As Minister of Planning and Development for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and Minister with responsibility for the environment, it is my distinct pleasure to address you at this inaugural Caribbean Green Infrastructure Conference.
I wish to thank the I AM MOVEMENT and the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited for demonstrating state and civil collaboration in its truest sense, through your efforts in the realisation of this event. Commendations are also due to the team comprising I AM Movement for showcasing the passion and drive to make a difference in our communities. You represent what is amazing about the work of Trinidad and Tobago’s non-governmental organisations. Please continue to excel.
Fora such as this, provide opportunities to share technical knowledge and innovations on Green Infrastructure, and provide a platform for engaging in discussions on accomplishing these initiatives for the greater good of our environment.
Today, we are just 11 days away from the start of the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP27, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. As a party to the Paris Agreement, Trinidad and Tobago, through the Ministry of Planning and Development’s Environmental Policy and Planning Division (EPPD) is laying the groundwork for participation, in support of our commitment to environmental action and the other Sustainable Development Goals. We are today, as we speak, conducting a preparatory consultation with stakeholder groups on issues to be addressed at COP 27, and in the coming weeks we will also conduct stakeholder sessions regarding the UN’s Conference on Biodiversity, also known as COP 15.
The 27th Conference of the Parties will allow our Caribbean region to again approach the global North, to deliver a clear, strong, collaborative message not only seeking heartfelt support, but more so to lobby for Climate Justice on behalf of our region and all our people. While small island developing states such as ours are the least contributors to global warming and the emissions that contribute to climate change, it has been documented that we can suffer the greatest losses and damages due to climate-related crises.
Climate change has been at the centre of global discussions over the last few decades, as it has had many alarming impacts globally, but even greater catastrophic effects on Small Island Developing (SID) nations, such as our neighbouring countries and ourselves. Therefore, steps towards the conservation and management of our limited land resources, and building our resilience are crucial.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs outline the country’s priorities for climate change mitigation.
While the NDCs focus on the areas of industry, power generation and transportation, this does not exclude other sectors from contributing to the global goal of “1.5 to stay alive”. Ecosystem-based sectors such as the agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors should not be forgotten in the quest to advance the sequestration of carbon, as they are probably the easiest areas for individual contributions to the national impact. People can reduce their carbon footprints through tree planting and maintenance, subsistence gardening to subsidise food imports, and improving the resilience of the land to the impacts of climate change.
Although today marks the first Caribbean Green Infrastructure Conference, many of us here who have been advocates in the environmental sphere know that this is by no way a novel principle or approach. We can all however declare that a revival of a paradigm and way of thinking that many of our indigenous people have always shared, is underway; a paradigm re-centering us toward more nature-positive, green approaches and solutions that create so many benefits. It is baffling why we have not, as a global community, utilised and institutionalised more of these solutions throughout our development plans and individual nations’ development trajectories.
Green technologies have been with us as far back as we can recall, and though not a conventional approach, they have certainly been a part of indigenous principles and culture. Today we can certainly celebrate that once again, we, as a people, as technocrats, as civil society, as diplomats and high-level decision makers and as members of our Caribbean society, are making a collaborative, united effort to once again realign our thinking towards green and blue technologies and nature-based solutions, better integrating these opportunities within our national development strategies.
In light of this, I am happy to state that the Environmental Policy and Planning Division of the Planning and Development Ministry has been integrating the concept of Ecosystem-based Adaptation or EbA.
The EbA approach uses ecosystems and ecosystem services as part of an overall strategy to help people adapt to the adverse effects of the world’s current environmental challenges, through initiatives such as the BIOREACH Project, which refers to the “Biodiversity Conservation and Agroecological Land Restoration in Productive Landscapes of Trinidad and Tobago". This project is valued at a little over twenty-two million US dollars (US$22 million), through a mix of grant funding from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and co-financing commitments from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. BIOREACH aims to promote biodiversity conservation, restore degraded lands, and improve livelihoods of rural communities in targeted productive landscapes (agriculture, forestry, and other land uses) throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
- the Institute of Marine Affairs, we are also using nature-based solutions focused on rehabilitating sea grass beds in Tobago, as well as coral reef restoration, as part of a project called Marin TT. The Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) is also conducting research to determine the quantity of carbon stored in the vast mangroves of Trinidad and Tobago. the Commonwealth Blue Charter, we have embarked on a pilot project to undertake a ‘Blue Economy Readiness Assessmment for Trinidad and Tobago’, to determine the country’s readiness to embark on the transition to the blue economy. Trinidad and Tobago is part of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Network called BES-Net, which is a capacity-sharing “network of networks” that promotes dialogue between science, policy and practice for more effective management of biodiversity and ecosystems as an integral part of long-term human well-being and sustainable development. So we are approaching environmental development and environmental action from a holistic place, incorporating nature-based solutions as a means to ensure the security of our environmental resources, as well as that of our human resources.
EbA projects offer flexible and cost-effective measures to address risks at multiple scales that can also deliver co-benefits for climate change mitigation, livelihood protection and poverty alleviation, along with other economic, social and environmental co-benefits.
While we can all easily picture the benefits of conservation and proper environmental management from the point of view of our forests, rivers, coastal zones and so on, few of us give thought to the economic benefits to be derived. The 5th National Report of Trinidad and Tobago to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which was approved by Cabinet in 2017, valued the ability of this country’s watersheds to deliver water of good quality, namely water purification services, at approximately five hundred and twenty million TT dollars (TT$520 million) or eighty-eight million US dollars (US$88 million) annually. Trinidad and Tobago derives at least eighty-eight per cent (88%) of its fresh water from natural sources such as ground and surface water. Healthy forests can reduce sediment export into rivers by as much as fifty-three per cent (53$). The forests in Trinidad’s Northern Range provide soil retention services that are valued as high as six hundred and twenty-two million US dollars (US$622 million) annually.
- coastal ecosystems and their biodiversity, namely coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands, and seagrass beds, also play an important role in protecting our shorelines. The Report highlights that almost the entire length of Tobago’s coastline is dependent on coastal ecosystems for some type of protection. This study also indicated that the value of shoreline protection provided by coastal ecosystems for Trinidad and Tobago ranges up to one hundred and thirty-three US dollars (US$133) per hectare per year. Aside from protection services, coastal ecosystems also support recreation and tourism-based activities, valued at up to three hundred and ninety thousand US dollars (US$390,000) per hectare per year.
So when we add it all up, the dollar value of our ecosystem and environmental services is monumental – in excess of two billion TT dollars – making the economic case for proper green infrastructure investment and supporting action.
The Ministry of Planning and Development recognises the capacity of Vetiver grass to offset carbon emissions through sequestration, as well as it serving as a low cost solution to adaptation through improvement of land integrity, especially in areas where erosion due to climate events is a chronic problem.
The Vetiver System is even used as a source of livelihood generation, as the hedges can be harvested for use in the production of handicraft and indigenous products. The vertical integration of Vetiver use can therefore be of critical value to rural communities. I again reiterate the excellent work being conducted by the I AM Movement team and wish them continued success.
This Green Infrastructure Conference shows the commitment of everyone here, and the hundreds of virtual participants across the Caribbean region and throughout the world; a commitment that goes beyond policy and politics to emphasise what national, scaled greening efforts can aspire to be within our Caribbean community. I think that equally importantly, the Conference is fertile ground that highlights how the Caribbean intends to treat with the many sustainability issues we face that are the top of the global climate change agenda. It signals simultaneously how as a region we have been adapting and grappling with the significant financing challenges for climate mitigation and climate adaptation that we, as well as many small island states are facing.
I also see opportunities to better include green thinking into watershed management and urban planning, where a green-blue mindset can be more easily integrated into every phase of project development through improved collaboration across sectors. Engineers, financers, developers and even academia, will need to work cross-functionally together, now more than ever.
Today marks a moment to re-connect with the services and solutions that nature is able to provide us; this also allows our society to re-centre itself and experience longer-lasting benefits. Today marks a revitalization of efforts to invest in a greener pathway. I am very pleased to also know that there are so many young faces participating. These are the faces that give me the energy to lobby for better; to be a champion for climate justice, and to be an advocate today for greener investments and diversified portfolios that can lead us to a pathways that we all can enjoy tomorrow. I Thank you all for your time this morning, and I wish everyone a fruitful event.