The matter of how our region navigates the immediate future is not a small one. I am sure it keeps certain people awake at night just contemplating how we suddenly went from orange alert for the short and medium term to instant red alert for the foreseeable future.
I have absolutely no responsibility regarding how we position ourselves, except as an individual, to deal with the enormous challenges, and yet even I occasionally find myself sitting bolt upright in bed during the wee hours of the morning feeling a sense of dread.
It is ridiculous to get that perturbed by the hurdles we face when I can do almost nothing about them, but the feeling of powerlessness is stressful. In regarding our situation, a sane person can more or less balance out the good and the bad and manage to live quite contently, even with the knowledge that our regional environment is very vulnerable.
We know we live in Trinidad between three tectonic plates that are constantly shifting and that one day, who knows when, they will knock against one another so violently that buildings will tumble and lives will be lost.
We know too that a freak hurricane could hit us, but, unlike the earthquake, there will be warning and we could make last-minute plans to protect ourselves.
Those are real threats and we have lived with them since childhood, yet consider how little we have done to ensure our buildings are constructed to withstand those onslaughts.
The issue of climate change is a more recent threat and the from-birth inheritance of younger generations, so no surprise that we are even less prepared for the new demands that places on us.
Having fossil-fuel wealth has been a blessing to match the wonderfully fertile lands of this country, but we have not managed to use our wealth sensibly enough to prepare us for what was plainly going to become inevitable, namely, a move away from hydrocarbons.
Hard on the heels of the global priority to vaccinate the world against covid19 and prepare for similar new diseases is the need to stop destroying the earth’s atmosphere, which endangers lives everywhere. Freak weather is the new norm, along with vanishing flora and fauna on land and in the sea. With Joe Biden now back in the White House, cutting carbon emissions is firmly back on the global agenda, and it directly affects us.
Ten days ago President Biden led a virtual climate change summit in which 40 countries agreed on an aggressive plan to cut carbon emissions and move to renewable energy sources. He promised to cut the USA’s greenhouse-gas emissions by half of 2005 levels by 2030.
That is nine years away, so even if his party loses the next elections the process would be too advanced for the Republicans to severely hinder it.
The UN Climate Change Conference in November will probably deepen resolve and reveal other radical undertakings from the international community. Even China is on board.
It means that TT has to move fast to reorder our economy to drastically reduce our dependence on gas and to use the interim revenue to invest in the diversification of our economy.
TT is one of the richest countries per capita in the Americas, yet we are behind most of our neighbours in investing in renewable energies such as solar and wind power. It’s not because we don’t know what is required but, as in everything else, we are slow at implementation. Shell and BP are ready to lead the way in this for us but we are dragging our feet.
Diversification of the energy and other sectors of the economy would create new jobs, but we need the private sector to be integrated into the government plans in order for us to make any progress.
In a discussion panel last Sunday during the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, the CEO of Ansa McAl, the largest conglomerate in the region, with annual revenues of over $1 billion, said that forex is perhaps the major struggle we face as we try to retool after covid.
That is hardly surprising, when so much of the private sector is involved in importing rather than exporting. We need the private sector to invest in research and development along with the government and to inject some of its revenue-driving mentality and knowhow into the system. It must create new products and services that people want and need.
The government for its part has to really bite the bullet and shake up our terrible bureaucracy, which would drive even an angel to sin.
The state and the private sector must start thinking differently and prepare to change their modus operandi. We face the double whammy of post-covid recovery and the urgent reshaping of our economy. The state should play a visionary, strategic role, leading us to innovate and be entrepreneurial, shaping the domestic market and regional market, as a market leader, and providing a vision for the future. Nothing less would do now.