Islands of Leadership in a Sea of Mediocrity

This blog post was originally published at Worldwatch Institute.

It should come as no surprise that small island developing states (SIDS) are taking the helm and navigating the waters of climate change. Without a binding global agreement that takes their needs into proper consideration, many of them are choosing to act in their own interests rather than go down with the climate ship – not because it’s altruistic, but because it is necessary to help pay the cost of adaptation to climate change, which is a problem to which they contributed little in the first place.

Fortunately, support mechanisms are being established to boost these efforts. Among them are the Low-Carbon Energy Roadmaps that Worldwatch is currently undertaking for countries like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Haiti.

Of course, island countries must be proactive. As Jon Barnett and John Campbell note in their book, Climate Change and Small Island States, the discussion around climate change and its repercussions has framed island states as “vulnerable,” suggesting that they cannot fend for themselves and are reliant on larger powers to act to help them. But without a binding agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, particularly one that provides resources to pay for adaptation measures, it is ridiculous to think that the larger powers are going to step in and do much of anything. (The book’s authors also point out that the larger actors should start by changing their consumption patterns and lowering emissions.)

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not." - Dr. Seuss

With the hazardous effects of climate change looming, SIDS have no choice but to act. Again, this is more about necessity than it is about being eco-friendly (although it is a nice example to set). These government s cannot afford to be reliant on fossil fuels and will soon have to add “adaptation” to their expenditures. Here’s a small list of what some islands are doing to lower their oil imports bill:

The Dominican Republic: In a recent post, Worldwatch’s ReVolt blog recapped some of the reasons the D.R. was chosen to participate in the Institute’s recent side event at the Cancún climate talks. In addition to a Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap project already in progress, the country will see its first fully functional wind energy park come on line midway through 2011. It will be a welcome addition considering the decline in the D.R.’s hydro-power output, the country’s expectations of continued economic growth and its consumption of over 100,000 barrels of oil per day.

Fiji: With more of the world’s consumers becoming carbon-conscious, this Pacific island knows it is in its interests to become a low-carbon economy. In particular, Fiji is taking steps to make its lucrative tourism industry more efficient. Its partnership with Greenlight Technology Group will help create a more sustainable tourism sector, enabling the country to bring in more revenue without importing more fossil fuel to serve its energy needs. The current pilot program is scheduled to be rolled out in the islands of Tonga and Samoa as well.

St. Lucia: This member of the Lesser Antilles is highly dependent on diesel to generate its power. But the government is exploring two avenues to help address the problem. First, it recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Canadian tech company, Elementa Group Inc., for a US$50 million solid-waste processor and power generator to turn its trash into power. Secondly, it is partnering with Qualibou Energy Inc. to build a geothermal energy plant that will capitalize on the island’s estimated 170 MW of geo-thermal capacity. The plant is expected to be completed by 2015 and some of this capacity will be exported to neighboring Martinique.

Jamaica: Despite wind and hydropower contributing to the island’s energy supply, Jamaica still relies on imported oil for more than 90 percent of its energy. That is why the country has formulated an aggressive plan to reduce this share to 30 percent in 20 years. While wind and solar will play a role in this transition, so will biofuels and liquefied natural gas (LNG). This plan comes in response to a national energy policy and a national development plan that have 2030 as their long-term horizon.

Malta: Better known for its movie settings than its energy crisis, this Mediterranean gem is taking big steps to solve a water/energy dilemma that ReVolt reported on in 2010. The island pays dearly to import the oil that runs the desalination plant that supplies water to an inefficient system. Surviving this sticking point is as epic a battle as those filmed for 2000’s “Gladiator.” To win the day, the government is implementing a feed-in tariff, a subsidy for solar thermal water heaters and a smart grid project with IBM. (Thanks to Andrew Eilbert for providing these useful links!)

Puerto Rico: Yes, it’s technically part of the United States but Puerto Rico takes its Caribbean membership seriously. In fact, the territory’s Secretary of State, Ken McClintock, referred to Puerto Rico as the point where the U.S. becomes a Caribbean nation. Because of that relationship, McClintock recently spoke at the Northern Caribbean Conference on Economic Cooperation. In his remarks he called for an increase in renewable energy to break a dependence on imported oil and for a larger Caribbean renewable market that is interconnected to achieve economies of scale and create more interdependence among regional members.

These are just some of the world’s smaller actors on the climate and energy stage, yet they are taking big steps that others can follow. And heavy hitters are taking note. During the recent meetings in Cancún, an MOU was signed between the World Bank, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Danish government. The intention is to support the kinds of efforts that increase infrastructure efficiency and help in the transition to a more renewable and low-carbon energy portfolio. This MOU builds on other support facilities like the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) and the Climate Investment Funds (CIF).

These resources, built to help SIDS blaze a trail from oil dependence to low-carbon sustainability, dovetail nicely with Worldwatch’s Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap work which ReVolt has documented on more than one occasion. Worldwatch believes that a detailed energy roadmap will help countries move toward a low-carbon future that is more sustainable, economically beneficial, and more energy-secure. It is a versatile, one-tool-serves-all approach that ensures that the road to becoming a low-carbon economy is one that is paved by measurable outcomes at every level.

And the little isles shall lead them.



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© 2020 by Mark Konold