Climate Change Action is needed NOW!

The mechanisms our government needs to take in order to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius global temperature

2016 was recorded as the hottest year on Earth. On an individual level, this was not a matter of just adding a few ice cubes to your beverages or hydrating with more water; the impacts of this heat was a lot more serious for communities across the globe. At a current rate of 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era, we are already experiencing some of the most anomalous natural cycles in the world’s history; from extreme weather patterns, the melting of ice caps resulting in sea level rise, the intensity of storms and hurricanes, to desertification resulting in lower farm productivity and an increase in disease and destruction of coastlines. Temperature rises may also result in mass migration for less developed and more vulnerable countries in the world.

The Paris Agreement and Impacts of Global temperatures

The landmark decision made by 195 countries in Paris at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to limit global temperatures of no more 1.5 degrees Celsius is imperative for present and future generations. Countries must continue to put mechanisms in place in order to limit global temperatures from increasing to 2 degrees — the absolute upper limit.

Although one may assume that a half-degree increase in global temperatures is insignificant, several reports have already been recorded at current temperatures; India, a country of 1.3 billion inhabitants has been experiencing irregular monsoons resulting in lower crop yields, Caribbean islands have been experiencing some of the worst tropical storms and hurricanes decimating properties and destroying livelihoods, islands in the Pacific have already been sinking and important ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has recorded a staggering increase in coral reef die-off. Several scientists have concluded that the likelihood of more extreme events occurring at a faster rate are higher at 1.5 degree Celsius and beyond.

The feasibility of the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold

The attempt to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degree Celsius was not arrived at by chance or as an afterthought; in fact Small Island Developing States and Least Developed countries — the most vulnerable to climate change impacts, have been lobbying for the limit of global temperatures below 1.5 degree Celsius since 2009.

The feasibility of achieving this goal was analysed through the ADVANCE project by Climate Analytics. The ADVANCE project concluded that in order to meet the long term goal of the Paris Agreement, “net emissions would need to reach zero by 2050, and then go below zero in the second half of the century.” In other words, mitigation measures need to be enforced with urgency and governments ought to focus on short term goals by reducing carbon emissions from the power sector, which would in turn accelerate the reduction in other industries such as the building and transportation sectors. In the long term Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies should be given priority to achieve negative emissions.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (iNDCs) of countries and Trinidad and Tobago’s role in the scope of works

Ahead of the COP 21 Paris Convention, 56 countries including member states of the European Union sought to put their climate change ambitions into writing through their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (iNDCs). iNDCs are domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of reducing emissions. At the COP Convention in 2014, the Lima Call to Climate Action (PDF), outlined a list of critical information that countries can include in their iNDCs to achieve transparency and clarity in their action plans. Undertaking reasonable and ambitious climate action activity is fundamental to setting the establishment for a change to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy.

Key Indicators of country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (Source: World Resources Institute)

Trinidad and Tobago is the largest producer and exporter of oil and natural gas in the English-speaking Caribbean. Undoubtedly, the economy has depended on this ‘black-gold’ for many decades which in-turn has stimulated growth of other industries particularly the manufacturing industry in the food, beverage and tobacco sectors.

Although preliminary data from a 2013 report reveals that Trinidad and Tobago is 62nd in total Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) per country, other data suggests that for the same period Trinidad and Tobago ranks second in the world after Quatar, for greenhouse gas emissions ‘per capita’. Nonetheless, in August 2015 Trinidad and Tobago showed its commitment to deal with the effects of climate change by becoming the first Caribbean nation to submit its intended Nationally Determined Contributions (iNDC).

Trinidad and Tobago arrived at their iNDCs based on a Carbon Reduction Strategy developed for its power generation, transportation and industrial sectors. The country has committed to an unconditional reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) by 30% in the public transportation sector which in absolute terms is one million, seven hundred thousand tonnes (1,700,000) CO2e compared to 2013 levels by December 31, 2030. Additional reduction strategies under certain conditions would seek to reduce overall emissions from the three sectors by 15% by 2030 which in absolute terms is an equivalent of one hundred and three million tonnes (103,000,000) of CO2e. In 2013, the estimated cost of meeting these objectives was USD 2 billion which are to be met through a joint funding of domestic and international financing such as the Green Climate Fund.

An assessment by the World Resources Institute has stated that the twin island republic along with other countries could benefit from providing more data to explain their intended contributions and how they propose to meet it. Countries ought to describe their vulnerabilities to climate change impacts and how mitigation and adaption measures would provide social and economic benefits in achieving sustainable development goals.

Failure to to implement mitigation and adaption measures could potentially reduce the world’s annual GDP by USD $33 trillion for developed and developing countries. In comparison, if all countries forged a strong global mitigation action plan consistent with the 1.5 degree Celsius target the world’s annual GDP would only fall by USD $21 trillion. Hence the economic penalties of not complying with the 1.5 degree Celsius target could have negative revenue implications.

Economic benefits of achieving the 1.5 degree Celsisus target

Studies indicate that countries who seek strong renewable energy policies could potentially generate a 68% increase in new jobs related to the manufacturing, construction,installation and maintenance of of such energy efficient operations. Further research states that by 2050 the number of jobs can double in keeping with the 1.5 degree Celsius target.

Trinidad and Tobago’s role in GHG emissions and its potential on reaching its targets

The Trinidad and Tobago government has proposed some measures in achieving its iNDC goals; The Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago will host its first “Clean Energy Conference” in June 2017, a commitment to renewable energy efficiency; Tax incentives have been introduced to encourage the purchase of hybrid vehicles and over 74 million dollars have been injected into the first phase of the 295 million dollar project to encourage more drivers to use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)- a cleaner fuel which is affordable. Although these mechanisms are welcomed, there are only a fraction of persons maximizing on these incentives, therefore it will only make a small difference in reducing transportation emissions and achieving sustainable forms of energy.

I wanted to gain a better understanding of Trinidad and Tobago’s role in achieving its iNDCs so I sat down with Professor John Agard, a well-respected professor in Tropical Island Ecology from Trinidad and Tobago. He has sat on several boards and was the Lead Author of the Small Islands- Chapter, Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report. He’s currently working on major Climate Change research projects such as the Global-Local Socio-economic Climate Change Scenarios for the Caribbean (GoLoCarSce).

Q: Do you think Trinidad and Tobago is on its way to achieving its iNDCs of reducing carbon emissions by 30%?

A: “For the first time in Trinidad and Tobago, Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) have leveled off. This was in no means as a result of any of the measures taking place to reduce emissions but rather serendipitously because of a decline in gas oil and gas prices. Emissions are no longer rising exponentially. In order to achieve the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, more measures need to be put in place and we need to see a significant decline in the emissions.”

Q: What do you think is required to reduce our Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)?

A: “Our country needs to follow the example of our regional partners and transition into forms of renewable energy. For example the use of solar panels is already being implemented by our Caribbean neighbours like Barbados and Dominica while Jamaica is already utilizing wind energy. USD 50 million was recently invested into Barbados to manufacture the photo-voltaic cells used in solar panels. We have already conducted many technical studies and have the capacity to do the same in Trinidad and Tobago. Feed-In-Tariffs (FITs)should also be implemented.”

Feed-In-Tariffs is an energy supply policy mechanism used to accelerate the use of renewable energy resources. A FIT offers an incentive to homeowners, landlords, schools and business owners by offering guaranteed payments to individuals who produce renewable- energy produced electricity. FIT policies have been successful around the world especially Europe and have been known to stimulate the economy and generate new jobs.

Professor Agard stresses “ You receive a cheque in the mail to recover the cost of your initial investment. Following that instead of receiving bills in the mail, you continue to receive payments. It’s a no brainer. Why it hasn’t been passed is my guess but the research has been done. I have been meeting with other researchers and stakeholders at the European Union Innovation Support Program. We are discussing several topics — renewable energy efficiency being one of them. We are mapping out what needs to be done to achieve these goals but at the end of the day the government needs to have the willpower to do it.”

Q: Do you agree with the removal of gas subsidies and do you think it will have a great impact on achieving the iNDCs?

A: The government has already begun transitioning by offering tax incentives and the promotion of CNG. The removal of subsidies is going to assist with achieving this. Right now as it stands, Trinidad and Tobago has the cheapest gas in the Caribbean and is the 18th cheapest in the world. So there needs to be the incentive for persons to move across to more renewable energy sources. The removal of subsidies is a positive measure and the time is now to make the transition while gas prices are low globally.

Climate change will continue to have disastrous effects on planet earth not only by the sporadic change in weather conditions but it will have a domino effect on sectors such as agriculture, health and the economy. However, transitioning to more renewable forms of energy would mitigate the socio-economic impacts of climate change and has the potential to generate more employment opportunities.

This is why it is imperative to demand from our government that they prioritize strong mitigation and adaption policies in order to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

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Climate change and the Caribbean — What are our neighbours up to?