Last week’s sobering Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report imploring policymakers to keep global warming to below 1.5°C should be a wake-up call that the phenomenon is real and happening faster than expected – and that we are running out of time.
The world is already experiencing extreme weather events – from Hurricane Michael, which ravaged the southeastern United States last week, drought and record high temperatures in northern Europe, to an unusually strong monsoon that adversely affected areas of southern India – and weather events like these are only predicted to intensify. The report paints a depressing picture of the future – just half a degree of warming can make the world of difference, including the loss of critical ecosystems including the near complete wipe-out of the world’s coral reefs and increased water scarcity in some of the world’s most volatile regions.
But there is hope. The IPCC suggests that if humanity can work to limit warming to 1.5
°C we can avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. The longer we wait to act, the more difficult, the more expensive and the more dangerous these impacts will be. In the lead up to the Paris Agreement in 2015, countries pledged their nationally-determined contributions (NDCs), setting out their targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Since then, these have become insufficient to meet the 1.5°C limit – even with these NDCs, the world is expected to warm to 30°C by 2100.
TT’s NDC states our national GHG emissions reduction of 15 per cent (from business as usual) by 2030 or 103 megatonnes in three key sectors: industry, power generation and transport. Our NDC also commits us to a 30 per cent reduction of transport emissions by 2030. Industry is our largest GHG emitting sector. In 2012, industry produced 74 per cent of our national GHG emissions, while the power generation and transport sectors were responsible for only seven per cent and 19 per cent respectively. The NDC Implementation Plan for TT was developed through a collaborative and participatory process with sectoral stakeholders and outlined decisive actions for reducing GHG emissions in all three sectors: urgent policy and legislative reforms to support this low carbon transformation, increased energy conservation and energy efficiency measures and more investments in renewable energy.
So how is TT doing? This year’s budget outlined six game-changers for economic growth: the Dragon gas deal with Venezuela, the National Investment Fund, restructuring Petrotrin, Sandals Tobago, and revitalising the inter-island sea bridge by purchasing two new fast ferries. Unfortunately, none of them seemed particularly transformational nor did they critically consider climate change and its implications on our long-term economic development and prosperity. The New Climate Economy report, released last month, asserts that “Finance ministers… play a critical role in guiding investments in the short-term to meet the long-term needs of society, and in setting the right policy and institutional conditions.”
Their policies should therefore lead the transition to a low carbon and resilient economy. The budget doesn’t do any of this. Instead, it supports the rhetoric of heavy fossil fuel dependence, lack of diversification and maintaining current techno-institutional systems that remain locked in to carbon.
TT is on the cusp of radical economic transformation. The new developments with Petrotrin suggest there is space in the economy to seriously consider a shift to renewable energy sources. The IPCC report highlights the key role that renewable energy has to play in limiting warming to 1.5°C and in creating a sustainable and resilient economy. TT’s policy target of ten per cent renewable energy by 2021, established in 2015 is still to be realised, although RFPs for utility-scale renewable energy projects were put out this year. Despite this, renewable energy was not one of the game changers in the 2019 budget and continued lack of support for renewable energy development in TT could be detrimental for our long-term energy security and economic prosperity, given the new IPCC report. The continued tiered reduction of TT’s fuel subsidy would have a small effect on reducing GHG emissions and renewable energy use.
Without accompanying policy and institutional changes, such as a safe and efficient national public transport system and increased incentives to promote vehicle efficiency, fuel efficiency and fuel switching (for businesses and individuals), the removal of fuel subsidies will do little to drive required behavioural and lifestyle changes, Moreover, the IPCC report noted that energy conservation and efficiency and process efficiency are insufficient to limit warming to 1.5°C in industry. Instead, we must look at combinations of new and existing technologies and practices such as product substitution, sustainable bio-based feedstock, renewable energy and carbon capture and storage, and fast. We can lead the transition in our industry sector through supporting innovation and strategic investments in these new technologies and practices.
The next few years will be crucial in determining whether we create a sustainable, safe and more equal TT. Government, private businesses and communities alike must embrace this transition. We need policies to instigate required behavioural and lifestyle choices to support a low carbon economy, including improved public transport systems, investing in sustainable agriculture for improved food security, supporting renewable energy development, and, probably most importantly, demanding that our politicians place climate action as a long-term priority on the national development agenda. We need to recognise both the immense danger we face from poor choices or continued hesitation on climate action and the enormous opportunity that this IPCC report presents for a low carbon and resilient TT.
Sasha Jattansingh is a climate and environment consultant and lecturer at the Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business with over ten years’ of experience in TT and the Caribbean.