Climate Change has come home. Never before have we experienced such extremes of severe, intense rainfall with tropical storms on one hand and then droughts on the other, within relatively short periods of time. These erratic weather systems have led to severe, frequent flooding, landslides and water supply problems which prove inconvenient for some while downright disasters for others. Land degradation is rapid and widespread.
Citizens from different parts of the country will tell you that every time rain falls they expect flooding; Every time the wind picks up, they fear roofs will be picked up as well. Last Wednesday, 6 roofs were blown off in Las Lomas during a freak storm and the week before, over 300 roofs were blown off, utilities were badly damaged and there was flooding across the Trinidad due to Tropical Wave 41. What could be causing these events?
As of August 9th 2021, the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) status report claims that Climate Change is widespread, rapid and intensifying.
Our weather patterns have changed drastically and have become very unpredictable. Within an hour we can go from extreme sun to extreme rainfall and flash flooding. This flooding has become a part of regular national discourse as even citizens in hilly areas have also become victims and not only their much maligned “flood plains” residing counterparts.
How can we mitigate against the effects of climate change in T&T?
Firstly, we need Leaders: a Government and an Opposition that can and will put country first. The hard decisions should have been made years ago and implemented in an efficient manner to save our environment. I had written before about the “cowering Opposition and a dragooning Government”. This continues to exacerbate our climate change issues. We need to move away from the adversarial politics and become collaborative since flooding, landslides and drought affects all citizens. We need strong political will to get it done.
Having served for three years as Minister in the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources there were various pertinent projects and policies that we implemented. There were also a few projects which were stalled and eleven years later, would have had significant returns on alleviating pollution, waste disposal, illegal mining and flooding. Successive Governments have always pushed back, delayed and stalled climate change legislation, policies and projects. Most times, we just sign on to climate change international treaties without doing the work in a timely manner.
The Building Code legislation has been stalled by successive regimes even though it is a most important aspect in alleviating floods and landslides.
The Beverage Container Bill was scuttled by the then PNM Opposition in 2012. Could you imagine if it was implemented eleven years ago how impactful such would have been in reducing plastic bottle dumping in the environment?
The plans for a Recycling Plant were undertaken between 2010-2015 which would have cost the country TT $400 million. This initiative was stalled by Cabinet and today we still have to export to recycle. We could have also created jobs in recycling making it a viable revenue earner.
Local Government Reform can go a long way in restructuring how Boroughs and Regional Corps operate and fund themselves without relying on Central Government. Whilst the legislation was passed with full support in 2018 little or nothing has been implemented to date.
In a study done in 2014 by the IADB titled ‘Climate Adaptation in Trinidad and Tobago’, an Action Prioritization Chart was done advising and indicating what should be undertaken to adapt to our changing environment. There are 20 actions and are as follows in order of priority: A National Building Code, Construction of Dykes in Coastal Areas, , Meteorological Alert System/Monitoring System, Emergency Protocols, Social Awareness Programmes, Institutional Training Programmes,, Rainwater Harvesting, Infrastructure and Building Reinforcement, Retention Ponds, Filter Strips, Permeable Pavements, Beach Nourishment, Mangrove Restoration, Parametric Insurance Schemes, Agriculture & Climate Research Units, Green Roofs, Climate Change Adaptation Tools, Sustainable Drainage Systems and Coral Reef Protection.
While some of these actions have been implemented, the most important ones have been shelved. Why? Is it politically expedient to do so? Implementing a building code would restrict settlements on hillsides and along watercourses, this can greatly influence voters during an election and this is why successive governments have steered cleared of this.
Another example is the frequent flooding primarily caused by illegal, unapproved housing projects by unscrupulous developers. Most times the regional corporations and boroughs turn a blind eye on these developers since it is alleged that ‘money pass’ and before you know it a wall miraculously turns up in the middle of a watercourse!
I would urge the Government to bring together a Climate Change Action Committee to identify immediate projects to be implemented.
I would also urge that in the upcoming budget tax breaks on electric cars, solar panels and other green consumables are implemented.
Our days of hamper politics and flood grants are over. We need sustainable urgent action NOW.