Trinidad and Tobago is still coming to terms with this new level of heat

Feature image via Canva Pro.

By Keira Hinds and Kareema Jadhunandan

This story is a combination of two posts by members of Cari-Bois’ first cohort of youth journalists, who examined the ways in which climate change affects each of their communities. The articles were first published here and here on the Cari-Bois Environmental News Network. An edited version appears below as part of a content-sharing agreement.

As a result of the global climate crisis, Trinidad and Tobago, like other Small Island Developing States (SIDS), is at the receiving end of increasing sea surface and ambient temperatures.

In two studies, the country’s Ministry of Planning and Development found that air temperatures are likely to rise by an average of 0.5 degrees Celsius (32.9 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2030, and one degree Celsius (33.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050.

While the increase may not seem drastic, it is expected to have an effect on the country’s citizens. The studies warn that these rising temperatures will result in a slight decrease in rainfall by the dry season of 2030, made worse by the year 2050.

Even now, however, the changes are being felt. Over the past few weeks, Trinidad and Tobago has been experiencing a hot spell, in which temperatures have reached as high as 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 Fahrenheit) on some days.

One farmer in Williamsville, south Trinidad — who asked not to be identified — has expressed concern about how his livelihood will be affected. Reflecting on his yields for the year, he said he has not been able to grow as many crops as in previous years given the reduced levels of rainfall. As a result, he has experienced some financial losses and is worried about what the future may hold, given that scientists predict such extreme temperatures and weather events will only get more frequent.

Williamsville residents have also observed that ponds around the community have dried up in recent weeks. To remedy the situation and help mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, the community realises that it must collectively make efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and that one way of doing this is to plant more trees.

Meanwhile, residents of Tobago are paying particular attention, given their heavy reliance on the natural environment for their livelihoods. An ecotourism hub, Tobago is renowned for its idyllic beaches, rainforests, and a wide array of terrestrial and marine biodiversity — attractions that are at risk of being degraded with increasing temperatures.

In 2014, the UN Environment Programme highlighted the fact that climate change has accelerated rates of ocean acidification and coral degradation. With a specific focus on the Caribbean, it further explained there has been a noticeable decline in the population of parrotfish and sea urchins, which are important sea grazers.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Planning, meanwhile, confirmed that Tobago's coral reefs experienced two major bleaching events, one in 2005 and the other in 2010, which align with the rate of both regional and global coral bleaching events.

Ecosystems, both marine and terrestrial, provide important services that contribute to food security and the regulation of atmospheric gasses like carbon dioxide. The continued degradation of Tobago’s coral reefs can therefore affect the stability of all the island’s marine ecosystems, and ultimately affect their biodiversity.

This will likely have a range of ripple effects: a decrease in the number of fish available, which in turn affects the livelihoods of fishermen and disrupts ecotourism activities. Outside of marine ecosystems, increasing temperatures also affect terrestrial ecosystems: extreme dry seasons, less rainfall and more wildfires, which can wreak havoc on rainforests and the many diverse species which call them home.

The degradation of rainforests will also have the consequential effect of releasing even more stored carbon into the atmosphere, reducing the ability to filter carbon dioxide and accelerating the rate of climate change. Less rainfall as a result of increasing temperatures can also affect the availability of water, which can decrease access to quality water.

As scientists emphasise how imperative it is for the earth to not warm by more than 1.5 degree Celsius, the reality is that if efforts to decrease carbon emissions do not increase in the long term, we will surpass this threshold and experience irreversible damage to our planet.

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