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Put your money where your footprint is!

Caribbean Climate features an exclusive contribution by 24 year old Dizzanne Billy, who is an active executive member of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network in her homeland of Trinidad and Tobago, in which she reflects on the Caribbean's carbon footprint and the importance of employing various forms of renewable energy in an effort to combat the impacts of climate change.

“There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air.” – Bob Marley (Natural Mystic, 1977)

These words herald a sense of calm and peace which I am hesitant to refute, but there is a toxic amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air. I’m sorry Bob.

Studies conducted in Antarctica suggests that CO2 has become so concentrated that they are the highest recorded in the last 800,000 years, largely because of human activities. Based on ice core samples from the ice sheet in the Antarctic, where air from thousands of years ago is still preserved, experts have confirmed that CO2 levels did not exceed 280 parts per million (ppm) before the industrial revolution. According to data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has now reached 400ppm for the first time in recorded history, and the prime suspect is climate change. Who are we to doubt the ice?

Scientific evidence suggests that it really is getting hot in here. The level of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels is moving beyond the tipping point. In March 2015, global levels of CO2 passed 400ppm and, for the first time, the level of CO2 remained in excess of 400ppm for one month – the longest duration ever. This sort of information should be a wakeup call signalling that our actions in response to climate change need to be drastic and need to match reality. Instead, we are marching quickly towards much higher rates. This paints a menacing future for humanity unless the countries taking part in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December make clearly defined climate goals and stick to them with the commitment of someone in love, in love with sustaining life.

We need to realise that the sole way to achieve safer levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is by boldly transitioning the global economy away from dependence on fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable agricultural and farming practices. This is the movement I support and this is the call for climate action that I make to the government of my country. Holding onto fossil fuels is altering the very essence and nature of our planet. It is time to act. The time for spectating is over.

Yes, it is important to recognise that fossil fuels are essentially what modern industrial society was built upon. All that organic material that took millions of years to form is what drives economies. However, we also need to realise that the environment is paying a high price for our unconstrained consumption of fossil fuels and human life is at risk. Oil spills, ecological damage, pollution and toxic air are just some of the negative impacts. Just speak with the citizens of Pakistan, the country which ranked number one in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2014 report on global air pollution. It is time for a revolution in the energy industry, time to reinvent the energy system that the present and future global society will be built upon.

The impacts of climate change spare no one and developing countries are experiencing the effects in ways that are even more unbearable when combined with the other economic, social, political and development issues that they are faced with. The lethal effects of climate change are being seen in the form of rising sea levels, increases in the frequency and strength of storms, wildfires and extreme weather of all kinds. For developing countries, it is like being hit by a quadruple whammy akin to when a baby holds on to the edge of a chair and slowly begins to stand, knees straightening with care, only to fall flat on the ground.

By all appearances, namely our persistent and overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels, we humans do not care much for our own health and safety. Fine, we may decide that it is acceptable to kill off humans in the name of the mighty dollar, but perhaps if we consider the animals we might be motivated to shift into reverse. We are completely destroying natural habitats and decreasing global biodiversity. Perhaps we should just blow up the whole world and be done with it all?

Where I come from, climate change is not exactly a topic which is discussed by the layman in spite of the fact that the layman stands a higher chance of feeling the impacts more severely. What people know and depend upon here is ‘black gold’. Fossil fuels reign supreme in these parts and this needs to change.

Trinidad and Tobago is a country whose dependence on oil and gas cannot be overestimated. The energy sector accounts for 45.3% of Gross Domestic Product (2011), delivers 57.5% of government income and is accountable for 83% of merchandise exports. This historic relationship with these naturally occurring resources means that the development of the country has thus far been closely aligned and intertwined with the extraction and use of oil and gas. The truth of the matter is that both businesses and citizens consume energy in Trinidad and Tobago as though there is a fountain that will never run dry.

News flash – A never-ending source of fossil fuel energy does not exist.

Fossil fuels are considered non-renewable resources because they take millions of years to develop and form. Worse yet, the known viable reserves are being extracted and depleted at a rate that far exceeds the speed at which new ones are being discovered, resulting in Trinidad and Tobago – a country of just over 1.3 million people – being recorded as the second highest emitter of GHGs per capita in the world. The world!

Contributing to this statistic is the fact that the economy itself is hinged on the export of oil and gas, meaning that when the price of oil and gas goes down, the economy’s buoyancy goes down with it. The country’s economy is currently dealing with the blow it was hit in January 2015 when global oil prices plummeted by almost 50%. Shouldn’t this alone encourage the government to invest in the diversification of the economy as well as the diversification of energy sources? Quite the contrary has happened. Trinidad and Tobago has received much attention after Shell’s US$70 billion acquisition of British Gas in April 2015. The Minister of Finance was even quoted as stating that this transaction will benefit the country.

It is high time that Caribbean countries understand the need to shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources. The sustainable development of a country is based heavily on the achievement of a development balance across multiple sectors. In order to achieve social and economic development without harm to current and future generations, it is vital that policy-makers consider the value that lies in the protection and conservation of natural resources. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, fossil fuels accrue the highest monetary value for the economy. However, we need to remember that development is not worth anything if it is unsustainable and leaves citizens vulnerable.

As the second highest emitter of GHGs per capita in the world, Trinidad and Tobago needs to channel money into research and development focused on divestment away from fossil fuels. It needs to develop and commit to projects and actions in the field of renewable energy that is aligned with the resources that occur naturally in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. It is time for the countries of the world to put their money where their footprint is. The higher your carbon and other GHG emissions, the greater your responsibility should be in the global battle against climate change impacts and the greater your contributions should be.

In 2014, Trinidad and Tobago’s natural gas production fell when compared to the same 12- month period in 2013. This has resulted in lower production rates in Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), ammonia, methanol, and other downstream products. Considering the fact that natural gas and its by-products contribute the most taxes to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and that Trinidad and Tobago has been the world’s largest exporter of ammonia and second largest exporter of methanol in 2013, this dip in production has been a cause for major concern. So what is being done about it? It seems as though climate change still remains on the back burner for policy-makers in Trinidad and Tobago, as it remains an issue used to gain political mileage without real action.

Divestment needs to be a priority for the present and the future. Fossil fuels are outdated and we do not want to be left behind. Renewable energy is not just the future, it is the now. Investing in renewable energy now can save the economy from stuttering to a complete halt in the long run.  We do not want to follow in the footsteps of the developed countries to the point where our environment becomes irreversibly toxic.

The Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago has suggested the creation of a Caribbean Carbon Market to help Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean reduce carbon emissions and maximise profits from the reduction in carbon emissions under the United Nations proposed system of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The potential for a Caribbean Emissions Trading System (ETS) has also received significant international attention. However, it is debatable whether this strategy can produce the level of trade that is needed to make a real difference. ETSs have been launched in China, Korea and Kazakhstan and are to be released in Turkey and Ukraine. The Energy Chamber hopes that credits generated in Trinidad and Tobago through energy efficiency, conversion to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and industrial process improvement will earn income to be utilised for renewable energy projects in Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands. The effectiveness of these schemes is yet to be measured and determined. However, perhaps the only way to achieve safe levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is to shift to sources of renewable energy that do not contribute to carbon emissions.

Wind as a source of renewable energy is a step in the right direction for Trinidad and Tobago. It is very feasible in the Northern and Eastern coasts as winds are the strongest there. As part of the Caribbean and as part of the Lesser Antilles or Windward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, as do other Eastern Caribbean islands, has significant wind power potential. Countries such as Aruba and Guadeloupe have made strides in their green energy policies, with 20% and 30% respectively, of their country’s energy being produced by wind farms.

Let us not be left behind Trinidad and Tobago. As a highly industrialised country in the Caribbean and a contributor to global emissions of GHGs and climate change we need to accept our responsibility. Do you want clean and safe air? Do you want to be able to go to the beach and see nature for what it is – a natural mystic.

Then guess what; it is time to put your money where your footprint is.

Also peruse Climate Change: What about the SIDS? A Youth Perspective, another exclusive contribution to Caribbean Climate by Dizzanne Billy.

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