PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Camille Robinson-Regis, minister of planning and development, renewed government’s commitment towards achieving the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in spite of drawbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This pledge was made during the 2021 high-level political forum and the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which was held virtually from July 6 to 15, 2021.
The theme for the 2021 HLPF and ECOSOC was “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.
According to the ECOSOC: “The COVID-19 pandemic has a significant impact on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, undermining decades of development efforts. In 2020, over 100 million people were pushed back into poverty and hunger; an equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs were lost; and an additional 101 million children and the youth fell below the minimum reading proficiency level, wiping out the education gains achieved over the last two decades. Violence against women and girls has intensified and child marriage is also expected to increase. The economic slowdown associated with COVID-19 has done little to slow the climate crisis.
Instead, it has reinforced and exacerbated existing inequalities and threatened the achievements of the SDGs”. The committee also highlighted that “the pandemic led to scientific breakthroughs with the development of effective vaccines, demonstrating the power of science, innovation, and public-private partnerships. Yet, developing countries’ equitable access to vaccines remains a major challenge due to political, technical and logistical hurdles. This has elicited strong calls for COVID-19 vaccines to be a global public good. Vaccine equity remains a prerequisite for a sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 everywhere”.
In this regard, Trinidad and Tobago acknowledged challenges accessing vaccines as a small nation which is being addressed through the COVAX facility as well as through bilateral agreements with various nations. This has resulted in the acquisition of vaccines to vaccinate approximately 60 percent of the adult population by September 2021. The minister reiterated that the holistic health and safety of everyone, whether citizen, resident or asylum seeker in Trinidad and Tobago is our primary responsibility as we navigate the turbulence of the current global climate. This effort was not only to combat the deadly disease, but also to demonstrate the Government’s commitment towards achieving of SDG 3: Ensuring good health and wellbeing.
As such, participating countries explored various aspects of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the kind of measures and international cooperation that can control the pandemic and its impacts, and put the world back on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030, within the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development. In doing so, the committee focused on the status of member countries as it relates to their progress with the SDGs to date, drawbacks caused by the pandemic as well as their various strategies towards recovery.
Camille Robinson-Regis also noted that the government’s efforts towards ensuring that our nation stayed on the course towards achieving the SDGs through the establishment of a Roadmap to Recovery Committee in 2020. This committee provided the necessary strategic focus on three immediate priorities, namely, addressing and mitigating hardship inflicted by COVID-19; restarting the economy; and laying the foundation for sustained economic recovery. In addition to stabilising the country’s social, economic and environmental wellbeing, the focus on these immediate priorities was also meant to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago’s progress towards achieving the stated objectives of its National Development Strategy, Vision 2030, and the SDGs were not irreparably derailed.
Beyond the immediate priorities, the minister acknowledged that intensified attention achieving SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. Emphasis will be placed on cultivating domestic capabilities and becoming a knowledge fuelled innovative economy. Specifically, the creation of an enabling environment for the private sector and entrepreneurs to confidently invest and take risks will remain a key component of post-pandemic recovery efforts.
Likewise, the adoption of innovative, technology-driven means of mitigating the challenges faced in areas such as climate change, non-communicable diseases, renewable energy, and energy efficiency will continue to be encouraged and advanced. These approaches are anchored in the country’s National Innovation Policy with its focus on designing strategies for driving innovation.
The government of Trinidad and Tobago has partnered with the European Union to establish programmes and funding for the promotion of innovation. As it relates to infrastructure, minister Robinson-Regis stated that the Port of Spain Revitalisation Project aims to establish Trinidad and Tobago’s capital as a premier location for commerce, culture and entertainment which will have a high appeal for local residents and international visitors alike.
This project focusing on residential, tourism, entertainment, recreational, commercial and cultural activities. These projects will not only add to the expansion and improvement of the country’s infrastructure but will also contribute towards developing industries through Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements. The planning and development minister adds that once these projects are executed, there will be further significant increases in employment opportunities in keeping with SDG 8: Decent work and Economic Growth.
Minister Robinson-Regis also stated that in an effort to achieve SDG 1: No Poverty and SDG 2: Zero Hunger, the government of Trinidad and Tobago is also exploring new measures for a more responsive, multifaceted social support system, which includes the digitalisation of all social support grants and services, the continued rollout of our Social Mitigation Plan and the adoption of a more holistic approach to poverty alleviation by ensuring that families have adequate access to social services relevant to their needs.
The minister also expressed the government’s commitment to achieving SDG 13: Climate Action, as Trinidad and Tobago remains cognizant that sustainable development is unattainable without fulfilling its commitments to protect the environment including, among others, our commitment to reducing emissions by 15 percent by 2030 from business as usual and to an unconditional reduction in public transportation emissions. To date, all public sector transport vehicles have been mandated to use the more environmentally friendly Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for fuel while the uptake among private vehicles is being closely monitored.
To this end, the government of Trinidad and Tobago reiterates its commitment to ensuring that no one is left behind. In keeping with this commitment, we will continue to promote the inclusive participation of all stakeholders in the implementation of and reporting on the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Now, more than ever, we will seek to accelerate and deepen our efforts to build a new post-pandemic society that is healthier, resilient, safe, more equitable and prosperous.