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Holistic approach to green/blue economy

Monday, July 20, 2015

There is welcome talk about a green and blue economy in Trinidad and Tobago. Minister Ganga Singh has announced a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent by the year 2040. This is not a very significant reduction but at least CO2 reduction has entered the vocabulary of government. 

One of the ways in which CO2 reduction can be achieved is through the implementation of a feed in tariff that allows T&TEC customers to sell solar or wind electricity back to the grid. This is at odds, though, with subsidized electricity rates that discourage consumers from investing in renewable energy. 

The Invader’s Bay proposal includes an attempt to rectify the violation of the no-net-loss of mangrove rule with a mangrove reforestation project. That is a positive move. On the other hand, the announced plan to build a golf course on an artificial island off of Invader’s Bay screams confusion of goals and a lack of planning towards a future in which sea levels are projected to rise by 2.5 to 6.5 feet by 2100. Aside from sea level rise, golf courses are notorious nitrate and pesticide polluters.

Clearly policy needs to be more holistically thought out for it to work. 

There are billions of dollars to be saved by cutting out environmentally harmful inefficiencies in the system, coupled with a substantial increase in quality of life. Too often green policies have been dismissed as too expensive or anti-business. Real-world experiences show that the reverse is true.
Here are some environmental and economic goals that any future government should be willing to commit to if it is willing to build an efficient, sustainable economy”

• T&T must reduce its carbon footprint in line with global efforts to limit surface temperature rise to a maximum of 2°C. That is the limit that scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate-related events. Some scientists say that we have already shot past that threshold and that we are aiming for 4°C climate change. 
• To stay within the +2°C temperature range we must limit CO2 in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million (ppm). Worldwide a reduction of 60 per cent  CO2 per capita is needed to stabilise climate by 2030. Each world citizen has a fair share of 1.2 tons of CO2 by 2013. For T&T to achieve that we must reduce present-day per capita emissions by about 97 per cent. A T&T commitment to a 15 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2040 is not enough. 
• Serious thought must be given to the question of whether the international community will continue to make an exception for developing countries like T&T to exceed safe CO2 emissions. That is the case now but geopolitics is likely to change as the threat to the planet increases. It is unavoidable that the world will shift away from a hydrocarbon-based economy. T&T has the ability and the resources to adapt to that new reality voluntarily, on its own terms. 

The lack of waste separation and recycling has a direct impact on both ecological and human health and a general sense of well-being.

It is unknown how many citizens die each year due to inhalation of dangerous toxins and particles from the often-burning dumps but worldwide the WHO puts the number of air pollution related deaths at seven million. A government study shows that waste separation and recycling can reduce the waste stream to the dumps by 80 per cent and four out of five dumps can be closed, including the Beetham dump. 

Recycling is a global growth industry. T&T can both clean up its act and make money. A bottle deposit scheme must be introduced. This has existed in draft form for over a decade and a half but so far no government has found the political will to make it a reality. More reforestation is needed. One only needs to look up at the bare hillsides to understand this. The floods will remind us. 

More roads create more traffic. The only thing that can provide a solution for traffic congestion is mass transport. Traffic congestion may be costing the economy about $17 billion per year in lost man-hours. One of the most popular environmental policies of the last few years was the hunting moratorium. This must now be followed up on by a scientifically-based wildlife management policy. 

The Fisheries Act is hopelessly outdated and the Fisheries Division is understaffed. Trinidad and Tobago has an ocean surface about 20 times the size of its land surface. Our EEZ is about 100,000 km2; land space is only about 5,000km2. If we want to develop a blue economy we must manage this space well. Some well-managed fisheries around the world are showing increasing fish stocks and increasing fisher income. 

There are no effective air or water pollution rules. Whether or not the implementation of these is blocked by industry interest, I do not know. What I do know is that there is needless loss of life, human life and ecosystem health.


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