A lot of talk has followed the Climate Summit, which took place on September 23 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, about the magnitude of the occasion. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the 120 people or more gathered (from heads of state and government officials to members of civil society) were there “not to talk, but to make history.” American actor Leonardo diCaprio, who gave an address, told the attendees that they would either “make history or be vilified by it.”
Some Caribbean territories have been paying attention and made history themselves two days before the summit by participating in a global calendar of events that turned out to be the most well-attended climate change marches in history. At the summit, Trinidad and Tobago promised that “100% of the country's electricity will come from natural gas, supporting net-zero global emissions goal before end of the century”.
Climate change is an urgent global issue that many feel has been ignored for far too long by world leaders and change makers, who, primarily for economic reasons, have failed to take action on a problem that could threaten the very existence of humanity. The summit was one step in the process of moving towards a worldwide agreement on climate change by next year, under the Framework Convention the UN has provided.
In Trinidad and Tobago, a small group of young activists and environmentalists organised a climate change march to show solidarity with the global cause and make a statement alongside other marches that were going on in major cities around the world. In this part one of a two-part post, Global Voices interviewed Jonathan Barcant, one of the co-founders of the non-governmental organisation IAMovement, which aims to effect positive change in education, community building and environmental awareness. Barcant spoke about the march, climate change, and Trinidad and Tobago's role in helping to create a more sustainable world.
Global Voices (GV): Why was it important for Trinidad and Tobago to have a climate change march?
Jonathan Barcant (JB): Trinidad and Tobago is the second highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world per capita, according to a University of Trinidad and Tobago statistics report. We are a massive fossil fuel producing and consuming nation, and therefore the general opinion of citizens on the subject of climate change has been dismissal and disregard, due to the feeling that we simply have no place talking about this issue when we are one of the biggest perpetrators. Helpless feelings on the part of citizens has, however, been to the advantage of the politicians, who feel no local pressure against climate pollution and therefore have free reign. We thought it important for this event to happen to stand with [other global marches] but also to create feelings of solidarity locally, by showing [people] that they are not alone, and there are in fact a strong group of citizens willing to stand up for one of the most important issues of our day.
GV: What do you expect to come out of the summit and what role will Trinidad and Tobago have to play?
JB: We hope that [the marches] will send a strong message to those at the U.N. Summit that we as citizens of the world do care, and that we are no longer willing to sit by and watch leaders fail to make tough but critical decisions. As a major player in the fossil fuel economy, Trinidad and Tobago ought to play a leading role in climate summit talks. We hope that our event will also send the message to our leaders that citizens of Trinidad and Tobago do care about the future of our country and our world.
GV: What was the local response to the march like?
JB: We had over 500 online Avaaz petition signers, and 165 participants who showed up to the event. We see this as a great success as it was the first event of its kind here. There was a real sense of achievement, empowerment and unity, and we hope that this serves as a cornerstone for future work and discussion on this issue, and may start the ball rolling on this topic locally sooner rather than later.
GV: The UN Climate Change Conference in Paris is 15 months away, when it is expected that a global agreement will emerge. The Rockefellers have already announced that its philanthropic arm will be selling off all investments they have in fossil fuels and reinvesting in clean energy. What should Trinidad and Tobago's national commitment be to this global deal?
JB: Some studies suggest that Trinidad and Tobago may have as little as 15 years of oil and natural gas reserves remaining. Climate change aside, while a tremendously important issue, the country should be thinking about the future of its children and grandchildren, who will be adults when our fossil fuel reserves have been depleted. Our nation currently runs on the income from fossil fuels. If (and when) that were to run out, the [economic] situation would change drastically, and could, quite frankly, be nightmarish. We have become a society used to comfort and quick money, and if that were to disappear, it's quite natural that problems such as violence and crime would ensue. This however, is still entirely avoidable. It is in the best interest of the nation to reinvest without delay in renewable energies such as wind and solar [power]. By doing so, we would reap both short and long term benefits by providing good employment for many in green industry – from laborers to designers to business managers – boosting our world reputation as a clean, green and renewable-moving nation. This, in turn, would likely encourage tourism and, most importantly, gradually remove our dependence on fossil fuels, so that by the time our resources are depleted, we are sustainable.
GV: Why do you think it has taken climate change so long to be taken seriously by world leaders and what do you think has been the impetus for citizens to make their voices heard?
JB: The fossil fuel industry [has] had a strong hand for a very long time in lobbying world leaders to support continued fossil fuel extraction, for their continued profit. This, and the fact that climate change is a slow occurring phenomenon – over decades – and is largely invisible (apart from scientific data and more recently, weather events), means that 99% of the population, the common man, have had little grasp on what has really been happening and how they could possibly do something about it. Leaders, who have mostly had only the whispers and manipulating hands of lobbyists to determine their moves, have been too fearful […] to make key climate emission agreements. The powerful movement of scientists and activists […] has resulted in some incredible information sharing through documentary and human mobilization efforts. The climate change issue [has been] simmering in the back of people's minds for too long, while the frustration has built at each failed climate summit. The right moment has come for people to rise up and say ‘No More’.
Look out for the second installment of this post, in which Jonathan Barcant talks about why people should care about climate change, what the a world running on clean energy might look like, and whether the climate change marches have actually made a difference.