An example of a “hard measure” is a sea wall to deal with coastal erosion while “soft measures” include replanting mangroves and enforcing building codes that take into consideration things such as the risk of an earthquake or hurricane affecting certain areas.
“TT needs a combination of hard and soft measures because there are many cases where there’s no turning back. Port-of-Spain, the Point Lisas Industrial Estate and Atlantic, for example, were built in what was once mangrove swamp/low-lying areas. We cannot say, ‘Remove Point Lisas and replant mangrove.’ That’s not going to happen but in some other areas where it’s possible to replant mangroves, it should be done.”
Agard was speaking to reporters at the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) St Clair offices on Monday (September 29), following his presentation of the findings of an IDB study entitled, “Understanding the Economics of Climate Change (ECA) in Trinidad and Tobago.”
According to an executive summary of the study, TT will “presumably, undergo higher tropical storm (TS) frequency and the effects derived from them: coastal flooding, wind and rainfall.”
Additionally both islands are expected to experience sea level rise and more frequent and intense droughts.
When it comes to this country’s energy sector, the study found that infrastructure, including field installations and offshore operations, “are at risk of inundation from sea level rise, storm surges and erosion from extreme rainfall.”
Water shortages in the country “may affect the needs of the industry in terms of energy generation” and there could very well be infrastructure damage “due to extreme weather events,” while sea level rise will lead to increased inundation, increased erosion, loss of wetlands, loss of ecosystems, and displacement of coastal communities.
Referring to these and other findings in the study, Agard noted that with TT being an energy- based economy, at-risk companies “will have to make hard decisions about what level of investment they’re prepared to make, rather than see salt water between their equipment.”
Agard cited Petrotrin as an example of one company that’s “taken in front” to protect its business interests.
“Petrotrin knows the sea level is rising, they know by how much (and) they know exactly when the water is going to start to move in behind their tanks. So in order to protect their business, they’ve started to put ‘hard measures’ in place.”
“They don’t build anymore unless it’s at a higher foundation,” Agard noted, “and where the water would come in, they have to take hard measures such as building a sea wall but they’ve also started taking soft measures - planting mangroves.”
One “surprising” outcome of the study, which was conducted in the latter six months of 2013 and subsequently presented to stakeholders for feedback earlier this year, was that the “cost of soft measures was so small compared to hard ones like building a sea wall.”
Agard smiled as he added, “there was a positive uproar among many in the environmental community when they heard this. They said ‘This is what we have been saying for so long.’ They welcomed this news because it helped, independently, to support positions which they have been promoting for quite some time.”
The professor recalled a member of the National Building Code Committee (NBCC), which falls under the Housing Ministry, telling him that after spending the past two years fighting to get resources, “This will help us. It will help us to make the case that this is important.”
Agard agreed with the person’s argument, saying in TT we tend to build things to UK and US standards “but what developing TT’s standards?”
“Now the NBCC is saying, the little bit of money it would cost to support this committee to get this done; a soft measure, would have a major impact on TT in terms of reducing risk and damage.”
Agard lamented however that most industrial companies are likely to spend money on hard measures. “The immediate response is likely to be, ‘We’re all along the coast and we have no intention of going out of business, so build a sea wall, massive fortifications’.”
During the interactive portion of the IDB conference, one woman cautioned that while hard measures cost much more to implement, “In a resource-rich country, it’s easier to ‘throw’ money at a solution rather than to ‘dig-deep’ and understand that if you have to do mangrove restoration, some developments simply cannot happen on the coastline.”
The woman also noted that one can “can lose a lot of political mileage by insisting on a particular kind of development, as opposed to building it the way we’re used to building it, which is very short-term and just implementing engineering solutions subsequently.”
Hence her advice that the discussion on implementation should move from just cost alone to include “the reality of decision-making in the country context of a country like TT.”
In related news, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar recently spoke about Government’s efforts to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) while addressing the Climate Change Summit at the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.
The PM said TT is committed to arriving at global agreement in 2015 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change “and with preparatory work already underway, we commit to abiding by the decisions taken, and to submit our intended nationally determined contributions as early as possible next year.”
Persad-Bissessar said she looks forward to “the renewed commitment of all, to pursue aggressively and with due haste the mitigation of Climate Change and the preservation of our one home - planet Earth.”