Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) contributes less than 1.0% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Nevertheless, its annual emissions per capita ranks second in the world, surpassed only by Qatar. The islands’ hydrocarbon industry has been the pillar of its economy for over one hundred years. However, cracks are turning into gaping holes in this pillar.
Similar to other small island developing states, we are faced with the climate change challenge. We are vulnerable to the impacts of increased temperatures, rising sea level, coastal erosion, drought, intense and more frequent weather storms and hurricanes, and the introduction and spread of more diseases.
At the same time, the economy is suffering due to global fossil fuel divestment, which is taking critical foreign investment out of our pockets. The world is beginning to turn its back on fossil fuels, slamming T&T’s economic pillar with a sledgehammer. The hydrocarbon industry, which accounted for 42% of GDP in 2014 is pulling in less and less revenue due to falling prices and we have experienced four consecutive quarters of negative growth – an official recession.
It seems to be a contradiction of severe proportions. Do we, A, hold on to what we know, continue explorations in order to further pillage Earth and emit toxic gases into the air, killing ourselves slowly? Or B, step onto the divestment train?
Without a doubt, I choose B. Why? We need a paradigm shift and we need it now. As a matter of fact, the shift is overdue.
196 countries came together at COP 21 in Paris and made a strong international call to turn the tide on climate change. They have agreed to “pursue efforts” to limit temperature rises. The Paris agreement signals a global movement away from fossil fuels, and therefore as emitters and as a Party to the convention, T&T must uphold this agreement and begin adjusting its economy accordingly if we are to survive the state of economic recession.
Our efforts need to be directed to the revolution of the energy sector. Government and the private sector must set the national energy trajectory away from fossil fuels so as to contribute to the global goal of working towards 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while pursuing “efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
For T&T, this will require major investments in alternative energy and radical cuts in fossil fuel production and consumption. The United States, United Kingdoms, and Australias of the world must now uphold the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, taking responsibility for their history of industrialisation and the major variances in contributions to the current climate change issue, by financing climate change action in developing countries such as T&T. According to the agreement, finance flows are to be consistent and aim for climate-resilient development.
Furthermore, the big bucks that will be saved through the recent reformation of fuel subsidies in T&T needs to be reinvested into funding this revolution and supporting the most ambitious climate solutions. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies would be an exemplary move which would be essential for mitigation.
Instead of inviting more fossil fuel companies into our country, we need to embrace renewable energy. Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, has reported its lowest annual income in over a decade, the world’s largest oil company, ExxonMobil, has reported its smallest quarterly profit in more than a decade, and British Petroleum’’s 2015 loss was its biggest ever.
With these trends, we are witnessing the end of the fossil fuels era. T&T needs step ahead of the curve and follow countries such a as Costa Rica and Morocco and shake off fossil fuels. If we continue to fight for the scraps we will only face further economic instability as the world moves toward a 100 percent renewable future.
Failing to do this will further affect the poor and underprivileged, as well as the elderly, women and children, who are found to be hit the hardest. Climate science shows that even with current mitigation action, the damage done is already locked into the atmosphere and climate change impacts such as extreme heat, food, water, and energy insecurity are unavoidable.
Fossil fuels contribute to climate change. Holding on to them as the mainstay of the economy will only worsen our climate vulnerability and stunt economic growth and development.
Climate scientists have also shown that the present day (0.8°C), 2°C and 4°C warming above pre-industrial temperatures are impacting agricultural production, water resources, ecosystem services, and coastal vulnerability in Latin America and the Caribbean. To reduce this vulnerability and fortify our economy, we must divest now.