Even if the pandemic has not been conquered the overall vibe is about economic recovery. The thing is no one knows what shape that will take. Will it be the wild wild west of development; a buildfest of growth? We trust, hope, that government will manage the situation and position the country into a comparative or competitive position. But with whom?

If we’re thinking local, much is riding on the hope that government can sell the one thing we do have; natural gas fired infrastructure so as to enable national engineering and manufacturing capacity. The caveat being other countries in the region moving fast to sweeten offerings in the light of their own gas discoveries.

Additionally. All the talk of growth seems independent of, devoid of evidence that development going foward will not negatively impact the natural environment. Which in essence will force remediation expenditure on to future generations. Are we acting in haste in 2020 then?

Probably. Let’s look at Tobago to make the case. This island has a population comparable in size to St Lucia. It uses close to four percent of T&T’s annual budget, the sum this year is substantially more though, given state expenditure has doubled.

Unlike Trinidad however Tobago’s recovery prospects are not tied to the petroleum industry. The smaller island is betting on tourism even as it uses central government funding to tide over, to shore up its hospitality plant. The thinking is, respite will come when international travel opens up.

What is importunate is the bet is being made with borrowed money, a bill to be paid by another generation of Tobago resident. Is this fair? Has enough thought been put into the action of bailout funding for the tourism sector? It would seem there is no proper answer forthcoming - and for good reason; COVID19. The pandemic has forced the prioritisation of life over every other thing including ‘economy’.

Still, the drama and uncertainty of the virus is coming to a close. There are at least three credible vaccines on the horizon and economy is now the next priority. Arguably while we nod to government’s empathy to the plight of the people their responsibility is broader than applying plaster. Its about finding fixes, sustainable solutions to the social economic and environmental issues.

What’s next?

We want to keep an eye on the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly carded for 2021. It will seek to “mobilise, motivate and energise member States and stakeholders into sharing and implementing successful approaches and nature based solutions that contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the eradication of poverty and the promotion of sustainable patterns of consumption and production”.

Our pipeline of entry will be via the Hon. Camille Robinson-Regis, our Minister of Planning and Development - with responsibility ‘Environment’. Who in theory ought to be in sync with her ministerial colleagues from the region. Why is that important in the scheme of things? The short answer is Trinidad and Tobago alone cannot engineer environmental fixes for the region’s existing problems.

Anything else?

There is that virtual meeting in December see programme- where Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Uruguay, as signatories to the Escazu Agreement will convene to further discuss topics initially addressed at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties. Namely; rules of procedure, public participation, funding, other support and compliance. Notice Trinidad and Tobago has not signed?

Key to understanding
The Escazu Agreement develops Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which seeks to ensure access to information, citizen participation and access to justice in environmental matters and provides special protections for environmental human rights defenders. After six years of negotiations it was approved in March 2018.