The world is currently in the midst of COP26, a global climate conference held yearly by the United Nations, in which multilateral talks are held on the initiatives and issues the world faces due to climate change.

COP stands for ‘Conference of Parties’, the parties here being the nations that have been a part of and which had signed onto the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This conference is part of several climate initiatives enacted by the UN, including the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the Paris Agreement of 2015, of which T&T is a party.

This year, COP26 has a very different tone to it, a graver tone than previous years. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on global efforts at emissions mitigation and the effects of climate change noted that rather than meeting the target emissions goals set forward by the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, the world is actually rapidly on track to surpass warming targets, with climate change becoming even more widespread, rapid and intensified.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are increasing globally. Greenhouse gases trap heat and the international community has realised that over time, man-made gases associated with the development of states have caused imbalances and changes in the climate which, if left unchecked, will continue to negatively impact human health, as well as the planet’s food supply, weather, oceans and land masses.

Climate activists march during a demonstration in the center of Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, which is the host city of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit. A protest is taking place as leaders and activists from around the world are gathering in Scotland’s biggest city for the U.N. climate summit, to lay out their vision for addressing the common challenge of global warming. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)

As such, the general environment at the COP26 this year has been one of a more pressing urgency.  Climate activists and leaders of climate-affected regions (such as the Caribbean) are making their voices heard with regards to the growing threat climate change poses to the general stability and survival of their peoples.

Where does Trinidad and Tobago fall within this climate crisis? How have we, as a country, contributed to the climate crisis and what have we done to mitigate our impact on the climate, as well as the effect of climate change on us?

Trinidad and Tobago is just about 1,981 square miles of land with a population of just over 1.3 million persons but our greenhouse gas emissions are high as one of the more industrialised territories in the Caribbean, with our economy’s main pillars being that of oil and natural gas production.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC), Trinidad and Tobago’s energy-based economy contributes an estimated 40 million tonnes of CO2 annually—a significant amount with almost 90% of these CO2 emissions attributed directly to the energy sector through petrochemical production (56%), power generation (30%) and flaring (3%). Currently, we are ranked seventh in the world for CO2 emissions per capita and are on track to continue our emissions production.

So, what are our current climate agreements, and what objectives should we be meeting under them?

Trinidad and Tobago has signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), The Paris Agreement and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), among others. Under the UNCCD, we are obliged to cooperate internationally in areas of data collection; engage in the analysis and exchange of information; work together to promote an integrated approach in developing national strategies to combat desertification; and ensure adequate financial resources are available for programmes.

Signatories to the UNCCD also must develop a national action programme based on guidance from the Convention’s secretariat and give regular reports on measures taken to implement the Convention.

Julius Smith, Environmental Biologist at the Ministry of Planning and Development, noted that there is in fact a national action programme aimed at guiding the nation through a range of land degradation and management issues.

“The national action programme lists major stakeholders, their roles, the issues involved in sustainable land management, and outlines the agreed strategy for sustainable land management as well as degradation neutrality,” he noted.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley MP, as he addressed world leaders at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow, on Tuesday 2 November 2021. (Image courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)

In his recent address to COP26, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley spoke about T&T’s commitments and concerns with regards to climate change driven initiatives.

“While mitigation ambition is driven by the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, the global goal on adaptation has failed to achieve a commensurate level of attention and action,” he told world leaders.

Prime Minister Rowley also noted that as a nation, T&T’s size and financial capabilities affect our ability to meet and stick to certain climate initiatives and targets.  However, he noted:

“Even as a small country with limited resources, we will make every effort to report to the required standard, with some assistance, of course. We expect others to do the same. This is the deal we made in Paris. We cannot go back on it now.”

There are several local initiatives aimed at strengthening the response to climate change in our nation.  Under the UNFCCC, T&T’s obligations and achievements include:

●   Creating an inventory of Greenhouse gas emissions

●   Creating an action plan to mitigate the effects of climate change

●   Promoting and cooperating in the development, application and diffusion of technologies and promoting sustainable management

●   Preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change

●   Conducting and sharing research and information so as to educate, train and increase public awareness on the issue

As the world prepares for further climate emergencies, T&T is poised to make an increased effort to mitigate its own impact on climate change and emissions.

For more information on environmental issues and activities in T&T, please join our focal point network by completing the Google form found on the Environmental Policy and Planning Division’s Facebook and Instagram pages.