process of establishing the largest utility-scale solar renewable energy project in the Caribbean with a capacity of 112 megawatts, accounting for ten per cent of the country’s power needs, with the aim of a 30 per cent increase by 2030.

She said T&T has also developed a National Climate Mitigation Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) System, the first in the English-speaking Caribbean, to produce accurate, transparent, comparable, complete and consistent information regarding the emission and mitigation of greenhouse gases in T&T. Local businesses have been a part of the process and are expected to report on their emissions through the MRV system, which is facilitated by the Environmental Management Authority.

“Due to our position in the global arena, we have also been able to join a number of global alliances to help achieve our robust climate agenda such as the International Solar Alliance, the Global Ocean Alliance and the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People led by the UK. The THA has worked assiduously to ensure that with some guidance from the Ministry of Planning and Development, Northeast Tobago received the prestigious designation as a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve in 2020, joining the world network of 714 Biosphere Reserves. In 2019, Cabinet also increased the number of protected areas in terms of physical locations and square footage in marine and terrestrial spaces throughout Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.

“We have already embarked on an e-mobility policy. A consultant has also been engaged by the United Nations Environment Programme and Denmark Technical University (DTU/UNEP), to develop funding proposals for the instalment of ultra-fast solar electric vehicle chargers.

“I highlight some of these projects being undertaken to bring attention to the fact that Government’s agenda is environmentally driven and the projects that we have chosen to undertake are green-themed and the impetus is there to continue work in accomplishing these goals through the continuation of these projects and through the addition of more projects,” she said.

Financing

So what type of funding support will be given to SME’s with green-themed businesses?

She pointed to the Green Fund, which is managed through her Ministry.

“It is a grant facility that is available to eligible organisations who wish to engage in environmental activities and/or projects that are related to the key focal areas of re-mediation, reforestation, environmental education, and public awareness on environmental issues as well as conservation of the environment. Registered NGOs, community-based organisations, non-profit organisations, and enacted organisations are eligible to apply.

“The Fund is capitalised by a Green Fund Levy of 0.3 per cent on the gross sales or receipts of companies operating in Trinidad and Tobago and has contributed approximately $406 million to support environmental projects within Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago continues to lead the way in the Caribbean with this tangible commitment to the environment,” she said.

But apart from financial support, the Government has also provided technical support and equipment such as solar photo voltaic (PV) panels, through the Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) from which euro 2.4 million was contributed for the project by the EU.

On criticisms

Robinson-Regis said it is unfortunate that the Government has been criticised for its environment agenda.

In her view, the information is already out there in the public domain.

“In fact from 2015 to today, despite the fact that there is not a Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Planning and Development and I as Minister of Planning and Development with responsibility for the Environment, have pushed the environmental envelope on all fronts nationally and internationally and I am truly happy that our work is gaining more traction and I trust that after the excitement of COP26 the media will continue to give environmental issues the prominence that is deserved,” she said.

“The laying in the Parliament of the National Environmental Policy, the Water and Air Pollution Rules, the UNESCO recognition of the Man and the Biosphere, the work of the Green Fund, the publication of the Biodiversity of Trinidad and Tobago and so many other matters have largely been either treated with scant courtesy or ignored totally. I trust that this will change,” she said. See Page 17.

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