Sasha Jattansingh

Sasha Jattansingh is the Commonwealth National Climate finance adviser to Antigua and Barbuda.

At the age of nine, Sasha Jattansingh’s interest in the environment was piqued when she was watching news updates on the Rio Summit in 1992 with her father. Later, she did a school project on the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989.

“I think that was the first time I realised that humans were negatively affecting habitats and ecosystems on land, oceans and rivers and the atmosphere because of our lifestyles, actions and decisions and we ultimately would have to be the solution,” she said.

It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for the environment.

At 38, the Couva resident now serves as the Commonwealth National Climate finance adviser to Antigua and Barbuda and she is in Glasgow negotiating with countries on behalf of the Caribbean island at the two-week COP26 climate conference due to end on Friday. She is one of 16 advisers across the Caribbean, Pacific and Africa who support governments to access climate finance from public international climate funds like the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund.

The goal is to unlock private sector finance through proposal development, capacity strengthening, enhancing climate policy and institutional framework, stakeholder engagement depending on the priorities and needs set out by each country.

“COP26 is about raising ‘ambition’ on emissions reductions, but that hasn’t yet translated into concrete commitments and actions in the negotiations by the major emitters. India for example indicated their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) targets would be met by 2070. That is not acceptable for SIDS like the Caribbean.

“In terms of climate finance, the US$100 billion goal by 2020, set 12 years ago at COP15 in Copenhagen is still to materialise, with this now expected to be reached in two to three years, while there is still no consensus on a goal for long-term climate finance, which is crucial for SIDS and developing countries to meet their needs,” she told the Express Business last week.

“Loss and damage is being strongly advocated by SIDS and there is much interest in COP26 on this, yet negotiators still are skirting around the issue of financing for loss and damage as a separate element of the Paris Agreement. Adaptation is also recognised as important to addressing climate change impacts, yet financing for adaptation (activities which enable communities, regions and ecosystems to adapt to impacts and climate change and build climate resilience) is still significantly lower than financing for mitigation (activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions). There are still contentious issues for COP26 to be negotiated. We don’t have the luxury of time anymore though,” she explained.

She observed that the Caribbean collectively contributes less than one per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation actions will have little impact on global emissions.

“However, Caribbean SIDS will be most affected by the adverse effects of climate change. One of the most important takeaways of the recent NDC Synthesis Report (September 2021) is that the current level of ambition in nationally determined contributions (countries’ national targets for mitigation and adaptation) will lead us to an increase of 14 per cent of global emissions. This is inconsistent with the at least 45 per cent reduction needed below 2010 levels to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement,” she said. While being at COP26 may be exciting, she said it is also “intense and stressful and full of people”!

The irony is that people need to come together, have dialogue, build consensus and determine how we move forward on climate action.

Antigua and Barbuda is currently Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) which is the negotiating bloc for small island developing states (SIDS) in international climate change negotiations.

“Week one has ended and we still have a week to go. SIDS are demanding increased ambition, increased climate finance that is simplified and accessible and the repurposing and rechannelling of fossil fuel subsidies towards vulnerable sectors and communities,” she said.

Why did she leave T&T?

Jattansingh, who worked at the Environmental Management Authority and the Cropper Foundation, said she has been working remotely in T&T for almost a year with the Commonwealth Secretariat, through the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub.

“Living in Antigua has made me realise how blessed and wasteful we are as a country – we have one of the lowest rates for electricity and water in the world because we currently have the luxury of available natural resources. Antigua is a water scarce country so water is expensive there. They have to import all their fossil fuel to generate electricity, hence the extremely high electricity rates,” she said.

She observed that T&T’s policy framework for environment, finance and education for example, is more developed and established than Antigua’s, yet Antigua is more committed to strengthening its policy and institutional frameworks for implementing its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.

“Antigua has committed to an 86 per cent renewable energy transition in its electricity generation sector by 2030 and a 100 per cent renewable energy transition in its transportation sector by 2040 and is leading on ensuring that they have the data, capacity, frameworks, partnerships and policies in place to achieve their NDC targets.

“The difference between Antigua and Barbuda and Trinidad and Tobago is that they have no choice but focus on adaptation and building climate resilience now and as a result they have strong, committed, ambitious leadership on climate action. With Hurricane Irma flattening Barbuda in 2017, they had to pretty much evacuate an entire island in a few hours. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic pretty much decimated their tourism industry, which is their economic mainstay, leaving Antigua and Barbuda with high debt levels and little fiscal space to manoeuvre,” she said.

T&T’s relationship with the environment

She credits her parents who encouraged her interest in environmental science and geography through reading. So she followed the unbeaten path of making the environment her career.

“I didn’t really know anyone who worked in the environmental field until my dad’s younger cousin started studying environmental engineering and I realised that ‘the environment’ could be an actual career. That gave me hope that I could create a career for myself doing work that I truly was interested in and impact on how we manage our environmental and natural resources here in T&T and the Caribbean. In hindsight, I wish I had asked more questions, and sought out mentors to guide me through my career. It probably would have made life much easier but I don’t think I would have had the experiences, connections and opportunities so far,” she said.

As for those opportunities?

“ I sometimes think a lot of opportunities were almost serendipitous either from identifying possible opportunities or people directing me to opportunities that I would have never considered before in my life. My academic studies were all done abroad and I think that allowed me to experience and appreciate other countries’’ policies, commitments and actions on environmental issues,” she said.

She did her undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto at Scarborough where she studied Environmental Science with a specialisation in Environmental Geoscience.

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