A Review of The National Environmental Policy and Its Implications for Tobago
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A Review of The National Environmental Policy and Its Implications for Tobago

A Review of The National Environmental Policy and Its Implications for Tobago

As required under section 18 of the Environmental Management Act of 1995, the Environmental Management Authority prepared a draft National Environmental Policy (NEP) in August 1997. The draft NEP was submitted for public comment and subsequently revised. The revised draft NEP was approved by Cabinet and laid in parliament in September 1998.

The National Environmental Policy is broad based and applies to all sectors and areas of activity. The goal of the policy is the conservation and wise use of the environment of Trinidad and Tobago to provide adequately for meeting the needs of present and future generations and enhancing the quality of life.

Six basic principles govern the NEP. These are:

1. Respect and care for the community of life.
2. Improving the quality of human life.
3. Conserving the vitality and diversity of Trinidad and Tobago's natural environment.
4. Keeping within the country's carrying capacity.
5. Changing personal attitudes and practices.
6. Empowering communities to care for their own environment.

The NEP has specific objectives. These include the control of pollution, the conservation of biological diversity and the analysis or evaluation of past development decisions with the aim of correcting any decisions that may be inimical to environmental health.

The National Environmental Policy is quite comprehensive and addresses most of the present environmental concerns under the broad headings of:
  1. Protection of National Resources
  2. Pollution Hazardous and Toxic substances
  3. Assessments of Impacts, Public Information and Environmental Education.

How will this National Environment Policy affect Tobago's development? The answer to this question is not clear. Given the perception that the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) now has the responsibility for formulating policy in Tobago, the status of the NEP in Tobago needs to be clarified.
Will the THA endorse the NEP and be guided by the principles and objectives in its own development planning that is now taking place or is the THA about to develop its own environmental policy? It should be noted that in the THA's Medium Term Policy Framework of Tobago, 1998 – 2000, the principal strategies and measures planned for the Environment are the same as those of the National Medium Term Policy Framework. If the THA adopts the National Environmental Policy then there are several areas of activity that will be affected by specific policy approaches/measures. These approaches/measures include the following.

· Avoid promoting industrial, tourism, recreational and other types of developmental activities which contribute to the degradation of sensitive coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs and sea grass beds.
· Reduce pollution of the marine environment.
· Enforce measures to restrict sand mining on sandy beaches
· Establish building setbacks from the shoreline.
· Encourage stakeholder participation in solving problems related to multi-user conflicts in coastal areas in keeping with sound integrated coastal zone management principles and philosophies.
· Employ strict control and punitive measures on illegal logging activities.
· Protect primary national forest from conversion to other forms of land use.
· Pursue a policy in its development projects of no net loss of wetlands.
· Discourage dredging, filling and other forms of development in wetland areas.
· Prohibit or regulate the direct or indirect discharge of hazardous substances to surface and ground water aquifers.
· Ensure that all sewage and wastewater receive the treatment necessary to protect the waters of Trinidad and Tobago prior to being discharged.
· Develop measures to ensure that waters in sensitive areas are protected in a pristine state.
· Enforce rehabilitation programmes by the operators of mining sites.
· Any activity likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue of its nature, size or location to be made subject to an environmental impact assessment before consent is given.
· Government Policy on environmental impact assessment will adhere to the precautionary principle, which states that if there are threats of serious irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty will not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.
· Public authorities holding information on the environment must make it available to anyone requesting it, subject to certain exclusions.

The approaches and measures of the NEP are long overdue for Tobago. The lack of effective development controls has led to a situation where the natural environment and our own survival are seriously threatened by a range of activities. If the National Environmental Policy is adopted and implemented vigorously in Tobago then our chances of achieving the goal of sustainable development will appreciate significantly.
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