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From Potential to Realization

Freundel Stuart

Prime Minister, Barbados

The year 2014 represents a historic year—the International Year of Small Island Developing States, which is focusing attention on a part of the world that has made an indelible contribution to humanity’s sojourn on this planet.

This year also marks the first year of the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, and presents a unique opportunity to bring the issues of small island developing states (SIDS) and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) even closer together, and to highlight those issues which affect small and large nations alike—energy cost, energy security, and climate change.

Since 2000, the world has focused resources on development targets, which include halving the world’s poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability by, among other things, increasing access to energy. Notwithstanding these efforts, and some commendable achievements, in 2013 the United Nations still reported that environmental sustainability is under severe threat and that global emissions of carbon dioxide are accelerating. In addition, the 2012 Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) reaffirmed that SIDS remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities. It is not surprising, therefore, that the global economic crisis of 2008/2009 threatened their development.

In fact, Rio+20 noted with concern that the five-year review in 2010 of the Mauritius Strategy concluded that SIDS had not made considerable progress and may even have regressed when compared to other groupings.

Twenty years after the Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States was held in Barbados, in 1994, these challenges are now even more acute and demand a new level of global cooperation if the Earth is to be seen within the construct of a living organism. Of particular concern to SIDS is the deficiency in petroleum-based energy. We recognize our huge potential in alternative energy resources—from geothermal energy to hydro and biomass, as well as the abundant sunshine—but the main barrier standing in our way is the finance to utilize these resources.

It was the recognition of the growing importance of sustainable energy to the economy that Barbados, being the only representative of a small island developing state on the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, fully endorsed the United Nations SE4All initiative. If we are to place the subject of energy firmly within the consciousness of SIDS there must be a concerted effort on the part of all players—governments, the private sector and civil society, since we all share a common bond as human beings­­—to have a source of energy constantly within our reach, when needed, at an affordable cost.

SE4All proposes doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency to achieve a 40 per cent reduction in electricity consumption by 2030, and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by increasing it to 30 per cent.

Barbados is seeking to transform this potential into a reality and is poised to transition to a green economy based in part on ongoing investments in renewable energy and energy conservation. We have recognized that the country simply cannot continue with the importation of fossil fuels at almost seven per cent of gross domestic product, as this is simply unsustainable. This transition will be based on a suite of policy investments and governance options evolving from Barbados’ Green Economy Scoping Study, which has been internationally recognized for its participatory and visionary approach. Our national energy policy calls for at least 30 per cent of all electricity produced on the island to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2029, and a decrease in electricity consumption by 22 per cent. We now believe that we will reach those targets much earlier, not only because of the several projects currently in the pipeline, but based on the many incentives for renewable energy and energy conservation methods introduced in recent years.

The green economy development model is meant to assist us in forging innovative partnerships to help in preserving this planet for future generations. Moreover, Barbados is seeking to replicate, in other areas of renewable energy, what the country has done with solar water heaters. These comprise the most significant use of renewable energy in the country, having reached a penetration rate of 33.5 per cent in households. Barbados is one of the best-performing countries in the world in this regard. In 2008, when oil prices reached a record high of US$147 per barrel, the country installed 2,300 solar water-heating systems in a population of under 100,000 households and saved an estimated US$55 million. Furthermore, an energy-smart fund has been established to provide increased access to low-cost financing for the private sector complemented by investments in renewable energy in the public sector.
The projects to be executed in our roadmap within the next four years include constructing a waste-to-energy plant and converting biomass at a sugar factory into electricity that will collectively generate several megawatts of base-load electricity. The potential for an ocean thermal-energy conversion plant is also being explored in collaboration with SIDS DOCK and a local utility company. Further exploration of the marine resource is also the subject of studies that will advance the commercial and regulatory framework for other marine technologies to be exploited in the short term.

In a land-scarce country blessed with almost 365 days of sunshine, we simply cannot afford a situation where there are acres of roof space around the island which can be used as generators of electricity. Of particular interest, then, is converting the roofs of buildings across the island into mini solar electricity-generating power plants. It is estimated that approximately seven megawatts of solar electricity systems have already been installed.

This effort is being buttressed by the establishment of a new regulatory regime in the form of a new Electric Light and Power Act, which will, among other things, create a licensing regime for independent power producers, both at distributor and utility scale, and facilitate the sale of electricity to the grid. To support renewable energy and energy efficiency as one of the engines of the economy, the Government has established an extensive system of tax and other concessions and created opportunities for increased uptake of energy-efficient technologies.

Barbados is further seeking to restructure the economy, in part through the development of new skills in this area, with a view to the creation of hundreds of green jobs. Labour market analyses are being undertaken with the intention of establishing the short-, medium- and long-term needs for the green economy.

These are ambitious goals and we are cognizant that, as small island states, we need support. I therefore urge the international community to continue to partner with us in these efforts to assist in combating climate change and in preserving the environment for future generations.

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