In the face of the many challenges inherent in getting 15 countries—each with their own resources, priorities, and political complexities—to agree to anything, let alone a comprehensive regional energy policy, the Caribbean is now on the brink of taking a significant (and impressive) step forward. For the past half decade, a Draft Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Regional Energy Policy—designed to address critical issues like energy security, affordability, energy efficiency, and renewable energy—has been circulating among CARICOM’s 15 member states, continually being revised to reflect the concerns of individual members, but never finalized.
Last week, a team from Worldwatch joined CARICOM Prime Ministers, Energy Ministers, government representatives, technical experts, and international organizations in Trinidad & Tobago for the Forty-First Special Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED). On March 1, after more than five years of lengthy deliberation, delegates at the event provisionally adopted both the Draft Energy Policy and Worldwatch’s Sustainable Energy Targets for the region, marking an important step forward in the development of renewable energy and energy cooperation in the Caribbean.
Since September 2012, Worldwatch has been working with the support of both the CARICOM Secretariat and the Inter-American Development Bank on the first phase of developing a strategic framework to support the region’s Energy Policy: the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy (C-SERMS). Through an initial analysis of electricity sectors throughout the region, existing national renewable energy targets, and documented renewable energy potentials, Worldwatch designed a set of recommendations for sustainable energy targets in the region’s power sector intended to provide a vision for the future that places renewable energy sources at the core.
Over the coming weeks, the targets will be refined and expanded to include energy efficiency measures and the potential impacts of both renewable energy and energy efficiency in the transportation sector, one of the region’s largest energy consumers.
CARICOM is composed of 13 small island states arcing across the Greater and Lesser Antilles and three low-lying coastal states, representing a total population of more than 15 million people. In the context of climate change and its wide ranging impacts, such countries are frequently described as “vulnerable,” in terms of both the specific threats posed to them by climate-related sea-level rise and other hazards, and the economic vulnerability that often limits the ability of these states to finance important adaptation and mitigation efforts. Although these vulnerabilities most certainly exist, and although certain leaders have managed to take advantage of the language of “vulnerability” to bring much-deserved global attention to their causes and concerns, the past few years have also seen the emergence of a different trend.
Increasingly, many CARICOM states have been working cooperatively to address the related challenges of climate change and energy insecurity—weaning themselves off imported fossil fuels and transitioning to energy systems that maximize their available domestic resources and move from a position of perceived vulnerability to one of energy security, socioeconomic advancement, and global leadership. Although these nations contribute only marginally to global greenhouse gas emissions, their leadership on climate change mitigation has begun to set a strong precedent for climate action.
The provisional adoption of CARICOM’s energy policy and Worldwatch’s targets, along with a number of new and exciting renewable energy developments in CARICOM member states, make clear that such places may in many ways be disproportionately vulnerable, but that they are also setting a strong example by demonstrating bold ambition and determination to transition to renewables.
From the development of biomass resources in Belize, to the expected soon-to-be-completed hydropower facility in Guyana, to the drilling of geothermal production wells in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a diverse array of renewable resources are being tapped in the CARICOM region. Even member states with domestic fossil fuel resources are increasingly turning toward renewables for greater price stability and enhanced energy security with the knowledge that their fossil fuel resources will someday run out. At the same time, the region—recognizing the diverse array of issues involved in a successful energy system—is exploring policy best practices and financing opportunities.
These exciting initiatives highlight the sense of optimism and support now surrounding the development of renewable technologies in states that recognize this moment as a pivotal opportunity not only to mitigate the effects of climate change, but also to lessen their vulnerability to price volatility, energy insecurity, and simultaneous dependence on imported fuels and foreign assistance.
Katie Auth is a Climate & Energy Research Associate at Worldwatch Institute. Evan Musolino is a Climate & Energy Research Associate at Worldwatch Institute.