Chairman: Environmental Commission serving to protect Trinidad and Tobago

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chairman of the Environmental Commission
Sunil K Sookraj. – File photo by Jeff K Mayers

WORLD Environment Day, which is observed annually on June 5, should serve as a reminder of our responsibility to safeguard our planet.

Sunil K Sookraj, chairman, Environmental Commission of Trinidad and Tobago in his World Environment Day 2024 message stated, “As humans we interact with the environment in many different ways. These interactions have the potential to impact the environment in both positive and negative ways. Positive impacts to the environment result in the enhancement of the environment and conversely negative impacts damage the environment.”

This year the world celebrates World Environment Day 2024, under the theme – land restoration, desertification and drought resilience under the slogan “Our land, Our Future, We are #Generation Restoration.”

Sookraj said, “While we may not be able to undo what we have done in the past, we certainly possess the ability to change our habits and our actions going forward. This years’ slogan serves as a powerful reminder that we are collectively the owners of ‘our land’ as we are also solely and collectively esponsible for ‘our future.’ Having the knowledge of this is a powerful tool in our hands. What we choose to do with this knowledge will certainly determine our future existence on the land.”

He said the Environmental Management Act, Chap. 35:05 addresses these matters.

“It recognises the importance of protecting the environment. In the preamble to the Act, it is recognised that the management and conservation of the environment and the impact of environmental conditions on human health constitute a shared responsibility and benefit for everyone in the society requiring the co-operation and co-ordination of public and private sector activities.”

The requirement for Certificates of Environmental Clearance (CEC) under the Act is intended to protect the land and by extension the greater environment, Sookraj said.

The responsibility for managing this process is performed by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).

Performance of its mandate under the act, may result in persons being aggrieved with the actions/decisions of the EMA. The Environmental Commission provides a forum where aggrieved persons can approach for the resolution of the grievance or dispute. It is a superior court of record, the only specialist environmental court in the Caribbean, and has jurisdiction to treat with applications and appeals from decisions of the EMA.

In addition, persons and/or groups can initiate action before the commission on matters related to breaches (direct private party action). It has been treating with matters that come before it for failure to comply with the requirement to obtain CEC’s or in other instances for failing to comply with the conditions attached to CECs.

Beyond the requirement to obtain a CEC for those activities that require one, unsustainable methods of production and consumption are exacerbating other environmental crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and waste.

Sookraj said, “We are at a pivotal moment in history, confronting escalating threats to our environment and preservation of our natural heritage. Deforestation, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and climate change necessitate urgent and decisive action. Now, more than ever, we must recognise the role we all play in safeguarding our planet for future generations.”

He called on all citizens to take this responsibility seriously.

“The Environmental Commission stands at the forefront of this movement, upholding environmental justice and offering a platform for resolving disputes related to environmental matters. With the full support of the Environmental Management Act, we are committed to ensuring that justice is delivered through our decisions, to protect the environment and guarantee the rights of all citizens. “The responsibility, however, does not rest solely on the court; it lies within each one of us. We must all become advocates for environmental restoration, biodiversity conservation, and climate action.

Through our collective efforts to plant trees, protect forests, and restore degraded lands, we can reduce our carbon footprint, adopt sustainable practices, and educate others and ourselves about the importance of biodiversity. We can also foster a culture of environmental stewardship and inspire future generations to join the fight for a sustainable/safe environment. Our actions, no matter how small, can therefore make a significant difference.”