Trinidad and Tobago’s topography is an extremely biodiverse expanse of flora and fauna that are world renowned for their unique characteristics. We live in what a metropolitan city dweller might consider a ‘paradise’, however it is under threat. As the world convened for COP26 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to discuss the effects of climate change and environmentally unsustainable practices on the global community, one can only take a look around our own country to understand the effects that pollution and emissions have on our environment. What initiatives have we, as a country, signed on to in order to protect our wildlife and environment and what risk does pollution pose to our natural environment?
The Basel Convention is one of many multilateral environmental agreements to which T&T is signatory and we ratified this agreement in 1994. It regulates but mostly prohibits the transboundary movement of hazardous waste and calls for the reduction in the production of waste and its proper disposal as close to the source of production as possible. This country hosts one of 14 Basel Convention Regional Centres for Training and Technology Transfer ‘The Caribbean Subregion’. Our obligations are to manage responsible disposal, ensure proper packaging and labelling of hazardous materials and having standard transport conditions. When transport is allowed, written consent must be given and the health and environmental consequences must be assessed and shared.
T&T has agreed to:
- ban the importation of hazardous waste
- minimise production and ensure wastes are treated and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.
Additionally, the Rotterdam Convention deals with banned and heavily restricted pesticides and industrial chemicals. T&T acceded to the convention on November 16th, 2009. This Convention works with the principle that, the 52 identified chemicals as of 2019, should not be exported and importation should only happen with prior written approval.
There is a class of highly toxic, long lasting chemicals that affect tissues in humans and animals, ‘Persistent Organic Pollutants’ or ‘POPs’. These are being addressed by the Stockholm Convention which was adopted in 2001. It covers 30 chemicals as of 2019 most of which are banned. Signatories agree to develop, implement and update a national implementation plan to treat persistent organic pollutants and educate policy makers and the general public.
Keima Gardiner, Waste Management Specialist at the Ministry of Planning and Development, spoke on the Conventions to which we are signatory and their importance to locals: “The MEA’s that deal with chemical and waste management, namely the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions should be of concern to locals as the chemicals and wastes listed under these conventions are of international concern. Namely they cause various public health impacts such as cancers, reproductive disorders, damage to the immune and nervous system as well as developmental delays.”
We are also signatory to the Montreal Protocol. Marissa Gowrie, Deputy Environmental Manager and National Ozone Officer explained its significance - “In the early 1980’s, scientists would have discovered that there was what we call the hole in the ozone layer” she said. “When they did research they found out that certain chemicals produced by man were going up into the Stratosphere, which is the part of the atmosphere where you find the ozone layer, and coming into contact with the ozone, causing this hole to be formed. So the international community came together and signed on to an agreement called the ‘Montreal Protocol’. What the Montreal Protocol does essentially is to chart out certain phase out schedules to get rid of these substances that are causing damage to the ozone layer.” T&T has phased out chlorofluorocarbons and halons since 2008 and is in the process of phasing out all ozone depleting substances. We continue to monitor imports and exports of ozone depleting substances and have a robust legal framework for monitoring and strong public education awareness on the issues, although progress is admittedly extremely slow. Being signatory to these protocols, according to Dr. Gowrie, “allows us to access funding to help people in the air conditioning and refrigeration sectors, of which ozone depleting gases are usually used, to have access to updated equipment, to training, to updated knowledge, etcetera, to really help technicians, service people, importers and all those who exist in this sector to really do practices that can help us move away from these damaging gases.”
T&T is also signatory to several agreements aimed at protecting our biodiversity to varying extents. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety seek to prevent the extinction of species and the degradation of ecosystems. T&T ratified to this convention in 1996 with our areas of focus being agricultural, inland waters, forests, marine and coastal areas and island biodiversity. The Cartagena Protocol deals with regulations for genetically modified food crops; under it we are obligated to develop a national biosafety framework.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is called CITES. It seeks to prevent exploitation of animal and plant species for trade and forestall depletion and extinction. T&T acceded to CITES in January 1984 and has several species listed for regulation of International trade, with our obligations being to have a management authority and a licensing system to promote sustainable trade and safeguard wildlife species.
The Ramsar Convention’s objective is to protect wetlands of international importance. T&T became a party on December 21st, 1975 and has three Ramsar sites totalling 15,919 hectares - The Nariva swamp, Buccoo Reef/Bon Accord Lagoon Complex and the Caroni Swamp.
The promises of these conventions, however, are not enough. We also need concrete action, to preserve our own biodiversity and to preserve ourselves and T&T is working tirelessly to do this.