Today’s World Environment Day is like no other before. There is an intensity and focus on action as never before. In the power centres of the world, doubt and dithering are finally giving way to policy changes and deadlines for change. Climate change has moved from the margins to front and centre of the global agenda.
For us in Trinidad and Tobago the shift is of enormous importance, given our economic dependence on fossil fuels. We are at the point at which kicking the can down the road for some other generation to deal with the problem is no longer an option. The problem is now squarely in the hands of those holding the can. The post-pandemic economic recovery, therefore, must place the environment and climate change at its centre. This should not be hard.
The National Development Strategy, generally known as Vision 2030, speaks about “placing the environment at the centre of social and economic development”. In his preface to this revised document issued in 2016, the Prime Minister said he was leading an administration which was “clear about what needs to be done”. He said a “detailed, comprehensive, wide-ranging and broad-based suite of detailed policy initiatives” had been developed to place the country “on the road to recovery and stability”. The impact on the natural environment, from current industrial production, is central to this promised thrust.
T&T also has clear commitments to the Paris Agreement for the reduction of carbon emissions by 2030. Anyone following the news on big oil and the dramatic policy changes by the Biden administration in the US would recognise that the world is no longer sauntering on the issue of climate change, but galloping. Notwithstanding some incremental movement by the Ministry of Planning, that message of urgency is still not coming through from the Government.
Under the very theme of “placing the environment at the centre of social and economic development”, the Vision 2030 statement of intent promised five short-term goals which were to have been realised in the five-year period between 2016 and 2020. These included the strengthening of environmental and governance systems; reduction of the country’s carbon footprint; proper assessment of climate vulnerability; creation of systems for comprehensive waste and pollution management and improved natural resource management.
For her part, the line minister on the issue of climate change, the Minister of Planning and Development, also made public commitments for conscientious engagement with “the wider public sector, business community and NGOs” to further update and refine the development agenda. In this regard, the Association of Civil Society Organisations of Trinidad and Tobago was forced to appeal to the Government to sign the “Escazu Declaration” on environmental protection, a major statement on this matter relative to countries in the Americas. This was in 2019.
Concluding her statement in the Vision 2030 document, Minister Robinson-Regis called on citizens to “further collaborate” in the country’s social and economic development. She urged that we embrace the vision and then take the responsibility to fulfil our respective roles” in this regard. It is from this perspective, then, that we urge the Government to accept that the time has come for strong leadership on the issue of effective climate change action.