“Don’t give something and then take it back, otherwise, you’ll get a boil on your eye,” is a very common saying in Trinidad and Tobago. It speaks to the practice of keeping one’s promises and being true and genuine in all giving.
On Earth Day 2016, 177 countries officially made a climate promise by signing the Paris Agreement. Signatories now need to make the move to ratify the agreement without delay and set their countries on the pathway toward 100 per cent decarbonised economies. Contrary to local belief, failure to ratify and live up to this particular promise will not disfigure those responsible for making it. Instead, it will further render Earth and all living things that call this place home exposed to the devastating effects of climate change.
The agreement was deposited at the United Nations in New York City and opened to signature. However, signing is just the first step in the UN process. For the deal to come into force, there needs to be ratification by at least 55 nations, representing 55 per cent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions; in many countries this needs a parliamentary vote. Some of the most climate vulnerable countries have taken the lead. Pacific and Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Grenada, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Nauru, Palau, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Samoa, and Tuvalu have all formally approved the agreement. This momentum needs to be kept: the environment does not have time to be restricted by red tape and the rate of destruction is already too far gone for progress to be held back by bureaucratic procedures. Climate effects are being felt now and ambitious climate action is overdue.
The islands of the Caribbean are home to over 40 million people, who are all directly vulnerable to climate change. Increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and increased hurricane intensity threaten lives, property, and livelihoods throughout the region.
Countries such as the Bahamas, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Grenada are already seeing their coasts being stripped away. A 2010 report shows that the tourism and agriculture sectors are the lifeblood of the region’s economy, but are also the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, depending heavily on the coastline. As a result, revenue will shrink for these developing countries as their coasts shrink.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the coastal areas are also the most open to the projected impacts of climate change. A national report, by the Water Resources Agency, indicated that sea storms are becoming more powerful, occurring more frequently, and have longer durations, As a result, their arrival on shore inflicts greater damages. The accelerated rate of encroaching waters negatively impacts fragile wetlands and the biodiversity therein due to saltwater intrusion. Moreover, the smallest low-lying islands will disappear if there is a delay in delivery on the climate promise.
We are already racing against time that we do not have. There must now be global action to coincide with the global promise, in order to turn the vision of a zero-carbon future into a reality. Caribbean countries must step up with climate action and show that they are serious about shifting the course.
There must be a resolve that goes beyond political will and extend into true regional integration. Climate change action can bring the island countries together like the Caribbean community has perhaps only really genuinely witnessed on the cricket field.
Each Caribbean country has a different level of capacity to act on climate change and various capabilities, but are all faced with similar climate issues. Developing clear national plans for realisation and achievement of each Nationally Determined Contribution is important. However, it would be beneficial to supplement these contributions with collective action. Specifically, regional plans for renewable energy, urban infrastructure, land management, reforestation, and other strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change can be profitable.
It is time that the international agreements signed by our governments also be brought to the grassroots level. To make it possible for action on the ground, Caribbean governments must tap into the resources held by civil society. Civil society has the ability to engage the public in a way that is often difficult for state agencies. As such, although we need to seek investments in alternative energy, we must also pursue community-based adaptation plans which have the Sustainable Development Goals woven into them. Making communities climate-resilient will be key to successfully bracing for climate impacts that will occur regardless of mitigation efforts.
In the lead up to COP22, we need to see compelling movement from Caribbean states that will act as the sinew of the Paris Agreement, giving it strength and a chance to bring about positive change.
Let us not make the signing of the Paris Agreement into nothing more than a diplomatic farce. People’s lives are at risk and the moment is here to encourage great ambition and make sure that countries have the resources and capacity necessary to bring about the change we need.
If we really want to see change, we must be prepared to give it everything we have. It is time to transform our economies, make the energy transition, and turn business-as-usual upside down. Leaders must now drive action, getting planning and finance ministers involved in the implementation of the deal. Failure to do this renders the Paris Agreement nothing more than an empty climate promise, and makes fools out of us all.