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‘Our Voices Need To Be Included’: Trinidadian Youth Make Case For Strong Role In Climate Negotiations


Trinidad and Tobago is described as one of the
“frontline States”, those nations that are most severely
affected by the impact of the climate emergency, and youth
activists are among the most prominent voices in the country
calling for stronger action to combat the crisis, both at
home and abroad.

Small island developing
States are particularly vulnerable to climate change
consequences, such as rising sea levels and heavy rains that
cause flooding, increasing ocean temperatures that affect
coral reefs and fishing and frequent hurricanes destroying
homes and livelihoods. These countries often suffer from
fragile economic conditions and don’t have the means to
help their citizens to cope with these problems.

In
the face of such uncertain conditions, many young people are
deciding that they want and need urgent changes to ensure
that they have a world worth living in. Around the world,
they are leading strikes, protests and demonstrations and
gaining the skills needed to find solutions.

At a
coffee shop in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and
Tobago, UN News met some of the country’s leading
young voices on the environment to find out what
Trinidadians think about the climate emergency and how to
address it.

Priyanka Lalla, a teenage climate activist
and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) youth
advocate for the eastern Caribbean, represented Trinidad and
Tobago at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow;
Joshua Prentice, a climate and ocean scientist, has worked
with the United Nations on projects related to chemicals and
waste; and Zaafia Alexander is the 18-year-old founder of a
non-governmental organisation (NGO) devoted to raising
awareness of the climate crisis and elevating the voices of
Caribbean youth on the international scene.

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UN
News: What inspired you to advocate for
change?

Priyanka Lalla: I
grew up in a beautiful region with lush biodiversity, and I
have seen the destruction and damage caused by storms,
particularly after Hurricane Maria struck the Leeward
Islands in 2017.

I think there’s often a narrative
that individual action does not create great impact. But it
does, which is why I advocate for individual action and to
empower young people and show them that we do have
power.

Joshua Prentice: Discussions
are happening now that will shape our future, and our voices
need to be included in all negotiations. This is why I
decided to attend climate conferences and ensure that youth
are represented, particularly from my
region.

Zaafia Alexander: For me it
was an excruciatingly passionate geography teacher. They
helped me understand why climate change should be a key
topic of conversation in Trinidad and Tobago.

Also, I
was angry. It seemed to me that no one was taking any
action, that no one my age was talking about the problem and
that youth weren’t included in crucial decisions that
affect us.

UN News: You have all told me that
not enough young people are getting involved in advocating
for climate action. Why do you think that
is?

Joshua Prentice: I think
that this is a by-product of it not being pushed more in the
school system growing up. It trickles down from parents as
well. They need to teach their children good recycling
practices and why we should we take care of the environment.
However, thanks to the internet and social media, young
people are starting to be more engaged.

Zaafia
Alexander:
This is why education and advocacy are
so important. So many Trinidadians are not aware of the
severity of the crisis or how it directly affects Trinidad
and Tobago and other small island developing States. It’s
not a part of the syllabus.

Joshua Prentice:
And many young farmers don’t understand how
climate change is affecting their crops and their land
because of things like drought and
flooding.

Zaafia Alexander: It’s
ironic that we are heavily affected, but so many of us
don’t understand why we’re seeing fluctuating weather
patterns, sea level rises and increased temperatures or that
mankind is primarily to blame.

Priyanka Lalla:
Yes, it’s the same marginalised coastal
communities that are hit by flash flooding every year. Their
homes are washed out, they lose their belongings, young
children are forced out of education because their schools
are destroyed and they don’t have the resources to build
back. Sometimes they are forced to give up on education and
are forced into child marriage or child
labour.

UN News: Some activists advocate for
changes in legislation to address the climate crisis. Is
this something you’re interested in
pursuing?

Joshua Prentice:
As someone who practices environmental law, I can
say that it’s very hard to update legislation. There needs
to be immense public outcry for a law to change. However, in
recent years we have made some progress because of public
pressure.

But, reaching out directly to the ministries
directly overseeing this area can help. Youth activists
should contact them and ask for their concerns to be taken
up in cabinet. There are also NGOs in Trinidad that talk
directly to ministers. By getting involved with them, you
have a better chance of being heard.

Priyanka
Lalla:
We need the support of our ministries, our
policymakers, our governments. We also need the support of
our young people, educators, homemakers. It needs to be a
collective effort.

I think that accountability comes
from the voice of the young people. We continue to keep our
governments, our policymakers, NGOs and various
organisations accountable. But, I think we also need to
acknowledge the good that has been done already and
acknowledge it to make people feel empowered and inspired to
continue.

UN News: Trinidad has benefited from
oil reserves over many years. Should the country stop
exploiting this fossil fuel
resource?

Joshua Prentice:
As an advocate for sustainable development and
clean energy, I think that we should stop it. However, I
exist in the real world as well. There are a lot of things
that need to be done in the country, and we cannot afford to
just leave oil and gas, which is by far its biggest revenue
generator, overnight.

There have been steps taken to
diversify the country and move away from our dependency on
oil and gas, and I do believe that we want to go further in
this direction.

Priyanka Lalla:
Within the next few decades, we need to make that
transition, even though it is taking longer than we’d
like, for the sake of our people and the sake of our
biodiversity.

© Scoop Media

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