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Setting carbon standards

Published: 
Monday, November 23, 2015

Do street protests work? IAMovement puts this to the test on November 29, when the Port-of-Spain to Paris People’s Climate March kicks off at 3 pm from Nelson Mandela Park. 

The purpose of the Climate March is to join hundreds of thousands of other climate activists around the world in demanding that governments negotiate real, binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions at the COP 21 climate change talks in Paris. Those talks start on November 30. 

The tool of the negotiations is the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs. INDCs communicate how countries intend to reduce their carbon emissions and by how much. What each country pledges to do is totally voluntary but once the INDCs are agreed upon in Paris, they must be binding for the agreement to have value.

Scientists and activists expect good INDCs. IAMovement co-founder Jonathan Barcant doesn’t think that T&T is committing itself enough. Barcant said: “We only commit fully to 30 per cent public transport emission reduction. That amounts to 1-2 per cent total greenhouse gas reductions at most.

“I don’t think that it is fair. T&T is a massive fossil fuel producer. T&T has enjoyed income from the fossil fuel industry and now we have the responsibility to invest in carbon reduction projects to reduce our impacts.”

T&T has the world’s second highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions. It has made hundreds of billions from its fossil fuel industry. 

T&T has also made a conditional agreement to reduce total GHG emissions by 15 per cent but makes this conditional on international funding from the Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund itself is supposed to be funded to the tune of US$100 bn annually but so far it has only attracted investments of about US$10 bn. 

What have some Caribbean countries committed to? 

St Vincent and the Grenadines intends to unconditionally reduce its economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 22 per cent compared to its business as usual scenario by 2025. In real terms SVG will effectively have the same GHG emissions in 2025 that it has today. Dominica commits to a 44.7 per cent reduction from 2014 levels. 

Barbados will reduce its GHGs by 44 per cent compared to its business as usual scenario by 2030. 

A good INDC is ambitious and drives change and innovation in carbon intensive sectors and industry; it is transparent. Stakeholders must be able to track progress and ensure that countries meet their stated goals.

INDCs must also be equitable. Each country must do its fair share to address climate change. Is a 30 per cent unconditional reduction in emissions from public transport equitable? 

Let’s first look at what the Caribbean has to lose. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a conservative organisation. IPCC outlook for the Caribbean is a 5-6 per cent decrease in rainfall, a 1.2°C to 2.3°C increase in median surface temperature and sea level rise of 0.5m to 0.6m.

In short, rainfall patterns are changing and will change further. Sea level rise will erode coastlines. The Caribbean can expect more and more severe storms. Droughts will challenge water supplies and agriculture. So we are talking radical effects on our living space, the food we need to grow and our drinking water. These are basic needs. Life is not possible without them. 

Caribbean islands are economically vulnerable. Climate change will make this worse. It is difficult to state with certainty how or if Tropical Storm Erika, which hit Dominica earlier this year, was affected by climate change. What we do know is that these storms will be more frequent. 

The damage done to Dominica was about 50 per cent of its GDP. In what may be the Caribbean’s first industrial climate change victim, Colgate-Palmolive decided to close its Dominica factory, damaged by Erika. 

I’m going to chime in with Barcant and say that I do not think that T&T has committed itself enough. We are selling ourselves short. There is great opportunity in setting an ambitious carbon target. For decades T&T has been the victim of the ups and downs of the fossil fuel industry. 

Economic recessions and consumerist booms, in tandem with the ups and downs of international oil futures, have ruled Trinidadian and Tobagonian lives. 

The result is mixed. There is great wealth in some quarters. Porsche Cayennes glide past the gang-dominated shanties on the Beetham Highway. There has been a dramatic increase in the standard of living for many but we have never developed a diverse, sustainable economy. 

Nearly two centuries after emancipation, and more than half a century after independence, we are still a single commodity plantation economy. What independent country determines its budget by the price of oil? 

Ambitious INDC goals will force T&T to innovate and diversify. It will force T&T to become a real economy and not just an oil or gas wellhead to be taxed. Our reserves are nearing a critical phase. To continue the status quo is a non-option. Let’s enshrine that in T&T’s INDCs.

Come to the PoS-Paris Climate March and demand ambition and positive change.

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