The killing in July of hundreds of leatherback turtle hatchlings at Grande Riviere beach following a failed attempt by the Ministry of Works to divert the Grande Riviere River was heavily criticised locally and internationally. However, that was not the only major environmental incident to occur this year. In July, there was a lead poisoning scare in Arima; in August severe flooding devastated the Diego Martin area; and most recently, there was an oil spill in the Caroni River at the beginning of the month. It seems all these incidents have one thing in common: Poor environmental governance. This is not a T&T phenomenon but a regional issue.
The fifth Global Environment Outlook report (GEO-5), published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in June, labelled poor governance as one of the most pressing environmental issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the report, “the region has many laws relating to the environment but, at the same time, the lack of institutional management and capacity to implement and enforce them has constrained their effectiveness. In addition, policies are not keeping pace with production practices or adapting sufficiently to global trends and integration.”
Among UNEP’s recommendations for addressing these problems were stronger “government commitment to new policies” and “making existing policies and mechanisms more effective.” A lack of efficacy may be one of the main problems facing the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), the main environmental governance body locally. Environmentalist Kyle de Lima of Trini Eco Warriors said while the idea and principle of the EMA is sound, the organisation needs strengthening. “We have a system that is archaic and there are too many government bodies or authorities whose roles overlap. Many times we cannot ascertain who is responsible for enforcing the laws,” he said.
De Lima believes the EMA is reactionary and that the network of environmental non-governmental organisations are the true “conscience” of environmental justice locally. “We have a lot of laws approved with the intent of regulating and overseeing the safety of the environment but enforcement is our biggest issue. Enforcement is the biggest problem more so than lack of legislation…Right now the EMA is non-effective,” he said.
Although there are laws regarding illegal quarrying, de Lima said this remains an environmental issue that needs urgent attention. “The EMA should be sending out environmental police making sure these companies operate within their license and shutting down quarries that are not meeting their CEC (Certificate of Environmental Clearance) requirements.” Yet a lack of funding and manpower may be preventing the EMA from carrying out this work, de Lima noted.
He said while T&T is a signatory to numerous international treaties relating to the environment, local compliance is minimal. “We sign on to these treaties to access grants or loans and once the minimum requirements are met many times enforcement is not upheld strongly.” In addition to politicians needing to throw more weight behind existing legislation, de Lima also feels the EMA needs to be more transparent and publicly accountable.
However, in response to claims of a lack of efficacy, a statement provided by EMA public education officer Tisha Marajh said even though there were improvements to be made, it was wrong to assume the EMA was ineffective. She said this was especially true since problems of environmental governance were not unique to this country. “Those who make negative remarks about the EMA often do so without full knowledge or understanding of all the factors involved, the constraints to the Authority, or of the limits of its jurisdiction. Issues affecting environmental governance tend to be similar worldwide, varying only in terms of local, national, regional and global scales.”
Among these issues, Marajh listed political will, financing sustainability, public awareness, monitoring and enforcement, lack of co-ordinated approaches, conflicts between issues such as trade and the environment or energy and the environment, and inadequate legislation.
She added that the work the EMA is able to achieve must be taken “in the context of the environmental legislation and national policies that provide the framework for EMA’s activities as well as the resources available to the EMA to achieve its mandate.”
While there have been amendments to the main environmental law of T&T, most of the foundational framework for environmental governance is outdated. The primary environmental legislation includes the Forests Act (1915), the Fisheries Act (1916), the Conservation of Wildlife Act (1958), and the Environmental Management Act (1995). Secondary legislation includes the Agricultural Fires Act, Animals Act, Archipelagic Waters and Exclusive Zone Act, Chaguaramas Development Act, Importation of Live Fish Act, Marine Areas Act, Municipal Corporations Act, Plant Protection Act, Tobago House of Assembly Act and the Town and Country Planning Act.
The government has also adopted a number of policies including the National Environment Policy (2006), National Forest Policy (2011), National Protected Areas Policy (2011), National Wetland Conservation Policy (2002) and the National Tourism Policy (2010). The Fisheries Act was most recently amended in 2011 to prevent the “taking, removing or selling of any turtle eggs and to prohibit the killing, harpooning or selling of any turtle (Chap 67.51)”
Minister of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs Devant Maharaj told the T&T Guardian in a brief interview that a number of legal documents from his ministry were under review including the Fisheries Act, which he said is in the process of being repealed and re-enacted. He could not say how long this process would take or when it is expected to be completed.