Signing of Land Based Sources of Pollution Regional Activity Centre Agreement

The Honourable Camille Robinson-Regis
Signing of Land Based Sources of Pollution Regional Activity Centre

Ladies and gentlemen, prior to my arrival here, I had the privilege of leading the Trinidad and Tobago team in bi-lateral talks with a United Nations team headed by UN Head in Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Richard Blewitt. This was the Second round of high-level discussions on the Multi-country Sustainable Development Framework Country Implementation Plan for Trinidad and Tobago 2017 - 2021, otherwise known as the MSDF CIP-TT. Those discussions are continuing as we speak.
I cite this, ladies and gentlemen, only to underscore the high level of cooperation that exists between the United Nations, its representative organizations like the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.  Our partnership with the UN and its agencies is one which we cherish deeply and which, over the years, has served to enhance significantly enhance the quality of life made available to our citizens.
It is in that vein then, that I am particularly pleased to welcome to Trinidad and Tobago, another United Nations representative in the person of Dr Lorna Inniss, Coordinator of the Ecosystems Division of the Cartagena Convention Secretariat, for today’s signing of this agreement which formally establishes the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) as a Regional Activity Centre (RAC) of the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) through a framework agreement between the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
This agreement has been a long time in the making, and I am extremely pleased that we are finally able to formalise these arrangements. It is quite opportune, as the IMA’s marks its 40th Anniversary of operations this year (2018), and through this agreement it will be more able to fulfil its regional mandate. Indeed, it was as far back as the 7th Conference of Party of the Cartagena Convention in 2002, Parties agreed that the IMA be the designated Regional Activity Centre for the English speaking islands of the Caribbean, undertaking activities aimed at implementing the Protocol on Land-Based Sources of Pollution at the regional level. 
The LBS Protocol is a set of procedures developed to protect the marine environment and human health from land-based point and non-point sources of marine pollution.  The Caribbean Sea is one of the largest seas in the world, and the 4th most important biodiversity hotspot, supporting the livelihoods of millions of people. Despite its importance, it is polluted with millions of tonnes of garbage, sewage, sediment and industrial effluent. In fact, reports indicate that more than 75% of marine pollution in the Caribbean is due to land-based sources and activities. For instance, poor farming practices and deforestation have resulted in 300 million tonnes of top soil being flushed in the sea, and this has led to the degradation of 9,000 squared kilometres of coral reef within the Caribbean Sea over the past decade.  
Trinidad and Tobago has not been immune to the widespread effects of this kind of environmental pollution, and when combined with the deleterious effects of coastal erosion, such as we have seen in Cedros, Moruga, Matelot and Toco, to name a few, we are faced with a gathering storm. 
In its 2016 State of the Marine Environment Report, the IMA lamented that pollution of coastal waters is an ongoing and pervasive problem. Along with compromising health and safety standards at several bathing beaches and potentially making some shellfish species unsafe for human consumption, coastal water pollution has also partially influenced the decline of important ecosystems such as coral reefs and seagrass beds. The waning health and loss of Thalassia dominated seagrass beds in both Tobago and Trinidad, for example, has been linked to poor water quality from land-based pollution.
The LBS Protocol provides the framework for addressing pollution based on national and regional needs and priorities.  It is focused on addressing the sources of pollution and promotes Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), application of the most appropriate technologies, and best management practices.  Some actions recommended under the Protocol include:

  1. Development of a National Programme of Action for Integrated Watershed and Coastal Area Management and/or prevention of pollution from land based sources and activities.
  2. Identification and assessment of major sources and activities contributing to pollution of the marine environment.
  3. Classification of recreational water bodies at the national level to ensure that the most important areas are protected from the negative impacts of pollution.
  4. Establishment of legally binding standards for sewage effluent and discharges.
  5. Development of management plans and demonstration projects to reduce pollution of the marine environment.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to report that Trinidad and Tobago has already undertaken some of these recommended actions and has initiated others, and the IMA has been providing leadership for many of these initiatives. 
In 2012, for example, the IMA chaired a Cabinet-appointed Multi-sectoral Committee to develop an Integrated Coastal Zone Management Policy Framework, Strategy and Action Plan for Trinidad and Tobago.   One of the objectives of the ICZM Policy is to promote and enhance pollution control and waste management activities to ensure that there is minimal adverse impact on human health, and on coastal ecosystems, and to foster the ability to support beneficial human uses. In 2017, Cabinet agreed to the implementation of the ICZM Policy and appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee to oversee its implementation. 
Additionally, in collaboration with Microsoft, Fujitsu Caribbean, Digicel and the fishing community of Claxton Bay, Otaheite and environs, the IMA installed a Water Quality Monitoring Buoy, as a proof of concept, on Wednesday October 25th last year, in the Gulf of Paria, approximately a mile and a half off the coast of the Claxton Bay Fishing Depot.  This initiative utilises state of the art technology aimed at addressing marine pollution and other environmental matters in the Gulf of Paria. 
As the person charged with ministerial oversight of the IMA I have also challenged the IMA to produce biennial State of the Marine Environment Reports so we can monitor whether interventions to address land-based pollution by the various institutions, including the regulatory agencies, are working.  I earnestly believe that the IMA has developed its capacity to conduct policy relevant research and monitoring to help arrest environmental degradation, and remain confident that this would be an effective Regional Activity Centre (RAC) for the English Speaking Caribbean under the LBS protocol.
Treating with the pollution when it gets to the ocean though is neither desirable nor sustainable, and to end, Government is ensuring that there is a comprehensive legal framework to address waste management as stipulated in our National Development Strategy, Vision 2030. 
Theme Five of Vision 2030 focuses on ‘Placing the environment at the centre of social and economic development’, understanding that the key to effective environmental management is the implementation of a comprehensive and well-coordinated system to address the many interconnected environmental issues ranging from natural resource management, waste management, pollution and chemicals management and climate change among a myriad of others.
To this end, the IMA’s sister agency, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is currently reviewing the National Environmental Policy to improve strategies for waste management, and is revising the Water Pollution Rules that addresses point source pollution.  The EMA is also developing the Waste Management Rules, the development of ambient water quality standards and the Beverage Container Rules for Trinidad and Tobago. The Ministry of Planning and Development is also in active conversation with the manufacturers and importers of Styrofoam products which constitute a significant percentage of the waste material that makes its way into our water courses. 
Permit me to also note that Trinidad and Tobago supports another regional institution that has overlapping responsibilities with the IMA in developing environmentally sound management strategies for wastes and chemicals which directly influence pollution from land based sources into the marine environment. This institution, the Basel Convention Regional Centre for Training and Technology Transfer for the Caribbean is a success story which we are very proud of and we envisage that the BCRC-Caribbean and the IMA will work closely together to ensure that the management strategies and work programmes that must be developed and delivered upon to alleviate land based sources of pollution are done.
Ladies and gentlemen, we understand the mammoth task ahead to us if we are to protect our oceans so that they can continue to provide us with opportunities for both recreation and livelihood.  The Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is committed to supporting the IMA-RAC by ensuring the availability of adequate premises needed for the work of the IMA-RAC, including the furnishing and maintenance of the premises, telecommunication facilities and other financial support, for the implementation of the regional activities assigned to IMA-RAC.  
We view this as an opportunity for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago through the IMA, to work with UNEP Caribbean Environmental Programme and other UN Environment agencies to address a key problem- land–based pollution that threatens biodiversity in our oceans, endangering our economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of our people.
As a Government, we owe no less to our citizens.  
I thank you for the courtesy of your attention.