Most islands are well endowed with one or more renewable energy source — rivers, waterfalls, wind, sunshine, biomass, wave power, geothermal deposits — yet virtually all remain heavily or entirely reliant on imported fossil fuels to produce electricity and power transport.
With rising oil prices, fuel import bills now represent up to 20 percent of annual imports of 34 of the 38 small island developing states (SIDS), between 5 percent to 20 percent of their Gross Domestic Product — and even up to 15 percent of the total import bills of many of the European Union’s 286 islands.
Action advocated under “The Malta Communiqué On Accelerating Renewable Energy Uptake For Islands” adopted by a 50-nation two-day conference that ended here last week will hopefully slash, in some cases eliminate, reliance on fossil fuels and related pollution, while increasing energy security, employment as well as economic and social wellbeing.
“The Renewables and Islands Global Summit” in Malta was co-hosted by the 100-nation International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) based in Abu Dhabi and by the government of Malta — a 316 sq km Mediterranean island republic of 410,000 inhabitants, and EU’s smallest member state.
“The Malta Communiqué On Accelerating Renewable Energy Uptake For Islands will hopefully help slash or eliminate reliance on fossil fuels, while increasing energy security, employment as well as economic and social wellbeing.”
The meeting represents a key milestone in IRENA’s initiative on renewables and islands launched by its governing council last January, as well as a follow-up to the Rio+20 conference in June and the “Achieving Sustainable Energy for All in Small Island Developing States” ministerial meeting in Barbados in May.
The communiqué invites IRENA to establish a global renewable energy islands network (GREIN) as a platform for sharing knowledge, best practice, challenges and lessons learnt while seeking innovative solutions.
GREIN will also help assess country potential, build capacity, formulate business cases for renewables deployment involving the private sector and civil society while identifying available finance as well as new ideas for innovative financing mechanisms.
In addition, the network will develop methodologies for integrating renewables into sustainable tourism, water management, transport, and other industries and services.
IRENA’s Kenyan director-general Adnan Amin told the 120 delegates that “we have confirmed the enormous potential for renewables in small island developing states as well as for developed island countries, not to mention coastal countries with remote, energy-deprived islands of their own. Ambitious policy targets appear increasingly attainable because of great strides forward in technology and cost-effectiveness.
“We are laying the groundwork for a business council to bring investors — from major energy companies to innovative SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) and also financial institutions — into the discussion,” Amin added. “Academics and NGOs can also contribute to the search for practical solutions. Developed island states can do much by sharing their experience with small-island developing states that face broadly similar challenges.”
Representatives (including 15 ministers) from 26 developing Pacific, Caribbean and African developing island nations and from coastal developing states with islands reported a wide range of renewables deployment, from detailed long-term plans and ongoing activities to reach up to 100 percent renewables, to admissions of very low deployment and no firm goals or plans yet.
“West African Cape Verde, a 10-island 4,033 sq km archipelago with 491,000 inhabitants, has started working towards 100 percent, then possibly 300 percent renewables.”
West African Cape Verde, a 10-island 4,033 sq km archipelago with 491,000 inhabitants, has started working towards 100 percent, then possibly 300 percent renewables, according to José Brito, senior adviser to Cape Verde’s Prime Minister, José Maria Neves. Surplus energy remaining from meeting domestic needs (including seawater desalination) could either be stored or exported, Brito said. Cape Verde aims to become a renewables training hub for Africa.
Dominica in the East Caribbean (71,000 inhabitants, 754 sq km) could also become a net energy exporter, Crispin Grégoire, its former ambassador to the UN and now a United Nations Development Programme official in charge of Caribbean issues told IPS.
“With 325 rivers and mountainous terrain, we have huge hydroelectric potential. Moreover, Iceland and the EU are helping assess our extensive geothermal resources. We could export surplus electricity by interconnector seabed cable to Guadelupe and Martinique, each just 60 km away. We could also attract high-tech industries to use our surplus power.”
Reporting Caribbean-wide developments, Grégoire told delegates of numerous regional renewables opportunities, where electricity prices can reach 35 cents a kilowatt hour, several times those in the US or Europe.
SIDS DOCK, launched by 10 SIDS nations in 2009, has started operations to mobilise finance for sustainable energy projects and to benefit from opportunities emerging from the global carbon markets. Seven projects are under development in the Bahamas, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and Jamaica, but far more financial resources are needed.
Under the Galapagos Zero Fossil Initiative, the Galapagos 10-island archipelago off Ecuador — home to world famous tortoises — will achieve 100 percent renewables by 2020, Pedro Carvajal, counsellor to Ecuador’s ministry of energy and energy efficiency told the conference. Half will derive from jatropha oil, made from seeds grown by 240 farming families in 40 communities on the mainland; most of the rest from wind energy, and the balance from photovoltaics.
In the Pacific, Tuvalu, Tokelau and the Cook Islands are rapidly moving towards 100 percent renewables. In contrast, Vanuatu (82 islands totalling 12,190 sq km), 67 percent of whose 224,564 inhabitants have no access to electricity, has not really started to develop its potential, William Sanlam, multilateral desk officer at Vanuatu’s ministry of foreign affairs told IPS.
This article appears courtesy of Inter Press Service (IPS), an international communication institution with a global news agency at its core, raising the voices of the South and civil society on issues of development, globalisation, human rights and the environment.
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