What is climate change?

Kanisa George -
Kanisa George -


Sunbathing at Pigeon Point, indulging in the cool, warm feels of the Caribbean Sea, or diving deep beneath the surface of the crushing Atlantic currents are the holy grail of activities when vacationing in Tobago. Ask any travel guide, guest house owner or nature enthusiast, besides the people, beaches are Tobago's identity.

Of the 101 things to discover in Tobago as curated by Tobago Beyond, waterways, beaches, and the natural environment tops the list. Be that as it may, this is a luxury that we take for granted, and many of us fail to reflect upon the devastating consequences of our disregard for the natural environment. In the late 1880s the earth's temperature was about three degrees cooler, and now scientist predict that the average surface temperatures could rise between two and six degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century. Doesn't this make you wonder what the state of our beaches and its inhabitants would look like in about 50 years?

Since the Industrial Revolution, the earth's temperature has been rising, by and large, as a result of human activity. Described by National Geographic as the long-term warming of the planet's overall temperature, warming is a phenomenon that's no stranger to the natural environment, and experts say that throughout its long history the earth has warmed and cooled time and time again. What's interesting about climate research is that over the last decade, scientists have found that the pace at which the earth now warms has significantly increased due to the burning of fossil fuels. Essentially, humans are at the helm of global warming.

To combat the greenhouse effect, several conventions and international treaties have been introduced. Aimed at reducing our carbon footprint, these instruments sensitise societies and encourage steps that monitor and reduce emissions and introduce tools that provide some level of accountability. Of note is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The convention aims at preventing dangerous human interference with the climate system through numerous checks, commitments, and accountability mechanisms. The convention's objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system. It is hoped that these stabilised levels could be achieved within a reasonable time-frame to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change while ensuring that food production is not threatened and economic development proceeds sustainably. Working in concert with the UN convention, the Kyoto Protocol operationalises the convention's framework by committing industrialised countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions following agreed individual targets. What the protocol does is strengthen the convention by targeting key areas, such as systems that monitor emission targets. Through monitoring, review, and various verification and compliance systems, transparency is ensured, and parties are held accountable. Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries' actual emissions have to be monitored, and precise records have to be kept of the trades carried out.

The global response to climate change has been remarkable, seen through the efforts made by countries under the Paris Agreement. This legally-binding international treaty on climate change seeks to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reduce global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to realise a climate neutral world by mid-century. The Paris Agreement is a milestone in the climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. As a signatory to the Paris Convention, TT has formally committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent from industry, power generation and the transport sector by 2030.

To ensure that the nationally determined contribution is achieved, the Ministry of Planning has embarked on crucial preparatory work. This includes developing the CNG fuel-switching programme by the National Gas Company and designing a monitoring, reporting and verification system to track the implementation of the commitments. Strategically, this is consistent with the government's current environmental policy under the National Development Strategy: Vision 2030, which commits to "Placing the environment at the centre of social and economic development." With this on the agenda, TT is on the path to reducing its carbon footprint.

The inescapable, sometimes unbearable heat we feel and our natural environment's continuous degradation has a lot to do with us. In whatever small way we can, let's educate ourselves on man's impact on society and make efforts to right it.


"What is climate change?"

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