Mangrove replanting along coast – Planning & Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis engaged in mangrove replanting with Ministry of Planning staff, the Institute of Marine Affairs and volunteers. (Image courtesy Ministry of Planning & Development)

A recent report by the Ministry of Planning & Development estimates that continued loss of Trinidad and Tobago’s biodiversity resources—forest ecosystems, watersheds, marine and coastal ecosystems—could cost almost US$1 billion every year in destruction, as both natural and human factors continue to contribute to climate change.

The ministry notes that each core area of biodiversity resources over land and sea provides extensive critical services such as erosion control, water purification, flood protection and carbon capture in forest ecosystems, as well as shoreline protection and food sources in marine and coastal ecosystems.

The following is a release issued by the Ministry on the matter, as this country prepares to participate in the upcoming Twenty Sixth Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change called COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 to November 12.  

Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis is highlighting that despite the current global “climate emergency”, as described by the UN’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has been working assiduously to avert possible US $1 billion in losses related to biodiversity resources and services, tourism and other economic activity as a result of climate change and other factors.  The United Nations has stated that climate change, happening as a result of natural and human factors has deleterious effects on biodiversity, food security and agricultural production.

Minister Robinson-Regis recently led Trinidad and Tobago’s virtual participation in the Ministerial Round Table of the global Conference on Biological Diversity, COP 15, based in Kunming, China, and supports the view of world leaders to place emphasis on the environment and ecosystems to build back better from COVID-19’s effects.  At COP15, institutions such as the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility and the UNDP have pledged their support and commitment to assisting countries like T&T in addressing biodiversity loss and focusing on transformative change.  Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the launch of a 1.5-billion-yuan (US $232.47 million) fund to support biodiversity protection in developing countries. 

This comes as Trinidad and Tobago prepares for the Twenty Sixth Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change called COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 to November 12.  COP26 is referred to as an historic climate change summit which is expected to be a game changer for how countries do business.  Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley will lead Trinidad and Tobago’s delegation in Glasgow as Head of Delegation for the World Leaders’ Summit; Minister Robinson-Regis is the Head of Delegation for the High Level Summit and Mr. Kishan Kumarsingh, Head of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements Unit of the Ministry of Planning will be the Head of Delegation for Technical negotiations.

The 5th National Report of Trinidad and Tobago to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) approved by the government in 2017 provides an overview of the economic importance of ecosystem services supported by Trinidad and Tobago’s biodiversity.  This Report, quantifying the value of this nation’s biodiversity resources has indicated that the loss of regulating services such as soil erosion, water purification, coastal protection, and flood protection provided by nature will increase our vulnerability to natural and manmade hazards, increasing the financial and other costs to Trinidad and Tobago.

According to the Report, the ability of this country’s watersheds to deliver water of good quality (water purification services) is valued at approximately TT$520 million or US$88 million annually.  The forests in Trinidad’s Northern Range provide soil retention services that are valued as high as US$622 million annually.  Another regulating service provided by forests is carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere, this service provided is valued at approximately US$1,088 per hectare per year. This carbon removal service is highest in wetland areas such as the Caroni and Nariva swamps in, as well as in Trinidad and Tobago’s forested ecosystems.  Taken together with other services such as erosion control, water purification, flood protection and the provision of sustainable timber, the ecosystem services provided by this country’s forests are estimated to be worth at least US$2,195 per hectare per year.

The coastal ecosystems and their biodiversity, namely coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands, and seagrass beds, also play an important role in protecting our shorelines. The 5th National Report highlights that almost the entire length of Tobago’s coastline is dependent on coastal ecosystems for some type of protection. This study also indicated that the value of shoreline protection provided by coastal ecosystems for Trinidad and Tobago ranges between US$3 and US$133 per hectare per year. Aside from protection services, coastal ecosystems also support recreation and tourism-based activities, valued at up to US$390,428.00 per hectare per year.

The government has taken an active approach in mitigating the effects of climate change on Trinidad and Tobago’s biodiversity resources.  Minister Robinson-Regis emphasizes that we have committed to a reduction in cumulative greenhouse gas emissions in the main emitting sectors, industry, power generation and transportation by 15% from a business-as-usual baseline by December 31, 2030.  Significant work has been done towards the establishment of a robust Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) System for climate change mitigation in Trinidad and Tobago.

To reduce cumulative greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, an e-mobility policy is in the final stages of development.  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.

The Ministry of Planning and development through its Environmental Policy and Planning and Division has also done a great deal of work with the Food and Agricultural Organization regarding Trinidad and Tobago’s Forests and Protected Areas.  Through this project, a new National Protected Areas Systems Plan was approved by Cabinet in 2019.  The goal of the Plan is to identify areas within the national jurisdiction of Trinidad and Tobago which enabled the protection of the country’s biodiversity, to be consistent with national policies for forest, protected areas and wildlife.

The new Plan proposed the establishment of 136 Protected Areas. Of these, 92 are terrestrial/freshwater (79 in Trinidad and 13 in Tobago), 40 are coastal/marine (18 in Trinidad, 22 in Tobago) and 4 are deep-seas marine areas. In total, approximately 1,933km2 (1,866km2 in Trinidad, 67km2 in Tobago) of the country’s land mass is proposed to be terrestrial/freshwater protected areas. The proposed coastal and marine protected areas approximate to 580km2 (14km2 in Trinidad and 566km2 in Tobago). The proposed open-ocean waters and deep-sea marine areas cover 15,600km2. 

In 2020, the Ministry of Planning and Development with the Environmental Management Authority and the University of the West Indies also launched the first ever Trinidad and Tobago Biodiversity Information System (TTBIS), intended to be a central repository for gathering and managing T&T’s biodiversity data and information in order to share it efficiently with all stakeholders, so as to ensure better evidence-based decision making regarding our biodiversity resources. 

Minister Robinson-Regis emphasizes that a holistic action plan is being driven through implementation of Trinidad and Tobago’s National Development Strategy, Vision 2030; a commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and Trinidad and Tobago’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan to ensure that our human and natural resources are at the ‘centre of social and economic development’ as outlined by the National Strategy while we tackle the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.