In Trinidad and Tobago, local NGOs are recommending that environmental restoration be a key focus of the government’s post-pandemic “road to recovery”.
Omar Mohammed, Chief Executive Officer of The Cropper Foundation, said the environment will play a critical role in the post-COVID-19 landscape. He said that pandemic has shown the importance of human wellness in the drive for development and called for the environment to be the focal point of the agenda.
“While the Foundation applauds the government of Trinidad & Tobago on this foresight, it is also incumbent upon our organisation – and society as a whole – to ask why the issues of climate change and environmental sustainability are not mentioned as core concepts of the development paradigm for this nation moving forward,” Mohammed said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is our environmental and climate reality sped up tenfold. Soon, massive shocks to healthcare and other social systems will be mirrored by ever-increasing extreme weather events in the Caribbean; the global energy transitions away from fossil fuels; and a continued reliance on old models of production and consumption will leave us more at risk of the impacts of degraded natural systems on human well-being, such as collapsing fisheries, loss of agricultural yields and emergent diseases like COVID-19,” he explained.
“We urge the Hon. Prime Minister to fully embrace the commitments made in Vision 2030 of putting the environment at the centre of social and economic development. We must decide what type of development paradigm provides for what we as people need to live a good life, without overshooting the environmental boundaries that make life possible,” he concluded.
The Cropper Foundation made several recommendations, such as:
- Focus on existing and pipeline opportunities in the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency sectors in reviewing the Government’s capital expenditure and private sector initiatives. Research indicates that energy efficiency and renewable energy industries can generate up to three times (3x) more jobs than the traditional fossil fuel industry for the equivalent financial investments, as well as contributing to the decarbonisation of the economy.
- Immediately mandate the Green Fund to fast track investment into the Restoration Economy when identifying and supporting job opportunities in the economy. The Restoration Economy refers to activities that lead to ecological improvement, strengthening of ecosystem health, and support well-functioning ecosystems – including reforestation and the expansion of agroecological systems to mitigate our national food security crisis. (Note: this is actually a constricted definition of the restoration economy, which also included renewal of the built environment.) This operationalization should focus primarily on local communities, building opportunity and resilience from the ground up.
- Tie Private sector investments/jumpstarts to sustainability. Investment should enforce commitments to the Paris Agreement and T&T’s Nationally Determined Contributions to reduce Carbon emissions by 15% across transportation, power generation and industry by 2030. Similarly, investments in food production should also be tied to building resilience of agricultural ecosystems, climate-smart practices and food safety through infrastructure development and input accessibility, as well as farmer training. In doing so we should ensure that no rollbacks in environmental protection are attempted when ‘removing constraints to private investment and initiatives.
They said the committee “must focus on the advancement of a 21st-century economy that is linked to ecological and climate limits and decoupled from carbon.”
Other suggestions include prioritising the promotion of a “circular economy” (which is a repackaging of the “restoration economy” concept introduced in 2002) and climate-smart agriculture, along with renewable energy/energy efficiency to drive policy-making, as well as the input of the public in planning the way forward.
“Any recovery plan must be focused on catalysing an ecologically sustainable and climate-smart economy that makes us more resilient and adaptable to the imminent impacts of our collective prior inaction on environmental degradation and climate change,” they concluded.
What is a circular economy?
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.
The current system, defined as a linear economy, means companies create products which are bought by consumers then thrown away after use.
Creating a circular economy would involve a change in the design of business operations which seeks to eliminate waste and pollution and keep products and materials in use.