By now, just two days later, many of us would have already succumbed to some degree of budget fatigue.
It has occurred to me that budget processes in Parliament, media and other public spaces have become so predictable and routinised politically, that some news stories are capable of being assembled in advance, barring precise figures and measures.
The issues that attract the most attention often remain the stuff of sterile annual ritual.
The event, however, has the potential to guide attention and awareness to broader developmental challenges and goals that ought to properly engage the microeconomics, but often don’t.
Take, for example, the perils of climate change (the “climate crisis” being a better formulation). Comb the budget presentation for specific mention. True, there is. In bits and scattered pieces— shorelines, carbon capture and electric cars. But there’s a bigger story.
It’s also there in the implementation, but only in implicit increments of preventative measures and remedies—shorelines to safeguard, watercourses to excavate, proper infrastructure planning to engage, livelihoods to protect, and adaptive measures to minimise natural and social harm from changing climatological conditions.
In less than a month from now, we will be asked to parade these otherwise muted elements of our development before the world at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland.
It is conceivable that the budget statement could have been presented against the backdrop of more than one urgent context to include the climate crisis. For, even when the pandemic challenge is mostly over (though I think the virus will be with us in some form for many years to come), there will remain questions of viability linked to climate change.
At COP26, for instance, we will be expected to draw attention to this country’s Carbon Reduction Strategy. Such a strategy identifies core actions linked to what is prescribed under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as our (intended) Nationally Determined Contribution (iNDC) to global carbon targets.
There is a lot more to this but, in short, our intention as a country is to reduce emissions from power generation, transportation and industry by up to 15 per cent by 2030. It is expected that the net cost of this would be in the order of US$2 billion. None of this was heard on Monday. Let’s listen on Friday and in the days that follow.
People currently arguing over Mr Imbert’s budget measures should pay attention to this, if only to appreciate the processes being engaged and to assess the prospects for achieving such targets, given the financing needs and the channels through which international funding is accessible.
Monday was also significant for us because even as the Finance Minister was attempting to reassure us that financial ruin is not yet upon the nation, the UN Secretary-General was a half hour flight away from here, in Barbados, addressing the opening of the 15th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in rather dim tones.
It was well worth lending the event an eye and ears, as world governments mulled prospects for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in tandem with the climate change agenda by 2030.
The pandemic has provided a massive barrier to realisation of most of this, especially in the case of poor and middle-income countries. Small island developing states such as T&T should be paying much closer attention to such a state of affairs despite relative economic strength in our case.
The Caribbean region, as a whole, is pretty much broke. It is a reality we in T&T ignore at our peril—as with the collapse with Venezuela.
If the Barbados UNCTAD is significant for one purpose, it would be that it merges the multiplicity of challenges into a single prognosis spanning a spectrum of hope and hopelessness.
The asymmetrical impacts of the pandemic, for example, concur alongside varying regional abilities and disabilities, including our collective capacity to prevail in the face of the climate crisis.
The national budget, climate and our pandemic conditions are absolutely linked. The long view requires steps toward resilience that span the pandemic and beyond.