Typically heavily reliant on the cost of high and volatile diesel and fossil fuel imports, small island developing states are also on the front line when it comes to having to cope with climate change. Now they're realizing there's a lot in the way of cleaner, more efficient and less costly power and fuel resources right at home. They're increasingly, if belatedly, establishing ambitious renewable energy programs and setting aggressive targets to employ local renewable energy resources to reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, working with a range of international development agencies, public and private sector partners domestic and foreign, in doing so.
Tropical island nations are even turning back to one of their iconic trees, one that was in the past a driver of local economies and international trade-- the coconut palm. The tall, flexible and strong swaying coconut palms that grace many a tropical island post card are a renewable, naturally recyclable source of a wide range of products, including transportation fuel, oil, food and fiber. Small, enterprising companies such as Kokonut Pacific, with little or no support from banks, other lenders or corporations, are having success getting locals living on island nation states to make use of simple, appropriate technology to make sustainable, low impact use of coconuts.
Small island developing states' (SIDS) renewable energy drive has taken on international proportions. Representatives from island state around the world last week gathered in Bridgetown, Barbados for the UN Development Program's "Achieving Sustainable Energy for All in Small Island Developing States" conference.
By the end of the two-day conference, they all had put their name to the "Barbados Declaration," agreeing to call out and work for "universal access to modern and affordable renewable energy services, while protecting environment, ending poverty and creating new opportunities for economic growth."
In the agreement's annex, the governments of 20 Small Island Developing States agreed "to take actions toward providing universal access to energy, switching to renewable energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels."
Small Island States commit to sustainable energy for all
Host Barbados helped set the tone and direction for the UNDP conference, committing to increasing renewable energy's share of the Caribbean island's electricity capacity to 29% by 2029.
“By 2029 we expect that total electricity costs would have been cut by US$283.5 million and CO2 emissions would have been reduced by 4.5 million tons,” said Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of Barbados as quoted in a UNDP press release. “We also envisage an overall 22 percent reduction in projected electricity consumption based on the use of energy efficiency measures.”
Other small island states made the following commitments:
- Maldives committed to achieve carbon neutrality in the energy sector by year 2020
- Marshall Island aim to electrify all urban households and 95 percent of rural outer atoll households by 2015
- Mauritius committed to increasing the share of renewable energy - including solar power, wind energy, hydroelectric power, bagasse and landfill gas - to 35 percent or more by 2025
- Seychelles committed to produce 15 percent of energy supply from renewable energy by 2030
The Barbados Declaration and Rio+20
More than 100 heads of state, ministers, leading development experts, civil society activists, business executives and UN officials from 39 small island developing states from across the Caribbean, the Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Africa attended the two-day conference.
“Our global presence, expertise in capacity building, and extensive development finance experience allow us to help small island development states in their transformation toward sustainable energy for all, by supporting them to develop capacities to attract investments,” said Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
While recognizing the great potential for small island developing states to make use of local renewable energy resources they also emphasized that improved access to technology, financial resources and locally-minded expertise are vital to doing so.
"These technologies must be made accessible, affordable and adaptable to the needs and particular circumstances of SIDS communities,” the declaration states. “In this regard, we strongly urge the international community, particularly developed countries, to ensure the provision of financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building to SIDS.”
The Barbados Declaration comes just six weeks before UN representatives from around the world gather for the next keystone sustainable development conference, the Rio+2o Earth Summit in Brazil that will mark the 20th anniversary of the historic signing of the "Rio Declaration on Environment and Development," a groundbreaking international agreement that encompasses sustainable development, human rights, social equity and justice, and environmental protection and conservation.
*Photo courtesy: UNDP