The United Nations´ (UN) Bonn Climate Change Conference – June 2015 are meant to pave the way ahead of the major COP21 UN Climate Negotiations in Paris in December 2015. While these negotiations, meant to configure a historic international agreement on climate change., have been going at a slow-pace, there is growing momentum that a long-term goal to reduce global emissions will salvage the UN climate talks in Paris.
Currently, 127 countries support a long-term goal which aims to limit global warming to within 2 degree celsius (3.6 degrees fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. However, the questions linger – how ambitious will this goal be? and what year should we aim for? Although remaining below this threshold may not avoid significant unfavourable effects, exceeding it will lead us down a road where impacts of climate change become more intense, rampant, and irremediable. If we continue to deny the effects of human actions on the climate, there are projections that we will cross into a climate system that is dangerously volatile.
In light of this bleak situation, many of the world’s most vulnerable countries, such as Samoa, Ethiopia and the Maldives have shown strong support for rapid emissions cuts needed to get to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as they recognise the desperate need for emissions reductions and the role this plays in stabilsation of the climate.
Many others support the idea of a global long-term goal of ‘zero emissions’ somewhere in the second half of the century. This would significantly reduce the chances of the world limiting emissions below the 2 degree target.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, any delay could put the world’s health in jeopardy. If global emissions were cut to zero by 2075, they predict that we would only have a 66 per cent chance of keeping global temperature rise within 2 degrees.
The countries currently most in favour of a global long-term goal are those who have domestic or national long-term goals already in place.
This includes large developed nations such as the UK, and the USA, who have long term goals of cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 83 per cent by 2050. However, there are many countries who have set out to get to zero emissions by 2050. These include Bhutan, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ethiopia, Maldives, Monaco, Norway, and Sweden.
Trinidad and Tobago´s situation
Trinidad and Tobago, as the main exporter of oil in the Caribbean region and the main producer of liquefied natural gas in Latin America and the Caribbean, depends heavily on the extraction of hydrocarbons as its current main source of income comes from the extraction of oil and gas for export. The government of Trinidad and Tobago will need to restrict dependence on this source of income if it is to have any hope of truly developing and enforcing a renewable energy focus. Emphasis needs to be placed on research and development into the feasibility of various sources of renewable energy and implementation needs to occur quickly. However, sensitisation of the local citizens is key as difficulty in transition also comes from the fact that as an oil and gas-producing country, energy costs in Trinidad and Tobago are extremely low. So while solar, wind, and hydropower energy is catching on in other islands of the Caribbean where electricity is up to six times more expensive than in Trinidad and Tobago, we lag far behind.
Although there have been efforts to move toward renewable energy through a number of community projects lead by the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, the use of compressed natural gas in the transportation sector, and the installation of solar powered lights in public spaces, this has not made a significant dent. Movement toward renewable energy in this country will require considerable collaboration between the government and the people. It has been done in other developing countries and it can be done in Trinidad and Tobago, where up to 2012 99 per cent of local energy was still gas-based.
It is not simply a matter of environmental benefit that Trinidad and Tobago needs to catch up with the renewable energy trend. It also must consider the effect that the global shift to renewable energy will have on its economy and see that there is no choice but to divest, and do so in innovative ways that promotes economic growth. After all, Trinidad and Tobago is ranked second in the world for its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita, producing an estimated 53 million tonnes of CO2 annually, with 80 per cent coming from the petrochemical and power generation industry.
Learning from developing country models
Bhutan, a least developing country that is particularly vulnerable to climate change and famed for putting its Gross National Happiness ahead of its Gross Domestic Product, has also found that through a rapid switch to renewable energy, they can bring clean energy to the whole country. They have also looked into how to balance restricting their current source of income from mining, balancing job growth alongside sustainable development. They are now discussing schemes to cap mining industry emissions as well closely monitoring their carbon footprint.
Costa Rica is also aiming to be carbon neutral by 2021. By the beginning of 2015 this Caribbean nation had already become the first country in the world to be powered by 100% renewable energy for 75 days straight.
These investments in renewable energy have also enabled them to bring the energy price down by between 7-15 per cent in the past year.
They have also focussed on improving their transport sector, the last significant emitter. In 1997 they began increasing taxes on petrol, using the added income to incentivise forest conservation and biodiversity management. This payment system has been so effective it has resulted in a dramatic reversal of what was once the fastest deforestation rate in the world.
If we can conceive it we can achieve it
Similarly, Denmark has committed to transform its current energy system. Currently, Denmark receives 19 per cent of its energy from renewables. However, there are now decarbonisation plans with checkpoints for 2020, 2035 and 2050. Initially, they aim to increase wind power and biomass to achieve a 33 per cent renewable energy target by 2020.
Alongside this, the city of Copenhagen has committed to carbon neutrality by 2025. They combine energy efficiency measures with the now 249 miles of cycle routes and a network of heating and cooling pipes in buildings that has reduces the systems carbon emissions by nearly 70 per cent, and electricity consumption by 80 per cent.
As Frank Jenson, Mayor of Copenhagen has argued, “we want to show that it is possible to combine growth and an increasing quality of life while reducing carbon emissions and meeting environmental challenges”. This is similar to calls in neighbouring Oslo, where its Mayor Fabian Stang plans to “move Oslo from a low carbon towards a zero emission city.”
Jenson and Stang however can’t do it alone. Here, Denmark has built on momentum in regional areas. This includes grassroots movements in areas such as Sønderborg which has reduced emissions by 25 per cent over the last 7 years.
This balance of national, urban and regional action has proven a powerful collective solution to reducing national emissions.
As Tony de Brum, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Marshall Islands, argues, “National policies, and public and private sector investment decisions must be based on the premise that the fossil fuel era is coming to an end, and the renewables revolution is here to stay.”
This puts the pressure back on the international stage where de Brum believes we must build a long-term goal into both negotiations within the UN climate talks and the upcoming discussions on the Sustainable development goals.
Without a strong long term goal, the Paris negotiations could be seen by many as a failure. With it, the UN climate negotiations could regain its strength, and become a driving force of global efforts to end the reliance on fossil fuels.
Time to commit
The time to commit was yesterday. You see, time does this thing where it impatiently waits on no one. The economy is slowing down, and the environment is being degraded at a n increasing rate. The government needs to act now and act swiftly. Yes we are a small country and yes we have limitations but living the easy life, paying low rates for energy, and wasting it must not continue. Placing the emissions of Trinidad and Tobago in the global context may seem insignificant but perpetuation of that mindset will only lead to higher emissions, further obsession with fossil fuels, and an environment and economy that are not sustainable for the future.
Dizzanne Billy, 24, is a member of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), where she works in the area of education and awareness of the public on environment and development issues and is an advocate for climate change action.