Interview: Tijjani Muhammad-Bande

To what extent are countries like Trinidad and Tobago exposed to risks caused by climate change?

TIJJANI MUHAMMAD-BANDE: The findings of the “Global Warming of 1.5°C” report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were clear regarding the risks that small island developing states (SIDS) face due to climate change, citing the escalating impact of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, biodiversity loss and slowing economic growth. The report underlined the need for urgent action to cut carbon emissions.

The Caribbean is experiencing changes that are putting lives, livelihoods and economies at risk, such as hotter days and nights, more intense rainfall, more and longer periods of drought. The most recent category 5 hurricanes in Dominica, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas are fresh in our minds. They resulted in economic and non-economic damages, including the loss of lives, culture and biodiversity, as well as displacement.

For T&T the unpredictable weather, natural disasters, increased flooding and loss of coastal habitats associated with climate change will further exacerbate development challenges. Rising temperatures, for example, can increase soil aridity and decrease crop yields. Higher humidity can facilitate the spread of waterborne diseases and infections spread by insects. Transformative action in the energy and transport sectors with a focus on adaptation and mitigation is crucial to expand development horizons. These efforts must be accompanied by communication and advocacy initiatives, particularly those focused on raising awareness of how individuals can contribute to development in the region.

How important is the ratification of the Paris Agreement to countries in the Caribbean?

MUHAMMAD-BANDE: Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the world, threatening its very existence. Caribbean states often bear the most immediate and severe consequences, and are subject to a greater recurrence of natural disasters that impede developmental gains and create additional debt burdens. With rising sea levels, for example, coastal areas are at risk of being partially or fully submerged.

It is commendable that all Caribbean states ratified the Paris Agreement, signalling a strong commitment to tackling climate change. The agreement represented a breakthrough with its financing, loss and damage, mitigation, and adaptation targets, as well as the national determined contributions. Indeed, SIDS were leaders in laying out an ambitious long-term goal of reducing temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions.

The ratification of the Paris Agreement is almost universal, and the focus now is on implementation and raising the level of ambition. The Caribbean should be recognised for its efforts to develop implementation plans focused on building climate-resilient economies. These efforts require transformational change and must focus on areas like sustained climate financing, mainstreaming climate change adaptation strategies in development plans, risk management and disaster risk reduction, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and the adaptation of renewable energy sources.

What is the role of education in increasing awareness about renewable energies?

MUHAMMAD-BANDE: Educating and building awareness around renewables is key in the fight against global warming. The potential of sustainable energy and its contribution to enhancing the well-being of citizens, the environment and the economy is a game changer. As an educator I strongly believe that energy transformation goes beyond increasing awareness in existing school curricula to providing job opportunities. By increasing the scope of study dedicated to solar, wind and other renewables, we will support highly labour-intensive job creation. Energy transformation alone would result in a net gain of 11.6m jobs. Overall capacity building, and technology transfer and financing are necessary to enhance SIDS’ ability to respond to climate change.