What I learned from PMs Rowley and Mottley on our environmental challenges


Originally published on Wired868 on Sunday 14 November 2021

Joy is often stolen by comparison. Trinbagonians continue to rob ourselves of potential joy because of the continued comparison of our prime minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, with the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley.  

I am also guilty because I want so much more for my country and I worry that I can see no clear direction.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley (left) and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

Both prime ministers recently addressed the 26th Annual Conference of the Parties (COP26) and discussed the impact of climate change on island economies. Ten days after their addresses, Prime Minister Mottley’s speech has had more than 335,000 views on YouTube, while Prime Minister Rowley’s speech has less than 3,000 views.

That data is instructive and should provide a moment for pause, reflection and hopefully redesigning of our strategy.

(Editor’s note: Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley gave a speech during the COP26 opening ceremony while Trinidad and Tobago Dr. Keith Rowley gave a national statement on behalf of Trinidad and Tobago, which meant both had different objectives. Barbados did not take up its opportunity to present a national speech.)

Mottley called for the leaders to ‘try harder. Try harder because our people, the climate army, the world, the planet, need our actions now—not next year, not in the next decade.

Photo: Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley speaks at the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021.
(via COP26)

How right she was then and continues to be. Trinidad and Tobago need to take action now to salvage our economy and therefore our country.

Our Prime Minister articulated a series of plans which we have embarked upon to get to net-zero carbon emissions. He reiterated that our economy is largely based on oil and gas and petrochemicals and stated that: 

“We in Trinidad and Tobago recognise our responsibility in transitioning, over reasonable and manageable time, to net zero. We have set very ambitious targets aimed at diversifying our economy. We have embarked upon ambitious plans to reduce emissions and build climate resilience, but we will need help.”

There is a lot to be joyful about here because it means that there are plans and proposals for the transformation of our economy. COP26 gave many of us a peek into the strategies of our country and the work that is being done for us to get to net zero.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley speaks at the World Leaders Summit on Climate Change in Glasgow, Scotland on 2 November 2021.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

Here’s what I learned about my country:

  • We are in the process of establishing the largest utility-scale solar renewable energy project in the Caribbean with a capacity of 112 megawatts, accounting for 10% of our power needs, and we plan to increase this complement to 30% by 2030;
  • We have developed an e-mobility policy and we are already implementing measures to phase-in electric vehicles;
  • We recognise the need to address the socio-economic issues associated with the energy transition and have developed a Just Transition of the Workforce Policy aimed at re-skilling, retooling, and developing new capacity for a low-carbon economy;
  • We are pursuing measures to facilitate investment in green hydrogen to provide green feedstock to our vibrant petrochemical industry.
  • We intend to explore the use of industry-generated CO₂ in possible carbon sequestration projects.
Photo: A young man strolls along Maracas Bay during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

The problem with these intentions is that the average citizen is unaware of them. All we see in Parliament is the daily cussing and blaming of the opposition for our current status.

Six years into the PNM’s current term in office, it is time to stop the blame game and sell us on the joy of achievement as we pursue these ambitious plans. Thank you Prime Minister Mottley for reminding us to ‘try a little harder.

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