Independent Senator Vieira: Update environmental laws

Independent Senator Anthony Vieira. - File photo by Roger Jacob 
Independent Senator Anthony Vieira. - File photo by Roger Jacob 

SPEAKING in a 50-minute sitting of the Senate on the afternoon of July 5, Independent Senator Anthony Vieira, SC, agreed with with Prime Minister's statement on June 14 that the Environmental Management Act needs to be revisited, but not for the same reasons.

Referring to a June 14 Newsday story, Vieira said, "The PM is reported to have said, 'We need to revisit the Environmental Management Act as it is being used to obstruct rather than help development.'

"This while reiterating Tobago needs to be a major tourist destination and declaring the proposed construction of a $500,000,000 Marriott Grand Hotel at Rocky Point has his and government's full support.'"

Explaining his reasoning, Vieira said, "Next year the Environmental Management Act will be 30 years old. It is therefore time to review how it has worked, where it falls short and where it can do better."

Vieira said 30 years ago scientists warned about climate change and the dangers, but their voices were drowned by "cover-ups, counter-narrative and distractions by the fossil-fuels sector.

"Today, the Caribbean is living through the consequences of the dread advance of global warming. We know better.

"Climate change is no longer a risk of the's happening as I speak."

He said while the desire to bring employment and business to Tobago is "commendable, it ought not to be a case of one or the other.

"We don't need to choose between jobs and the environment. With the right policies in place, we can have both."

Vieira said tourism has evolved and the need for large-brand hotels may not be good for the country.

"There is a noticeable shift toward more diverse and sustainable option in island destinations, while it may not be sensible to build expensive seafront structures with rising sea levels."

He said google searches show once-thriving beach resorts and former celebrity hotspots are rotting, crumbling or completely taken over by nature.

Vieira said the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) was established to regulate environmental laws and not "pick sides."

He added many environmentalists believe the EMA is not doing enough.

"They see the EMA as an inadequate, ineffective and toothless organisation which is failing to protect the environment."

Vieira said while threat levels are increasing rapidly, the country's response level have not been keeping pace.

"At this moment, protecting the environment is the most important thing our leaders can do for our people.

"We need to upgrade our environmental laws, we should rename the Environmental Commission into 'environmental court,' recognising it as a specialised environmental court, we should remove bureaucratic obstacle of direct party actions under the EMA Act, we must provide the EMA with the capital and resources it needs, expand the environmental police unit to 50 members – 11 in Trinidad and two in Tobago currently – and we need to unlock the Green Fund and use the money as intended."

Minister of Planning and Development Pennelope Beckles, responding to Vieira, said the government prioritises the environment in the Vision 2030 National Development Strategy in Theme 5 – placing the environment at the centre of social and economic development.

Beckles explained goals one, three and four of Theme 5.

"Goal one aims to strengthen environmental governance and management system by developing a comprehensive approach to environmental issues."

She said the key action of this goal was to review environment policies and legislation, establishing an institutional framework and updating spatial policies and standards.

"Goal three focuses on assessing climate vulnerability and Trinidad and Tobago susceptibility to climate-change impacts – sea-level rise."

She said the key actions would be identifying areas of greater climate risk and implementing adaptation actions for vulnerable sectors.

"Goal four aims to create comprehensive waste and pollution management systems by improving solid waste disposals, implementing international commitments for chemicals and waste and enhancing pollution management systems."

Beckles said the National Development Strategy 2030 is a "work in progress with a multiplicity of moving parts."

She defended the building of "large-brand hotels" as they offered "economic, environmental and social benefits.

"There are robust environmental laws ensuring large-brand hotels meet sustainable development standards."

She said the Cabinet is looking at strengthening the Environmental Management Act for mandatory greenhouse-gas-emissions reporting.

"In 2020, we became the first English-speaking country to begin transparency reporting.

"Under the Paris Agreement we regularly report on greenhouse-gas emissions and mitigation progress."

She concluded while progress has been made, reporting remains voluntary and the government will look to make it mandatory.

Beckles also outlined a number of additional laws and guidelines that will address climate change.


"Independent Senator Vieira: Update environmental laws"

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