2nd UN Ocean Conference: Statement by Minister Beckles

Planning and Development Minister Pennelope Beckles’ led Trinidad and Tobago's delegation at the 2nd United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

The conference is f ocused on formulating science-based solutions to preserve the protection of oceans while addressing the problems of countries, specifically Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Read the Minister's statement at the General Debate on June 26, 2022 below.

 

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago joined Member States of the United Nations in September 2015 to commit to the 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to achieve three extraordinary things in the next 15 years - end extreme poverty, fight inequality & injustice and fix climate change. The focus of this conference – SDG14 – “Life below water” addresses the conservation and sustainable use of our oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. With targets of reducing pollution and ocean acidification, protecting and restoring ecosystems, achieving sustainable fisheries, and increasing economic benefits from the sustainable use of marine resources, SDG 14 is also key to the achievement of other SDGS including no poverty (SDG1), zero hunger (SDG 2) and good health and well-being (SDG 3).

 

Like most Small Island Developing States, Trinidad and Tobago’s ocean resources are critical to our people’s health and well-being, our economy, and our emerging sustainable blue economy agenda. Traditionally, we have relied on its coastal and ocean resources for economic prosperity primarily from oil and gas exploration, tourism and fisheries. In 2015, Trinidad and Tobago’s coastal zone inclusive of its Exclusive Economic Zone contributed US 22.5 billion to its GDP; representing 81% of total GDP. Although the commodities sector is still a relevant contributor to the GDP, the services sector has gained incremental relevance over the past five years with tourism and shipping accounting for more than 55% of the GDP and providing around 60% of jobs nationally. The fishing sector, although contributing much less to GDP, cannot be underestimated, as it provides a source of livelihood, subsistence and nutrition, especially to some of the more vulnerable in society.

 

Collectively, we have 704 km of coastline and 15 times more sea space than land under our jurisdiction; which indicates the importance of the ocean sphere to the country. Economic policies including the National 2030 Vision (Vision 2030, National Development Strategy 2016-2030), aimed at diversifying the economy, has focused on investments in the tourism, agriculture, aquaculture and the maritime sectors, all of which require a healthy ocean.

 

But the ocean system is changing at an accelerated pace. The world’s ocean has warmed unabated since 1970, absorbing 90% of excess heat in the climate system. Marine heatwaves have likely doubled in frequency and are increasing in intensity. In addition, by absorbing CO2, the ocean has undergone increasing acidification and a loss of surface oxygen. Coastal ecosystems are also affected by salinity intrusion and sea level rise in combination with adverse effects from human activities on ocean and land. The impacts of climate change together with nutrient pollution is fueling harmful algal blooms that negatively affect food security, tourism, human health and local economies. Yet over the last ten years, Overseas Development Assistance to the ocean economy averaged only US $1.3 billion per year and the scale of public and private investment for ocean restoration and protection remains woefully inadequate. SDG 14 ‘Life Below Water’ is estimated to receive the lowest level of investment of all 17 SDGs

 

Trinidad and Tobago recognises that we must act now to find transformative solutions to the existing and future challenges that face the ocean and thus humankind. In this regard, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, through its commitment to the 2030 Agenda, continues to take several steps to conserve and sustainably use oceans and marine resources, namely under the targets of SDG14, as well as other United Nations Programmes of Action, including the SAMOA Pathway and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for Financing for Development. Therefore, the agreed UN development frameworks, together with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Trinidad and Tobago is a State Party, provides an excellent construct that guides Member States on oceans and marine resources.

 

As the Global Agenda highlights the importance of science-based policy in the implementation of the SDGs, Trinidad and Tobago sees striving to bridge the science policy nexus as critical to improving the way our oceans and coastal spaces are managed and growth of the blue economy. Transformative solutions depend on better equipped and more sustainably funded science. As prescribed in Article 275 of UNCLOS, the country has an established national centre for marine scientific research – the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA). The IMA’s mandate is to collect, analyse and disseminate information relating to the economic, technological, environmental, social and legal developments in marine affairs and to formulate and implement specific programmes/projects the promote sustainable management of our ocean resources.

 

Funding, capacity building and technology transfer is needed to increase the level of marine scientific research and monitoring in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean region. To this end, partnerships are being fostered with international and regional institutions and private sector interests to enhance national capacity to conduct the science we need to find solutions to address the problems we face.

 

Trinidad and Tobago recognised the need to rationalise the use of scarce resources and avoid duplication of effort by effectively co-ordinating ocean and coastal management efforts. To this end it has formulated a Draft Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Policy Framework 2020 aimed at, among other things, reducing conflict and encouraging intra- and inter-sectoral collaboration in ocean and coastal management, across time and space. The ICZM Policy Framework was developed through a participatory, consensus-building process that engaged a range of stakeholders – government agencies, the business sector, the energy sector, fishers and the general public, among others. The resulting policy framework identified eleven objectives and associated strategies to achieve these objectives. It covers five integrated thematic areas, namely:

  1. Coastal development;
  2. The conservation and restoration of marine ecosystems and resources;
  3. Sustaining livelihoods;
  4. Vulnerability to climate change; and
  5. Pollution

 

The ICZM Policy Framework’s implementing instrument is the ICZM Action Plan. The ICZM Action Plan is to be implemented over the period 2021 -2030, which coincides with the United Nations (UN) Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. The National ICZM Policy Framework and Action Plan represents a comprehensive approach to manage coastal activity, adapt to climate change and reduce vulnerability to coastal hazards, foster a sustainable blue economy and fulfil both national and international commitments towards sustainable development.

 

Subsequent to the revision of the National Environmental Policy in 2018, which supports ICZM implementation, the revision of the Water Pollution Rules was completed in November 2019. The Water Pollution Rules 2019 provide an integrated approach to watershed management and is aligned to national polices and obligations under international conventions. Its revision incorporates the polluter pays principle, ambient water quality standards for both freshwater and the marine environment, including recreation and the protection of aquatic life and ecosystems as well as standards to guide the development of watershed improvement plans.

 

In 2020, Tobago’s North East region was designated a biosphere reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme. North-East Tobago is the largest MAB site in the English-speaking Caribbean covering a Ridge-to-Ocean ecosystem which encompasses fifteen (15) communities and a marine area of 68, 384 ha inclusive of coral reefs. Biosphere reserves promote solutions to reconcile biodiversity conservation with its sustainable use. The designation is expected to assist with the post-COVID 19 economic recovery especially for the tourism industry as well as other sustainable blue and green economic activities beyond tourism such as fisheries, cultural heritage promotion and scientific research and education. The designation of North East Tobago as a MAB site is aligned with the National Protected Areas System Plan (NPASP), which was approved by Cabinet in 2019.

 

Trinidad and Tobago ratified the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2018. Our commitment includes a 15% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the power generation, transport and industrial sectors by 2030, as well as a 30% reduction in GHG emissions in public transportation by 2030. In order to monitor and report on these targets, a core component of the National Climate Mitigation Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) System – the Knowledge Management System (KMS) was launched in March 2019. In addition, under the Paris Agreement’s Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF), starting in 2024, the country is obligated to provide a national inventory report and information necessary to track progress in implementing and enhancing its NDCs, through a Biennial Transparency Report (BTR). As such, Trinidad and Tobago is participating in a global Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency (CBIT) to assist with meeting the reporting requirements. The project, ‘Strengthening Trinidad and Tobago’s capacity in transparency for climate change mitigation and adaptation’ will propose legal arrangements and ensure that the country has the technical capacity and tools to incorporate climate analysis into decision-making and prepare BTRs.

Despite the progress made under these initiatives, Trinidad and Tobago faces many sustainable development challenges as it relates to oceans. As the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda places significant importance on timely, accurate and disaggregated data and statistics as the basis for the development of science-driven policies and strategies, small island developing States such as ours and those in the CARICOM region, lack oceanographic data and access to advanced technologies, which can greatly assist in better managing coastal and ocean resources, protecting livelihoods and benefitting economies.

Therefore, it is important that the international community upholds its commitment to assist developing countries in capacity building and technology transfer through effective partnerships. These partnerships, whether North-South, South-South or possibly between SIDS themselves, ought to complement national development strategies in a manner that strengthens collaboration between all stakeholders from the private sector to the village fisherman, and enhances access to global markets and international agencies.

Lastly, any effort to develop the oceans as development spaces must be properly financed. Many SIDS, including Trinidad and Tobago, are unable to access donor funding and climate finance. As such, SIDS, together with their limited resource bases, are at a disadvantage to access financing which significantly hinders their implementation of all the sustainable development goals.

In closing, allow me to express my sincerest appreciation to the organizers of this Conference. There is no doubt that the ocean’s health is inextricably linked with the very existence of humanity, and therefore we must strike a balance to conserve, protect, manage and sustainably use oceans and its resources for sustainable development. Trinidad and Tobago is fully committed to achieving the targets under SDG14 through international cooperation and stakeholder engagement at all levels.

I thank you.