A Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) report warns the Caribbean to prepare for increased drought due to climate change. The Caribbean accounts for seven of the world’s top thirty-six water-stressed countries and FAO defines countries like Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis as water-scarce with less than 1000 m3 freshwater resources per capita. These island nations already encounter drought events every year, with low water availability often impacting agriculture and water resources. Governments and utility companies across the region have implemented measures such as bans on watering lawns and washing vehicles, and water schedules. However, in an interdependent world and considering that drought is intensified by climate change, there is critical work to be done at international level.
The Caribbean must place climate change issues on the front burner as the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) enters week two in Marrakech, Morocco.
As at the date of writing, 103 of the 197 Parties to the UNFCCC have ratified the Paris Agreement, accounting for approximately 70 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. In accordance with the treaty, nearly all nations will be held accountable to lower their GHG emissions. However, to date, the Caribbean region is still falling short of full ratification. Ten of the fourteen CARICOM Member States have signed and ratified the Agreement; Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago are towing the line. Compared to its neighbours, such as Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Belize, and St. Lucia, who showed their seriousness about climate action by signing and ratifying the agreement from early on, those who have not ratified have much to lose.
One of the main aims of the Agreement is to limit global temperature rise during this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while also trying to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This goal is already out of reach as the combination of all submitted Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) will result in warming of 3 degrees Celsius. Negotiators from the Caribbean and other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) worked hard for the 1.5 degree goal to make it into the Agreement, yet some countries are working harder than others to see it through to fruition.
Alarmingly, the Meteorological Office of Trinidad and Tobago, who has not yet ratified the agreement, officially issued health warnings, stating that there was a 45% chance that temperatures would climb above the hottest ever recorded locally, set in April 2009 at 36.6 degrees Celsius.
Examples are rampant in Trinidad, where only 10 millimetres of rain fell during the month of January 2015, compared to the expected average of 71 millimetres. Currently, the country is experiencing what Orville London, Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, referred to as a “water crisis.” Why then is it not more committed to climate action?
Trinidad and Tobago is hooked on the fossil fuel industry, the life-force which courses through the veins of the economy. Oil and gas account for at least 40% of the country’s GDP. As one of the richest countries in the Caribbean, with the highest carbon dioxide emissions in the region (the second highest carbon dioxide emissions per capita in the world), Trinidad and Tobago should ideally be leading the divestment pathway in the region.
Disappointedly, the government of Trinidad and Tobago is continuing down the wrong road by putting short term economic gains before environmental protections, stumbling over barrels of dirty energy. If the country continues to welcome fossil fuel companies, there will be little room for progress and climate change will not be made the centre of political discussions.
In the National Budget Statement for 2017, The Minister of Finance Colm Imbert confirmed that although “overriding strategy must be to diversify away from oil and gas, the stark reality is that the energy sector will continue to be the driver of our economy for at least the next decade. Thus it is important that we fully exploit these natural endowments.”
It is in the best interest of the Caribbean’s present and future generations to invest in renewable energy without delay. The renewables revolution is already happening. Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, has reported its lowest annual income in over a decade, the world’s largest oil company, ExxonMobil, has reported its smallest quarterly profit in more than a decade, and British Petroleum’s 2015 loss was its biggest ever. Renewable energy investments will see us reap both short and long term benefits, both economic and environmental. In contrast, Trinidad and Tobago’s addiction to oil and gas renders us a pariah in the global governance arena and an economic relic.
Trinidad and Tobago’s failure to ratify affects the Caribbean region at large as it will lead to these islands losing ground and political clout at the COP 22 and future UNFCCC meetings. Caribbean countries need to sing the same song if climate action in this region is to occur. With little to no input from one of the largest economies in the Caribbean region, Trinidad and Tobago is reducing the strength of the Caribbean voice, and decreasing the potency of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
Dr Fletcher, the former head of the CARICOM Task Force on Sustainable Development, recently stated that “If you haven’t ratified the Paris Agreement, then really you cannot be at the table determining rules and procedures and everything else.” In addition, “there is a lot that has to be done […] projections are all showing that our area will be one of the hardest hit by climate change.”
Trinidad and Tobago should be on board and ratify the Paris Agreement…yesterday.
COP22 is already underway and officials who work at the United Nations representing Trinidad and Tobago still have no certain position to report with regard to the issues which will be addressed. Even worse, the country may not even be represented at the global climate meetings.
Will the work of the Caribbean Community come to nought? In Marrakech, areas of focus will include emissions reduction, resilience, finance, transparency, technology transfer, migration, capacity building, and loss and damages. In carrying these matters forward, who will be CARICOM’s weakest climate link.