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The impacts of climate change: Why biodiversity matters

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Priyanka Lalla, a 14-year-old climate activist from Trinidad and Tobago, on the links between biodiversity and climate change, and how we urgently need to restore nature’s balance.

This blog is the seventh in The Elders’ Intergenerational Climate Blog Series 2021 and features an introduction by Juan Manuel Santos:

"The biodiversity crisis is inseparable from the climate crisis, and the links become painfully clear when reading Priyanka Lalla’s words.

Priyanka has experienced first-hand the devastating impact of climate change in her home country of Trinidad and Tobago. Despite seeing so clearly the threat to the nature surrounding her, she remains hopeful and eager to act for change. We should all follow her example.

We are at a crucial moment in time. The science is irrefutable and tells us that it is not yet too late to stem the tide, but our window of opportunity is growing ever smaller. Multilateral cooperation, ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions ahead of COP26 matched with concrete action will make or break the target to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Only then can we avoid the most harmful effects of climate change."

- Juan Manuel Santos

My name is Priyanka Lalla, I was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. Growing up in my beautiful twin-island state is something I will treasure forever. Being able to walk to the beaches when visiting Tobago, taking a short ride to a river, or even going for a hike up the Bamboo Cathedral or taking a boat ride to see the vibrant and exotic Scarlet Ibis in the Caroni Swamp are nature’s gifts. I always admired the environment from a very young age as I was fascinated by our wildlife and their habitat.   

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In 2017, when Hurricane Maria hit the Leeward Islands destroying homes, communities, and lives, I could not understand why something like this would happen. Why would Mother Nature do such a thing?  

However, I soon realised that Mother Nature herself was not the threat I should focus on, rather it was the impact of human activity. I was disappointed in us, how could we let this happen? How could we possibly treat the only home we have with such disrespect? I did my research, I questioned, I decided that adapting to climate change was critical and I had to take urgent action. I could not spend my time being angry or blaming anyone, I needed to instil hope. I have hope that my generation has the power to protect and preserve our Earth. We are the first generation who will be badly impacted by the effects of climate change and the last generation with a chance to be the change.

As I see the impact of climate change around me, I ask myself how we can reverse this and help nature restore its splendour?  

I discovered that the natural environment I grew up admiring holds the solution to my search. Trinidad and Tobago has a total of 47 mangroves. The Caroni Swamp is 12,000 acres making it one of the largest wetlands in this small island developing state. It is also where I have made many expeditions to admire flora and fauna during my childhood.   

The Caroni Swamp is the home of incredible wildlife, especially birds with 150 species and is a nursery for several species of fish and shellfish. It is the home to one of our national birds, the Scarlet Ibis. These birds are actually born black but their diet of crabs and shrimp turns it into the most vibrant red I have ever seen.

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The mangroves also provide food security to many coastal communities, it is a source of income to fisherman and oyster farmers, it ensures a healthy environment as mangroves trap carbon dioxide (CO2) in their biomass and soil and help reduce the CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. This is especially critical to Trinidad and Tobago as the country was ranked in second place in the World Bank Global Carbon Project in 2019 for the largest figures for CO2 emissions worldwide. Mangroves sequester up to 10 times as much carbon pollution as rainforests and help defend a small island as ours from flooding.

While mangroves have served us well economically and strategically in coastal erosion, my recent visit to the Caroni Swamp has shown the power and the beauty of the wetlands are threatened. The black mangroves are few as they have been severely affected by erosion of embankments. The black mangroves act as a natural water filtration system. I have seen the changes over the years and others who have had longer relationships with the Caroni Swamp attest to the degradation of this wetland due to the influx of saltwater caused by dredging, urban development, and climate change.   

How can we save this gift from nature that gives us so much? Urgent action is required, and we all have a part to play to reduce our carbon footprint, to deter man-made interference and to raise awareness of the critical role that our mangroves play in restoring nature’s balance.  

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Time to talk is fast running out, we all know what we have to do. Every little step adds up to great impact. I hope my photography acts as a reminder of the magnificence that lives around us and inspires other young people to take a stand and to take action to reduce their carbon footprint in all aspects of their lives as there is so much of nature’s splendour to preserve in our beautiful part of the world.

Priyanka Lalla is a 14-year-old UNICEF Youth Advocate and Child Rights Ambassador for the Eastern Caribbean Area, living in Trinidad and Tobago. She is passionate about making a meaningful contribution to the most urgent issues that affect her region. Earlier this year, as a UNICEF Ambassador, Priyanka took part in an intergenerational conversation about climate change with Mary Robinson.

Priyanka advocates for climate action, education, child rights and ending Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs). She also runs the blog Zero Waste Lifestyle to promote a circular economy in the Caribbean, and recently launched the 'Eat Green, Live Blue' initiative to encourage young people to take small steps for a more sustainable and regenerative Caribbean.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation

Mary Robinson and Brianna Fruean at COP 25Intergenerational Climate Blog Series 2021

Featuring youth climate activists from around the world, discover stories of courage, hope and resilience in taking climate action.

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