Trinidad and Tobago’s ambitions for cutting greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are “not sufficiently bold” and based on “low-hanging fruit”, head of the Energy Unit at the Caricom Secretariat Dr Devon Gardner has said.
Speaking to the Express, Gardner said a perceived lack of ambition on the part of the Trinidad and Tobago Government could cause other nations to question the region’s commitment to climate action.
“Without Trinidad and Tobago, who is the designated energy leader, it always waters down the case,” he said yesterday.
Gardner’s position echoes that of Prof John Agard, one of the region’s experts on climate change and executive director of The University of the West Indies’ new cross-campus Global Institute for Climate-Smart and Resilient Development.
In an interview in the Sunday Express, Prof Agard had urged T&T to adopt a more ambitious target, saying that its current goal of a 15 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG) is comfortable and not aggressive enough.
“We are capable of more and need to act faster,” said Agard.
Currently Trinidad and Tobago’s Intended Nationally determined Contribution (iNDC) is a 15 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across three sectors: power generation, transportation, and the industrial sectors.
Gardner described these goals as “easy to meet”, adding that it “doesn’t require too much sacrifice”.
Moreover, he described T&T’s pathway towards achieving its targeted GHG cuts through improved energy efficiency as “low hanging fruit”.
“Any improvements in energy efficiency would lead to big cuts because Trinidad and Tobago is probably four times more inefficient than the rest of the Caribbean combined in terms of average,” he said, highlighting the fact that T&T consumes around 44,000 btus per unit of GDP as compared to other Caribbean islands that consumed on average 10,500.
“It doesn’t take much to reduce something that is already bad,” he added.
Gardner said that the change in technology happening globally would already account for a significant amount of energy efficiency improvements organically, making Trinidad and Tobago’s iNDC “not difficult to achieve”.
‘Chicken feed’ renewable energy
The second pathway he noted was T&T’s level of commitment to integrating renewable energy sources.
“Trinidad and Tobago is not really committing to an irreversible transition, but rather small amounts of integration of renewables,” he said.
In 2015, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago set a specific target to generate ten per cent of the country’s power from renewable energy sources by 2021.
Speaking at COP26, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley highlighted that Trinidad and Tobago was still in the process of establishing the largest utility-scale solar renewable energy project in the Caribbean with a capacity of 112 megawatts that would contribute towards meeting ten per cent of the country’s energy needs.
Gardner described this amount (approximately five per cent) as “chicken feed” given the two-gigawatt capacity of Trinidad and Tobago’s electrical grid.
“You have to look at things relative to what they are,” he said, pointing out that there were countries whose entire electrical grid is not even 120 megawatts.
Gardner acknowledged that the country’s extensive investment in hydrocarbon assets made its energy transition uniquely challenging.
“Transitioning to something else would mean almost abandoning a significant portion of that in terms of its use and building something else. And you know, it’s always going to be the question of why should we build something new when we have spent all this money on this,” he said.
Gardner noted the difficulties Trinidad and Tobago will face in retooling its workforce, warning of a daunting learning curve that could span decades over multiple administrations.
As a result, he said Barbados, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda have had to step into leadership roles on conversations about energy transition.
Gardner said that when Trinidad and Tobago summits its updated iNDC, the region will be looking out for an indication that the country is ready to take transformative action.
“We really want to see something that is indicative of a reorientation and redesigned energy landscape in the country,” he said.
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Zico Cozier is reporting on COP26 directly from Glasgow through the Climate Tracker Fellowship Programme