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Climate Change and T&T

Implications of the latest IPCC Report for Trinidad and Tobago

Climate Change is everywhere, accelerating, damaging, wreaking havoc, wrecking lives and livelihoods, and will increase in all regions over the coming decades. Countries like Trinidad and Tobago face a huge climate change challenge, but there is a window of opportunity that could reduce the challenge. Climate Resilient Developing incorporating both adaptation and mitigation is an absolute necessity, no ifs, buts, or maybes.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), entitled “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” reiterates the messages from previous reports but presents an even more distressing synthesis of past, current, and future climate risks. It goes a step further by presenting more specific regional climate change information than ever before, such as for coastal areas and small islands. As a small island nation, what happens on the country’s coasts is of particular importance. The report warns that many of the impacts of global warming are now “irreversible”, but there is “still a brief window of time to avoid the very worst. It also recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity, and people, and integrates natural, social, and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments. It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks and makes clear that half measures are no longer an option.

This report can be viewed as a directory of the already increasing damage to lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems across the globe that climate change impacts, such as more intense and frequent floods, droughts and heatwaves are already causing. However, the report tells a more harrowing story for the future, in that these impacts will continue to increase for many more decades until global emissions of greenhouse gases are effectively reduced to net zero. The report highlights that human-induced climate change has driven more frequent and intense extreme events that have caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people.

The report forcefully highlights the impacts of the climate crisis and that Small Islands States like Trinidad and Tobago remain in the firing line. It unequivocally shows that climate change remains an existential risk for the most vulnerable nations like Trinidad and Tobago, their economies, development, and future. The report is clear about those existential risks and indicates for the first time, that irreversible loss and damage is already an unattractive reality for vulnerable countries. Simply put, countries like Trinidad and Tobago that have contributed the least to the climate crisis are suffering the most from its impacts.

The report points to the reality in many small islands, where water demand already exceeds supply, and that freshwater systems on small islands are exposed to dynamic climate impacts. It points out that climate change impacts on freshwater systems frequently exacerbate existing pressure, especially in locations already experiencing water scarcity. As a water-challenged nation, Trinidad and Tobago needs to pay particular interest to this. The report notes that higher temperatures could increase the presence of food or water borne diseases and the challenge of managing food safety. This also is of particular interest, since changes in weather patterns can also disrupt food production, transportation and distribution systems on small islands such as Trinidad and Tobago. The report is clear that globally, climate change will also cause shortages of imported food and increase their price. Given that Trinidad and Tobago is part of the global food system these impacts will be imported particularly through higher food prices, in circumstances where there is already a high local food import bill.

A telling conclusion in the report is that even though some development and adaptation efforts have reduced vulnerability, the most vulnerable people and systems are disproportionately affected. Furthermore, increases in weather and climate extremes have already led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt. The report’s findings are explicit; vulnerable countries will not be able to adapt to warming beyond the 1.5°C warming limit. Time is of the essence and adaptation is urgently needed. However, it will not be sufficient without limiting global warming to 1.5°C, as the window to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all is rapidly closing. In essence, the report points to the fact that adaptation is no longer possible in several cases, including for some warm-water coral reefs, coastal wetlands, and polar and mountain ecosystems.

The findings in the report suggest that vulnerable countries like Trinidad and Tobago must consider Climate Resilient Development and take climate change into account when deciding where and how to build and design infrastructure, how to develop resilient food systems and water supply sustainability. It stresses that there are some encouraging examples of adaptation, but adaptation investment is still lagging, while for some, climate risks are ignored, or seen as something in the distant future.

The report makes a salient point for countries like Trinidad and Tobago by indicating that implementing adaptation actions can require large upfront investments of human, financial, and technological resources but warns that some benefits could only become visible in the next decade or beyond. Accordingly, it stresses that investing in adaptation and resilience is critical and that every dollar invested in adaptation today will save at least five times worth of loss and damage in the future. Furthermore, adaptation is needed now and should not be seen as a cost, but rather as an investment that provides opportunities to adapt to the coming climate impacts. Otherwise, countries like Trinidad and Tobago face a future of responding to climate disasters rather than proactively managing the risks.

The key messages from the report for Trinidad and Tobago are as follows:

Climate change is already causing widespread loss and damage

  • Human-induced climate change has caused widespread impacts, and loss and damage to people and nature, with estimates of economic damages higher than previously thought. Some of these impacts are already irreversible.
  • Weather and climate extremes are on the rise, pushing people and ecosystems beyond the limits of what they can adapt to. The most vulnerable countries, like small islands including Trinidad and Tobago, are at the forefront of the climate catastrophe.
  • Increasingly, weather extremes including tropical cyclones are driving the displacement of people around the world, including in the Caribbean.
  • Climate change poses severe threats to water security at all scales as a result of increasing weather and climate variability, floods, and droughts.
  • Impacts from climate change on freshwater, agriculture and fisheries, human health and well-being endanger the prospects of sustainable development for the most vulnerable, including Trinidad and Tobago.
  • There is a clear need to not only build and improve water infrastructure, but also to use new approaches such as nature-based solutions, water systems analysis, and participatory knowledge production. This will require local solutions, focused on inclusion, equity, and justice.
  • Children, women, and indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable, with an increased risk of food and water shortages.
  • Climate change has brought about increases in mental health challenges and there are anticipated risks of increased adverse physical and mental health.

Limits to adaptation are being exceeded

  • Against the unprecedented climate impacts, adaptation to climate change has become more pressing and is needed now more than ever.
  • Even though adaptation actions have advanced, large adaptation gaps exist between what is being done and what is needed. Some actions have also led to maladaptation.
  • There are large constraints and limits to adaptation, with limits to adaptation for ecosystems and people are already being reached. Hard limits to adaptation are reached when adaptive actions become infeasible to avoid risks, and hence impacts and risks become unavoidable.
  • Farmers across the tropics are reaching their limits of adaptation to current climate impacts and 4 in 10 people are highly vulnerable to climate change. 
  • By 2050, one billion people in low-lying coastal areas face escalating climate risks that will undermine adaptation efforts.

Lack of climate finance is a key constraint to adaptation

  • Global climate finance for adaptation from public and private finance sources is still insufficient, even though adaptation finance needs are estimated to be higher than those presented in Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). There is a need for rapid scaling-up of climate finance.
  • Enhanced mobilisation and access to financial resources are essential for the implementation of successful adaptation and to reduce adaptation gaps.
  • Loss and damage (climate impacts exceeding the adaptive capacity of countries, communities, and ecosystems) are also negatively affecting the availability of financial resources and impeding economic growth.
  • Loss and damage through disastrous extreme weather events like tropical cyclones further increase financial constraints for adaptation.

Full report is available at:


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