Trinidad and Tobago strikes a sustainable balance

Trinidad and Tobago strikes a sustainable balance

Trinidad and Tobago’s impressive economic growth over the last decade or so generates inevitable questions about how that development can be maintained in the right, responsible way

Small island nations face very specific challenges when it comes to their sustainability, particularly in the environmental sphere. Waste management and limited land resources are common concerns. Climate change is another worry, given the potentially devastating effects of rising sea levels – and in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, there is the added hazard of the nearby Caribbean hurricane belt.

Non-renewable energy and tourism have driven the country’s growth in recent years, but the government is aware that these industries tend to have a large carbon footprint and that diversification is crucial. The environment ministry needs only to glance at the figures to see the task at hand: although the country accounts for less than one percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, it is the world’s second-largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions on a per-capita basis.

In 2012, Trinidad and Tobago attracted around US$2.5 billion (£1.5 billion) in foreign investment, most of this from the oil and gas industries. The energy sector’s contribution to GDP has risen from 27 percent in 1985 to around 45 percent today.

The country’s strategy is moving away from traditional hydrocarbons towards renewable energy sources and those with a lighter footprint
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“It’s very challenging,” admits Ramona Ramdial, minister of environment and water resources. “You have to look at the revenue generation of the country and strike a balance there somehow.”

That balance stretches into the social arena, which along with the environment and economy is traditionally seen as one of the three pillars of sustainable development. Despite the economic strides that have been made in recent years, inequality, crime and a high poverty rate are problems; so too are deficiencies in the health system, with infant mortality, maternal mortality and HIV infections all obvious areas for improvement.

But the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in 2012 helped Trinidad and Tobago to reinforce commitments it first made in this area two decades ago, along with other so-called Small Island Developed States (SIDS). In 1994, the UN-backed Barbados Plan of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS (BPOA) led to a strategy focusing on priority areas for these nations: natural resources and environmental threats, economic and social issues, governance and implementation. With the third international SIDS conference to be held in Samoa in September and 2014 marking exactly 20 years since the BPOA initiative, this year will be an ideal opportunity for Trinidad and Tobago to show how far its sustainable development programme has come.

A shift in energy policy

In environmental policy, the country has drawn up a strategy that moves away from traditional hydrocarbons towards renewable energy sources and those with a lighter footprint. Initiatives include broad gestures such as the approval by parliament of a national climate change policy in 2011, and talks between the government and the United States with a view to establishing a regional renewable energy centre in Trinidad and Tobago that would foster green initiatives in the Caribbean. But there are also more tangible measures afoot, such as the planning of an EU-backed wind farm and the introduction of solar power for the lighting of police surveillance bays along highways.

Bhoendradatt Tewarie, minister of planning and sustainable development, sees Trinidad and Tobago’s roads and transport as a major priority. “Our main challenge, being an energy-rich country and having the transport infrastructure that we do is that most people travel by car, but what we are doing is moving to conversion to compressed natural gas,” he says.

We must deal with the environment in a holistic, aggressive manner.

Ramona Ramdial Minister of State, Ministry of Environment and Water Resources

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Those who travel across Trinidad and Tobago are struck by the diversity of its regions. The Port of Spain area alone represents some of this variety, flanked by the lush, relatively affluent region of Chaguaramas and the culturally rich but socially disadvantaged East Port of Spain.

The East Port of Spain Company is a state enterprise charged with transforming and regenerating the latter area through urban renewal, planning and social projects. Deborah Thomas, managing director of the company, believes that challenges such as the high crime rate are linked to the physical state of East Port of Spain. “If we can change the environment, perhaps we can influence the behaviour,” she says.

A new engine of growth

Chaguaramas, which sits on the north-west corner of Trinidad, was for decades occupied by the United States for military purposes. But its 14,000 acres of land and five offshore islands now enjoy a high degree of autonomy from the central government. With tropical rainforests, peaceful bays, a business-friendly environment and its own highly-developed security system, it is positioning itself to become a major tourist hub over the next decade – and a new engine of national growth.

“We want to partner with private investors, with the right investors to build our brand,” says Joycelin Hargreaves, managing director of the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA). “That will be our focus over the coming years.”

The peninsula’s low crime rate and ripeness for investment might suggest it runs the risk of being an elitist oasis with a heavy environmental impact. But CDA insists Chaguaramas is striving for across-the-board sustainability, for example by bringing in people from impoverished areas to do apprenticeships and developing its tourism with a green slant, with the help of the ministry of planning and sustainable development.

Chaguaramas’ success over the coming years in delivering on these aims – and East Port of Spain’s ability to resolve its social challenges – will be of great interest to those who hope to see the entire country forge a sustainable future.

We want to take our model of production to the Caribbean – then internationally.

Earle Baccus Former CEO of E-IDCOT

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Clean, green, safe, serene

On the south-western peninsula of Tobago sits the Cove Eco-Industrial Business Park (CEIBP), a newly completed project which aims to spearhead an effective marriage of clean energy and industrial investment. CEIBP is the first of several business parks being planned by the Eco-Industrial Development Company of Tobago (E-IDCOT), a private limited firm set up by the Tobago House of Assembly in 2009.

E-IDCOT aims to promote the environmentally sustainable production of goods and services on the island and its former CEO, Earle Baccus, says the parks are looking for a specific type of investor.

“The first types of companies would be those that rely on clean energy and natural gas intensive operations, whether it be used for drying or processing or cooling or heating,” he says.

While Baccus says Tobago has always been seen as “clean, green, safe and serene,” E-IDCOT’s eco-friendly business park initiative is driven by the consensus on a national level that diversification is now the way forward for the economy.


This article was published 30 January 2014
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