World Environmental Day 2019, a UN-declared consciousness-raising focus of 45 years, meets this country in the throes of environmental challenges on many fronts.
Air pollution, the specific focus of this year’s commemoration, is of significance to us, the most industrialised country in the Commonwealth Caribbean, with attendant environmental problems related to decades of production of oil, natural gas and petrochemicals. The country suffers also from air pollution relating to the production of rum, soap, paint and wood products.
Furthermore, the fact that Trinidad and Tobago has the highest motorisation (vehicles per capita) level in Latin America and the Caribbean results in the transportation sector having a significant impact on air quality. The country needs to address the environmental implications of the energy and transport sectors, according to a UN State of the Environment country report in 2000.
Beyond the 2019 theme, noise pollution remains a stubborn environmental problem; it is among the most frequent complaints made to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) and is a pervasive environmental concern.
The EMA has flagged a decline in our major natural ecosystems. The Authority’s 2012 report details the loss of forest cover between 1990 and 2010, largely due to land-use pressures. In stark terms, the EMA pointed out that, “Currently, the primary forest cover is estimated at 32 per cent of the land area for Trinidad and 54 per cent for Tobago. Natural forests provide the majority of the sawn logs to the timber industry, which contributed TT$28 million in 2011 to the economy. This ecosystem provides water purification, flood regulation, soil retention and carbon sequestration/storage services. These forests also provide for hunting of game species, the most popular being the Agouti.” According to the report, within recent years wildlife populations have been decreasing, while the number of registered hunters has been increasing.
The picture of Trinidad’s two savanna ecosystems is not much better; while the Aripo Savanna has not been seriously degraded, said the EMA, one-third of natural vegetation in the Erin Savanna has been damaged by the planting of Caribbean pine. Furthermore, the invasive species Acacia mangium, has been out-competing the natural flora in the Erin Savanna where it is colonising the undisturbed areas of the savanna as well as areas disturbed by pine. Wetland ecosystems are also decreasing in size, reports the EMA.
Mangrove and marine environments are suffering similarly.
An up-tick in environmental activism is noticeable and welcome, as are the numerous policy documents: the National Environmental Policy, National Climate Change Policy, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, Working for Sustainable Development in Trinidad and Tobago Policy, Comprehensive Economic Development Plan for Tobago, National Forest Policy, National Integrated Water Resources Management Policy, National Water Resources Management Strategy, National Wetland Policy, National Protected Areas Policy and National Action Programme to Combat Land Degradation in Trinidad and Tobago.
Sustained public education activities across the country and efficient enforcement of environment laws are the areas in which the country is making insufficient advancement and therefore an appropriate focus in national conservation efforts.