Climate Justice: Reflections of a Trinidadian
Climate change is a major global crisis, affecting many people and communities around the world. Living in Trinidad and Tobago, a beautiful twin-island country in the Caribbean, I personally witnessed the negative effects of climate change and the injustices that go hand in hand with them. From extreme weather events to sea level rise, climate change is impacting my life and community now. As a Climate Justice leader, I speak about the impacts climate change is having on my community and advocate for five climate action steps I plan to take and encourage the global community to share their contributions as well.
Impacts of a Changing Climate
Trinidad and Tobago bear a disproportionate brunt of climate change burdens despite contributing little to overall emissions. Globally, Trinidad and Tobago make up less than 0.1% of all CO2 emissions, whereas the United States is responsible for 24%, followed by China (14%) and Russia (7%). I have witnessed an increase in extreme weather events such as hurricanes and floods, which have become more regular and intense because of climate change. These devastating events have caused damage to our natural environment, infrastructure, and people’s lives, continuing to fuel injustice related to climate change. An early memory of mine was the 2010 floods that paralyzed our nation. Torrential rains and insufficient drainage systems caused severe destruction, family displacement, loss of life, and disruption of essential services. The majority of those affected lived in impoverished communities that lacked the resources to deal with such disasters.
Lime with Raeann is a blog series dedicated to sharing a Trini perspective on sustainability and environmental justice topics. Raeann Gervais is an environmental biologist from Trinidad working as a fellow with Willamette Partnership. She has a degree in Environmental Science and Sustainable Technology from the University of the West Indies and is part of the Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy.
Why lime? Transformative sustainability and environmental justice is going to take all of us working together over multiple generations. Much of the work is extremely urgent and challenging, yet a true paradigm shift requires us to share knowledge, experience, and ideas across cultures and between friends over a lime. Learn more about liming here.
Similarly in 2018, the Prime Minister declared a national disaster after heavy rains caused severe flooding. A section of the highway was completely submerged or collapsed, cutting off connection from the north side of the island to the south. My classes at the University of the West Indies were canceled for a week because I and others living on the Southside couldn’t get to school.
Furthermore, the rising sea levels caused by climate change pose an immediate threat to small island countries like Trinidad and Tobago. As a coastal country, our vulnerability to saltwater intrusion, erosion, and coastal flooding has significantly increased. Our vibrant coral reefs, crucial for coastal protection and livelihoods, are bleaching and dying at an alarming rate. Mangrove forests, vital for coastal resilience, are disappearing at an alarming rate as temperatures rise and storms intensify. This ecological disruption has taken a toll on our biodiversity, with several species teetering on the verge of extinction, including the critically endangered West Indian manatee. This environmental degradation, worsened by climate change, further contributes to the injustices faced by our people.
As an agricultural country, Trinidad and Tobago relies on crop cultivation for survival and income. Erratic weather patterns have introduced unpredictability into our vital agriculture sector. Prolonged droughts, intense rainfall events, and invasive pests have impacted our farmers’ ability to grow crops, leading to food scarcity, increased food prices, and increased dependence on imports.
5 Steps Towards Climate Action
Countries that have contributed most to greenhouse gas emissions need to step up and commit to solutions to climate change mitigation and resilience if we are going to make a significant difference globally. In addition to policy work, I feel that taking personal steps is empowering and can contribute to the fight against climate change. Here are some steps I plan to take in the future and I encourage you to reflect on your commitments.
1. Individual Responsibility:
As an individual, I recognize that my carbon footprint contributes to climate change. By adopting a sustainable lifestyle, I can minimize my impact. This includes conserving energy, reducing waste, and embracing renewable energy sources. Additionally, I pledge to make informed consumer choices that prioritize sustainability and support businesses with environmentally friendly practices.
2. Community Engagement and Education:
I believe that empowering my local community is essential for climate change resilience. I will actively engage in environmental awareness initiatives, conducting workshops, and organizing community-driven sustainable development programs. By spreading knowledge and creating a dialogue, we can mobilize collective action and increase the resilience of vulnerable communities.
3. Political Engagement:
I recognize the importance of advocating for policy changes at local, national, and international levels. I will actively engage with policymakers, non-governmental organizations, and civil society to demand stronger climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. This entails supporting policies that promote renewable energy, environmental protection, and social justice.
4. Supporting Vulnerable Communities:
To combat climate injustice, I commit to supporting and uplifting marginalized communities. By volunteering my time and resources, I aim to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change through the implementation of sustainable practices, improvement of infrastructure, and advocacy for their voices to be heard.
5. International Solidarity:
Recognizing that climate change is a global challenge, I will stand in solidarity with other communities around the world that face similar injustices. By supporting international initiatives promoting climate justice, such as the Green Climate Fund, I can contribute to providing financial and technical assistance to nations disproportionately affected by climate change. Although climate change is a global challenge, the impacts are not distributed equally. Smaller nations like Trinidad and Tobago are experiencing the brunt of climate change despite contributing the least to greenhouse gas emissions. The disparity highlights a significant issue of climate injustice, where the countries that historically emitted the least greenhouse gases are often the most vulnerable to its consequences like rising sea levels, increased storm intensity, and loss of biodiversity.
Climate change injustice in Trinidad and Tobago has significantly impacted my life and the lives of those around me. However, I am determined to transform this adversity into an opportunity for change. By taking personal responsibility, engaging my community, advocating for policy change, supporting vulnerable communities, and standing in solidarity globally, we can create a more just and sustainable future for all. It is only through collective action that we can mitigate the impacts of climate change and prevent further injustices from being inflicted upon generations to come.