Address at The EMA’S World Environment Day Awards

Address By His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT, SC,
President Of The Republic Of Trinidad And Tobago
At The EMA’S World Environment Day Awards
03 June, 2016

Credit must be given for outstanding contributions by our citizens and organisations, in their fight to both protect and conserve the environment we live in and the animals who share this world with us.  I must offer my heartfelt congratulations to the, Green Leaf Awardees and the continuing efforts of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to safeguard our environment, wildlife and natural wonders.  The fight to preserve and protect our environment and its wildlife is a good, honourable and noble fight, not a Government or political fight but a national, regional and international one, one that is generational and equally as constant.  Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon in celebrating World Environmental Day 2016 yesterday (Sunday 5th June,2016) admonished us all  in no uncertain manner, “On this World Environment Day, I urge people and governments everywhere to overcome indifference, combat greed and act to preserve our natural heritage for the benefit of this and future generations.”

Celebrating this day can indeed bring phenomenal awareness and sensitivity to environmental issues and wildlife conservation provided we go beyond the hype and exhilaration of this moment of celebration.  Today must not be a short lived episode. We must all be propelled by the urgency of now.  The fight to preserve the integrity of our environment is immediate.  It is no longer what you will be doing or what you intend to do in the short term, midterm or long term.  The frank question, ‘What are you doing now?’  We can draw inspiration from those environmental activists who have dedicated their lives and resources to environmental and wildlife conservation, in some cases making the ultimate sacrifice.  In Africa, the world recognised an environmental crusader, Wangari Muta Maathai, Kenyan environmental activist, who founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental and wildlife conservation, and women’s rights.  She was the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to sustainable development, democracy and peace.  Her life’s goal was to providing ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development for the world. Miss Maathai in 2007, at the Commonwealth Law Conference in Nairobi, Kenya narrated a short tale that encapsulated what I have always spoken about and believed in, the power of one to make a change.  Yes, in this case the power of one in defending and protecting this fragile environment of ours called Mother Earth.  She narrated that there was a great fire in the forest.  The elephants were thumping the ground, the lions growling, the goats all in a panic and there is this hummingbird that flies to the river scoops up two drops of water goes over the fire and drops the water and does this repeatedly.  The lion growls, “Why are you wasting your time? Dropping two drops of water over the fire won’t put the fire out.”  The hummingbird replied, “I am doing the best I can.” The lion growled “What?”  The Hummingbird replied, “I am doing the best I can.” and the hummingbird continued to fly back and forth.  The elephant seeing what was taking place ran to the river and scooped up gallons of water in its trunk and he was doing the best that he could to put out the fire.  Miss Maathai stated a simple, incontrovertible message found in this tale, get involved, invoke the power of one, and make a difference, however small the difference may be.

In Trinidad and Tobago, we have many labouring in the trenches to ensure a viable and sustainable ecological patrimony for our generations to come.  I can recall the passionate writing of Heather Dawn Harrera, and the committed Journalists Paolo Kernahan and Robert Clarke and of course I cannot forget two prime activists in the form of Molly Gaskin, Curator and Founder of the Pointe-a-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust, the second in the world that celebrated its 50th anniversary late last year and Gary Aboud, Corporate Secretary of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS).  Ms Molly Gaskin and her team have put in a significant amount of work into replenishing different species at The Wild Fowl Trust, our Scarlet Ibis, the Black-Bellied Whistling Tree Duck, Wild Moscovies and the blue and gold Macaws.  This breeding programme has improved the survival of animals in the wild and has increased their populations because they are kept safe and away from easy access by humans.  Their efforts in research, breeding and translocation of endangered waterfowl and wetland birds is truly commendable, praiseworthy and an inspiration to us all. Ladies and Gentlemen, it is no longer about protecting man from beast but rather about protecting the beast from man.  The roles have now been reversed.  The team led by Molly Gaskin and  Ms Carolyn Sheppard have opened  their doors to pre-schoolers, secondary schools and even tertiary educational institutes who wish to take a lesson out of the traditional classroom setting.  At the Wild Fowl Trust, biology and environmental studies come alive and education no longer has to be static.  Experiments are conducted and learning becomes easier when students immerse themselves in nature.  The Trust continues to be the preferred choice of teachers when it comes to school based assessments as students can conduct their experiments in a peaceful serene environment.

Just Saturday gone in a letter he penned to a daily newspaper under the rubric “No hypocrisy on World Environment Day” Gary Aboud mapped out numerous suggestions aimed at protecting ecosystems from human degradation.  In his strategies, he conveyed the message that the fight for environmental responsibility is one steeped in hard diligent work over time.  His ecological activism might be an irritant to the politician, the corporate world, the Petrochemical industry but one unmistakeable feature of his environmental fight is that his in my humble opinion is a committed, genuine and consistent one.

Often in the daily press, we read and hear about wholesale destruction of forest reserves, concomitant with illegal quarrying and we all know where illegal quarrying is taking place and something must be done about it.  I am referring to places like Maracas, Blanchisseuse, Valencia, Moruga, Cedros and that horrible extraction called sand mining taking place on both islands damaging the beauty of our beaches.  There needs to better policing strategies with regard to quarrying and extraction in Trinidad and Tobago and by policing strategies, I mean detection, charges being laid and successful prosecutions.  The misuse and wanton exploitation by illegal entrepreneurs must be immediately abated and this business of curry favour or, turning a blind eye simply will not cut it. Gary Aboud in his article in the Saturday paper stated and I quote, “In its State of Environment Report 2004 the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) recommended that our leaders disallow further quarrying within the Northern Range as studies have indicated that quarrying has impacted negatively on the water quality of Santa Cruz/ San Juan, Arima and North Oropouche rivers.”  No fight is a perfect fight and errors can be made in an honourable fight but show me a perfect fight and I will show you heaven.

The abuse to the world’s environment in the form of deforestation, illegal quarrying, climate change and wildlife extinction is very real and we must engage our environmentalists in a proactive, meditative way and don’t discredit the messenger who is often the scientist.  In an article to Live Science, Expert Voices Ross Holt and Professor Chris Field stated, “Human caused climate change is real.  Attacking the integrity of scientist will not further our understanding of what is happening to our planet.  Similarly, efforts to undermine research findings for ideological reasons are a confusing disservice to the public.  Policy makers certainly have a responsibility to exercise appropriate oversight but thinly veiled political attempts to discredit researchers can have a chilling effect on the scientific discovery that is our best hope for improving people’s lives.”

The onus and responsibility is on every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago to ensure that in any way possible, they must affect change in the society with regard to environmental conservation and wildlife preservation.  We have grown obsessed with cutting down trees, the result of commercial activity and squatting.  The hills are being made bare and denuded.  Deforestation brings with it numerous negative effects like erosion and flooding, increase in greenhouse gases and loss of habitat for different species.  If trees are being cut down, you must replant one for every one that is removed. A world crisis looms.  In South America, the rainforests are responsible for 20% of Earth’s oxygen supply and they are disappearing at a rate of 4 hectares a decade.

We are often our worst enemies by the creation of manmade disasters that are preventable and when they occur, manageable.  Oil spills have been a lifelong occurrence in all the oil towns of deep south Trinidad and it was no different when perhaps the most egregious of manmade disasters in T&T occurred in La Brea and surrounding environs.  Our response time was less than impressive as were our containment/management capabilities.  Before receiving any report or complaint from anyone, I utilised the Office of the President to garner the best and the brightest and established expertise available in Trinidad and Tobago from UWI and UTT to provide the necessary insights into the causes, nature, extent and impact of the La Brea oil spills, including any contributing historical, regulatory, policy, compliance, operational and other factors with possible solutions.  On several occasions, I hosted consultations with this multifaceted team of experts during which members contributed perspectives based on their respective fields of knowledge, training and expertise and this they did out of their genuine love and concern for the people of La Brea and the country as a whole.  The contributions of team members were remarkably distilled in 5 naturally occurring themes:

Health and wellness
Environmental impact
Legislative and regulatory

Within two weeks of research and oversight at the La Brea site and environs, this team presented a comprehensive expert report connected to these themes free of charge.  Yes free of charge!  I subsequently presented this report publicly to the EMA and assurances were given that the report would be seriously considered.  The Office of the President was the facilitator in bringing the best and the brightest to recommend solutions.  I wish to publicly commend the following members of this Scientific Committee for their national service free of charge.

Team Member Portfolio
Prof. John Agard Head, Department of Life Sciences, UWI
Professor of Tropical Island Ecology
Dr. Fazal Ali Provost, UTT
Dr. Marlene Attzs Lecturer in Economics, UWI
Ag. Coordinator, Sustainable Economic Development Unit.
Disaster Risk Management, Sustainable Economic Development
Dr. Derrick A. Balladin Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies (UTT)
Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Environmental Modeling
Prof. Goutam Banerjee Atlantic LNG Chair in Environmental Engineering, UWI
Water & Wastewater Treatment, EIA & EA
Dr. Denise Beckles Lecturer, Department of Chemistry, UWI
Environmental and Analytical Chemistry
Mr. Wayne Bertrand Senior Lecturer in Practice in Petroleum Studies, UWI
Petroleum Geoscience
Dr. Donnie Videsh Boodlal Assistant Professor in Process Engineering (UTT)
Mechanical & Petroleum Engineering, Industrial Innovation Entrepreneurship and Management, environmental/energy modeling
Mr. Raymond Charles Head, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UWI
Highway Engineering, Coastal Zone Engineering & Management
Dr. Vincent Cooper Lecturer in Civil and Environmental Engineering, UWI
Environmental/Water Resources Engineering
Prof. Brian Copeland Dean, Faculty of Engineering, UWI
Dr. E. Monica Davis Lecturer in Physiology and Environmental Engineering, UWI
Respiratory Physiology; Wellness and Health Promotion; Medical Education
Dr. Derek Gay Lecturer, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UWI
Geotechnical Engineering incl. Seismic analysis, Coastal Engineering
Dr. Reia Guppy Assistant Professor / Programme Leader Marine Sciences, UTT
Marine Microecology and Microbiology
Dr. Ejae John Associate Professor Process Engineering (UTT)
Process Chemistry, Chemical Engineering
Mr. Andrew Jupiter Distinguished Fellow in Petroleum Engineering & Geosciences, UWI
Energy Sector Business and Operational Systems and Procedures
Mr. Lugard Evans David Layne Lecturer, UTT
Chemical Engineering
Dr. Rean Maharaj Assistant Professor Process Engineering, UTT
Chemistry, Thermodynamics, Environmental, Health and Safety and Material Science
Dr. Azad  Mohammed Lecturer, Department of Life Sciences, UWI
Ms. Charmaine O’Brien-Delpesh Lecturer, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UWI.
Coastal Engineering and Management
Mrs. Vivian Rambarath-Parasram Assistant Professor / Programme Leader Maritime Studies, UTT
Maritime Law
Prof. Rajendra Ramlogan Professor, Department of Management Studies, UWI
International Law and Legal Issues in the Environment and Sustainable Development
Prof. Indar Ramnarine Dean, Faculty of Science and Technology, UWI.
Professor of Fisheries & Aquaculture
Prof. Valerie Stoute Vice Provost, Graduate Studies and Research, UTT
Prof. Winston Suite Vice Provost, Planning and Development, UTT

This report was given no public traction in the daily press.  I guess this simple act of patriotism was not sensational enough.  It would be remiss of me if I did not bring to your attention as a Senior Counsel, certain legislative imperatives that are required, the need for a legal framework and enabling legislation to give credence and effect to key international and United Nations Conventions and Protocols that can facilitate appropriate response mechanisms for oil or chemical spills especially from vessels impacting on the environment and wildlife.  It is my understanding that the draft Shipping Marine Bill 2007 is still embedded in the Parliament.  I am aware that there have been various attempts to have implemented enabling legislation since 1997.  The proffered committee report stated and I quote, “To date applicable legal framework has not been developed and therefore the corresponding institutional framework remains deficient. While there is a national oil spill contingency plan in place, there is need to be examined how this can be improved upon, by referencing this international legal regime.”  Quoting further from the said Academic Insights into the La Brea Oil Spills, “The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has offered many legal frameworks that will allow individual States to participate in oil spill response regimes that facilitate cover for liability, compensation and effective cooperation in dealing with oil spills.  Trinidad and Tobago has signed on to many of these Conventions, but the local legislation that will allow us to ratify these Conventions and Protocols have not been implemented.  Without the local framework, this country does not enjoy basic compensation regimes facilitated by ratification of the key marine pollution liability and compensation Conventions.  Contracting parties to these Conventions are able to access Funds that are activated to respond and make compensation immediately available to victims.  It is about environmental Justice, a concept that espouses that, “It is the right of every citizen regardless of age, race, gender, social class or other factors to adequate protection from environmental hazards.”  Response mechanisms are also built to facilitate effective cooperation amongst institutions for response, coordination and cooperation.  The fact that a National response to this oil spill has not been activated or orchestrated points to major deficiencies in the legal framework.”  The Disaster Measures Act (DMA) is very inadequate to deal with manmade disasters and there is need for a legislative regime that seriously deals with manmade disasters coming out of our various industrial estates that have the potential to decimate both population and agrarian areas around same.

Proactive suggestions often go a begging in this land of ours. In 2013, in my World Environment Day address, I felt that a national initiative was needed to rid the use of plastic bags in this Republic to protect our sea life and wildlife and that it could have begun in our sister isle, Tobago being more manageable environmentally, to be the genesis of being an environmentally friendly Nation and as a further catalyst for an environmentally friendly T&T and Caribbean.  Three years have elapsed and what better way to demonstrate my firm belief in this initiative than quoting what I said three years ago “One area which I would like to suggest is the eradication of the use of plastic bags in our supermarkets and retail outlets.”  The scourge of the international retail trade is the plastic bag.  I have noted the measures taken in the People’s Republic of China, for example, where five years ago, shops, supermarkets and retail outlets were prohibited from handing out free plastic bags and the production, sale and use of ultra-thin plastic bags under 0.025 millimetres thick were banned.  This singular measure has resulted in a two-thirds reduction in the use of plastic bags in these establishments and the saving of millions of tonnes of plastic and of the oil which the plastic bags consume.  For the sake of our environment and of our children and our children’s children, it may be a good time to consider going back to the ‘old time days’, where we walked out of the supermarket with a brown paper bag.  As stated in a Native American proverb, ‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”  Our sister isle is already a giant in the region in the sphere of environmental responsibility, as the ANR Robinson International Airport is the first in the Caribbean region to be managed by environmentally friendly measures.  Why not continue on that path and let Tobago be the standard to which every other Nation in the region aspires?

The world now faces the ravages of climate change and everyday it worsens often because of disregard by many.  A culture of urgency needs to be adopted by every Nation dealing with climate change. In the Caribbean, this is an area of grave concern as it relates to Small Island Developing States (SIDS).  The effects are both social and economic.  Chronic illnesses and diseases like Chikungunya, Zika, Dengue and Yellow fever are expected to continue to increase with warmer temperatures.  For example, dengue incubates for 12 days at 30 degrees centigrade and 7 days at 32-35 degrees centigrade and higher temperatures are therefore linked to dengue outbreaks.  Lack of water resources can result in poor sanitation.  Flooding is also set to increase if the amount of storms and hurricanes continue to increase as they are expected with climate change.

Ambassador Diann Black-Layne, Director Department of Environment in Antigua at the 15th Conference of Presidents and Governor Generals in March 2016 in her treaties to us on the climate change impacts on Small Island Developing States, said “Economically, Caribbean tourist destinations face the risk of losing significant revenue with the rise of sea level.  With gravitational pull and geophysical factors the Caribbean region will be subjected to greater sea level rise.  Resorts and hotels on the shoreline in the region are at great risk of losing their assets to the sea as the sea levels continue to rise because of increased sea surface temperature and ocean currents.”  She further stated that total land and beach loss due to sea level rise on the North West coast, Antigua comprised of beach loss of 21574.60sq. m. and land loss of 78388.99sq. m.  In the same way that Ambassador Diann Black-Layne is making public the crisis in Antigua, we in Trinidad and Tobago need to be informed of the growing crisis brought on by climate change. How many of us are aware, in Icacos South Trinidad we have experienced the might and fury of the sea as it has swallowed a portion of the roadway at an estimated rate of one metre per year.  Similarly, in Icacos, Los Iros, Palo Seco land loss is evident.  In Guayaguayare, Manzanilla and Toco, Pigeon Point in Tobago and in the area of Speyside climate change and its effects brought on by man’s environmental misfeasance are evident.  Trinidad for example can be described visually as a boot.  Well Ladies and gentlemen, some of our toes are missing!  Pollution and contamination are ravaging our fish stocks.  I cannot help but remember that song by Marvin Gaye written in the year 1971, 45 years ago “Mercy Mercy Me Ecology.”  Had we really listened 45 years ago, we would not be where we are today. We therefore need to listen now.
“Woo ah, mercy mercy me
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be, no no
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north and south and east
Woo, mercy, mercy me, mercy
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be, no no
Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury
Ah, oh mercy, mercy me
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be, no no
Radiation underground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying
Oh mercy, mercy me
Ah things ain’t what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land
How much more abuse from man can she stand?”
Penultimately, I was to implore all citizens who must become an environmentalist, not only Judges and Lawyers, to concern themselves with climate law.  Arm yourselves with the international legal instruments, Conventions and Protocols governing climate change, whether it is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and very importantly, the Paris Agreement that was adopted last December and signed off in April this year.  As with any international agreement, the Paris Climate Agreement has to be interpreted and applied by State Parties.  Disputes are likely to arise among State Parties in their attempts to give credence and implement the provisions of the Agreement.  The actual operationalisation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement is critical and all citizens must involve themselves in the process.  This is especially so, as the imperative of protecting inalienable human rights, is being asserted as a fundamental principle of global efforts to address climate change.
It is also worth bearing in mind, that the dangerous impacts of climate change are being increasingly linked to human displacement, conflict and the continuity of international peace and security.  One glaring impacting example is the famine, water scarcity and eventual internal displacement which occurred as a consequence of the drought in Syria.  The resulting unrest and displacement of persons is seen as the initial trigger of the conflict which is still raging in that country and spreading throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa and Europe.

The governments in the Caribbean region will be called upon to respond to international benchmark standards and practices and we must therefore be prepared to meet the challenges that await us.  I wish to humbly suggest that Caribbean territories look into establishing a Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change to specifically deal with growing environmental concerns.  Climate Change in the curriculum needs to be incorporated comprehensively and not as a mere addendum so that proper environmental practices can be inculcated in our children from a young age and also so that young ones are made aware of international ecological issues.  At the CARICOM level, a desk should possibly be established to ensure the policing of territories in their climate change policy implementation and practices.  To ensure a proper collaborative effort from all states, CARICOM has to play an integral leadership role.

In closing, I wish to congratulate all environmental warriors including, you the Green Leaf Awardees, once more for your yeomen service to this great Republic.  I urge you to spread the word and encourage you mother, father, brother, sister, neighbour or friend to join the fight against environmental degradation, deforestation and wildlife destruction.  This must be a united fight and a battle that must be won for our future generations.

I thank you.