As a little girl, one of my favourite things about Christmas was laying beneath the Christmas tree and staring into its full, green centre. I loved the way the lights sparkled and bounced off of the colourful Christmas balls, creating a beautiful kaleidoscope. I never quite understood the process. Mesmerised by the flashing lights, I remained content in my ignorance, preferring to stay a fascinated observer.
The United Nations (UN) is very much like the physics behind that spectrum of lights and the Christmas tree balls.
The UN process and its maze of jargon and abbreviations is heavily layered in its understanding. Trying to comprehend them is like to trying to look through the frosty Christmas ball. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) fits this description and so do their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). At times, such UN organisations appear to be fascinating and dare I say glamorous, but undeniably, the decisions made at such fora have critical implications for all our lives, now and in the future.
Let us decipher.
Recognising the need to take urgent action to meet the long-term goal of holding global average temperature below 2°C, and as Party (or a signatory) to the UNFCCC, Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) became the first Caribbean country to put forward its INDC. Essentially, these are its contributions to the overall goal of reducing global carbon emissions, ahead of the UNFCCC’s Conference of Parties in Paris in December 2015. Based on its national circumstance as a country which depends heavily on the extraction and export of fossil fuels for income and as one of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), T&T has manifested its INDC, not without pointing out the importance of the fossil fuel industry to the economy. The submitted INDC states the need to achieve sustainable development which includes “the decoupling of emissions and economic growth.”
The contribution? An unconditional 30 percent reduction in GHG emissions by December 31, 2030 in the public transportation sector compared to a business as usual (BAU) scenario.
Although its contribution to global GHG emissions is negligible (less than 1 percent), T&T has a relatively high level of carbon emission compared to other SIDS and is the second highest emitter of GHGs per capita in the world. T&T produces all of its electricity from natural gas and exports oil and gas; the industry accounts for 40 per cent of GDP and 80 per cent of exports. We therefore have an essential part to play in the global struggle against climate change by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and replacing them with an efficient and productive renewable energy sector.
Photo Credit – Daryll Griffith, Sargassum Seaweed Bloom in the Caribbean linked to increased tempteratures.
INDCs have been interpreted in various ways and this is dependent on the state of the economy and its level of development. Certain countries focus on mitigation, while others have included adaptation, finance, capacity building, and technology transfer or support. Some countries have submitted vague contributions, whereas more aspiring countries are very precise with their pledges. For instance, Mexico has stated an“unconditional reduction to 25 per cent of GHGs and Short Lived Climate Pollutants below BAU by 2030 (22 per cent GHG, 51 per cent black carbon)” and the Marshall Islands, the first SIDS to submit an INDC, has been commended for its “quantifiable economy-wide target” and its ambition compared to its minor contribution to GHGs emissions.
According to the Second National Contribution of the Republic of T&T (2013), CO2 emissions from the transport sector doubled from 1,313Gg to 3,167Gg (1990-2005), increased by 111 per cent from industrial processes (1990-2008), and power generation pumped 43.3 per cent more CO2 into the atmosphere (1990-2006). Noting this, the Carbon Reduction Strategy (CRS) was developed. Essentially, the CSR is meant to achieve a cross-sectoral decline in CO2 emissions for these three sectors, which are all guilty of major pollution, by 2030.
Of notable reference is the recent development of an entirely solar power operated house in T&T, the thrust to utilise Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for public sector vehicles, and at the Energy Summit of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the United States in January 2015, the Prime Minister proposed the Multi-Donor Energy Facility. These activities are commendable, but the grassroots needs to be included.
There is a need to highlight climate change as a national topic in order to remove the mysticism that shrouds the INDCs and other UN engagements. Inclusion of the public will play a critical role in fruitfully creating the “optimal energy mix,” which the INDC submission aims for. To successfully transform the energy sector and increase energy security while creating conditions for sustainable economic growth, decryption of the many UN processes and sharing of information is required. Only then, will the strategies proposed build the bridge between today’s heavy reliance the energy sector, and tomorrow’s diversified, sustainably developed, and robust economy.
We have scratched the surface and glimpsed into the Christmas ball, reducing ignorance. However, just like most INDCs, saying that we would decipher was a statement, not a promise.
This article was originally posted on Caribbean News Service