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If we do not start preparing for climate change impacts on TT, attorney warns: We will be sitting ducks – unprepared for actual disaster

Sunday, June 11, 2017
Aerial view of Hurricane Matthew rapidly intensifying to the north of Colombia late on September 30, 2015.

“I am horrified, but in no way am I surprised,” said attorney Caroline Mair about the recent US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Mair is an attorney at Mair and Company in Port-of-Spain. She has previously worked in international environmental law think tanks in London, advising developing countries at United Nations climate change negotiations. She said in a recent Guardian online interview:

“Trump has been pledging to do this since his campaign days, and his audience is comprised of blue collar workers who want their industrial jobs back, the wealthy one per cent, big business owners who have no regard for anything but their profit margins, and the middle-American Bible-Belt climate-change deniers. So we knew this was coming.

“But I’m nonetheless saddened by the wilful disregard for the future. We are recklessly gambling with the future we are handing to our children and our children’s children. But I am also confident that the world community that has pledged reductions in the Paris Agreement will rally more urgently together to ensure that the US will not hinder our progress.” 

Youth environmental advocate Dizzanne Billy agrees with this view. Billy is president of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network. She went to the landmark UN Paris Climate Change Conference in December 2015 as an observer (part of the Climate Tracker programme), and while these days she is employed at a local digital marketing company, she’s still very interested in environmental protection. She said: “Climate change is a global issue and is recognised as a direct threat to human rights and the survival of our planet. The decision of President Trump is a clear signal of his ineptitude as a leader and the direction in which he is planning to take the US—one which contributes further to the deterioration of the climate, health, and economy, increases poverty, and sets back development on a major scale. This is not the future we want for ourselves or our children.” 


Why should we care?

So why, exactly, should T&T care about the international climate agreement?

Simply put, if we don’t radically slow down the rate at which we’re heating up our world, most scientists say we are certain to face serious consequences—including rising sea levels, lost coastal land, more extreme weather events such as hurricanes or floods, and serious problems feeding ourselves as droughts make agriculture difficult. Big causes of warming are deforestation, and the carbon dioxide humans release from burning fossil fuel in factories, from burning gas in transport, and from industrial farming of animals to feed our desire for meat.

Caroline Mair explains the temperature rise limits:

“The Intergovernmental Panel and Climate Change (IPCC), representing the consensus of the world’s top climate scientists, states that the current level of global emissions is now dangerously close to breaking through a 1.5 or 2 °C upper limit for global warming, measured in relation to pre-industrial temperatures. The Paris agreement was seminal in that almost all the countries in the world were committed to curbing their emissions and working together, despite historic tensions in the negotiations. 

“I’m worried that other countries who were tentative about their commitment to emission reduction might reconsider their positions in the wake of Trump’s actions. 

“Part of the Paris Agreement is a mechanism that essentially enables wealthier and more developed countries to contribute to poorer and less developed countries. This is to assist with adaptation to the damage from climate change, because these poorer countries are less to blame for the historic emissions and therefore must receive what is essentially compensation for the cost of adaptation. 

“This is what Trump is resisting and why he is withdrawing, so as to not hold the US partly financially accountable for the current dire situation we are in. Losing the US contribution is a considerable loss, and it will be more difficult to assist the poorest countries most vulnerable to climate change.” 


How will climate change affect us?

“Our very way of life is at risk,” warns Mair on how climate change will affect us.

“Rising temperatures and sea levels, the salination of our freshwater aquifers and arable lands, loss of crops, desertification, the increased devastation of natural disasters such as storms, droughts, hurricanes and flooding, heatwaves, increased risk for disease and contagion—these are all very real threats to our daily life. If we do nothing to adapt to the new challenges ahead, we will be like sitting ducks—unprepared for actual disaster.”

Environment advocate Billy emphasises this point too, noting that climate change is not just something remote, with ice caps melting or polar bears dying in faraway places. It hits us close to home—even though we may not realise it: “Climate change is a local issue in TT, too. The complaints about residents not having water in their pipes in Arima for weeks, the complaints from farmers of the inability to grow sufficient crops, the fact that our coasts are disappearing, the decreased air quality in Port-of-Spain, all these things are related to climate change. This is why TT needs to not just care, but see it as a priority”.


What should we be doing?

“For the last decade or so, Trinidad should have been gearing itself to be the leader of renewable and solar energy in the Caribbean. That’s where the future is,” says Mair. She notes:

“It’s shameful that while we had the chance to do so, we instead dragged our feet. We should have been subsidising solar panels and electric cars instead of gas. We should have been focused on enabling our citizens to be energy efficient and independent, so when the oil and gas ran out, we would not have such high energy prices as the rest of the Caribbean. We should have been putting mass transportation systems in place all over the country and reducing the gridlock traffic on the roads. We should have been investing in scientific research to take our industrial practices to cleaner, greener standards. 

“Beyond that, we should have been diversifying our economy. We should have been beautifying our cities to enable a viable tourist economy, conserving beautiful architectural gems and encouraging the growth of arts, culture, cafés and markets. We should have been investing in education and services industries. We should have been focusing on agriculture so we could feed ourselves instead of importing our food. 

“It’s frustrating, because we know the answers. We have been bantering them about forever, but we never commit to them.”


Next: T&T's official policy on renewable energy The Guardian is continuing a short series on climate change issues. On Monday, June 5, we looked at immediate reactions to the withdrawal of the US Federal government, led by US President Donald Trump, from the Paris Climate Agreement on Thursday, June 1. Today we hear more local reactions to the US withdrawal, explore how climate change may directly affect us in T&T, and what we should be doing about it now.


Climate Change 101 (YouTube):

Climate Change science (David Suzuki Foundation):

“We should have been subsidising solar panels and electric cars instead of gas. We should have been focused on enabling our citizens to be energy efficient and independent, so when the oil and gas ran out, we would not have such high energy prices as the rest of the Caribbean. We should have been putting mass transportation systems in place.”

—Caroline Mair, attorney


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