By Desmond L. Brown
NASSAU, The Bahamas (ACP | IDN) – Caribbean countries have found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Already grappling with a myriad of challenges, including crime and weak economies, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states from Jamaica in the north to Guyana in the south are also now faced with extremely high energy costs.
Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Perry Christie, said his country and its neighbours must move with haste to transition to sustainable energy sources, something he believes would also help shore up their ailing economies and also address the crime scourge.
“The challenges that our countries in the region face include having to make ends meet while searching for the kind of economy that will enable us to have a greater path to a dignified existence; and arrest the compellingly urgent issue of crime, among our young people in particular,” Christie said at the fifth Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF V), held here January 23-25.
“Unless we are able to recognize that on an increasing basis we have challenges with our young people in terms of employment, we are going to continue to have the enormous set of troubles, trials and tribulations of a great degree that will interfere with the stability of our democracies.”
For the past 10 years, roughly 16,000 people were killed in Jamaica. In 2015 there were 1,200 killings and more than 1,300 in 2016.
“If you look at the increasing incidence of killings, the urgent issue is whether or not we are able to, in today’s world, ensure and guarantee future generations of our people the levels of stability that will be so necessary to our survival as a civilization,” Christie said.
But the challenges for the Caribbean do not end there.
Christie described how his country faced a $600 million assessed impact from a category 4 hurricane (Joaquin) in 2015 and encroachment by the sea with hurricane Matthew a year later.
“The country has to withstand the impacts and then you are downgraded because they say there is no assurance you are going to be able to have the revenue. These are the challenges that the countries in our region face,” Christie said.
“There’s this enormous challenge with being able to convince our young people there is reason to have hope, to be able to have an educational system reflecting an understanding that we must pay particular attention to those who drop out.
“And whilst we are doing this, the cost of energy is too high. Whilst we are grappling to meet the demands of our economy we find that the most intimidating challenge to the economy is the cost of energy. And the fact that you are an island nation means that you have increasing difficulties across the nation,” he added
The Bahamian leader said CSEF V enables the Caribbean region “to recognize there is so much more we have to do and more quickly” because living in a competitive region, the cost of doing business becomes more complex by virtue of the cost associated with energy.
Dr. Al Binger, Executive Director of the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE), agrees with Prime Minister Christie that the Caribbean must act quickly to transition to renewable energy.
“Never in human civilization has there been this much people on the planet with this high level of greenhouse gas emissions and that should be a worry for us,” he said.
“It requires, as scientists say, rapid action in the next 10 years in deployment of renewables and significantly increasing efficiency of the energy sector.”
Binger, a former professor and director for the University of the West Indies Centre for Environment and Development, said countries must also consider things like crude which the region spends about $3 billion a year importing; and about twice that importing some 86 million barrels of petroleum a year.
“This gives us somewhere in the region of about $10 billion of imports for energy for ourselves,” Binger said.
“If you are 90 percent, or 85 percent as the International Monetary Fund says, dependent on imported fuel and imported food, you are in a very precarious position. So, we have to build our resilience both in our food sector and in our energy sector.”
Tourism is a major industry for almost all Caribbean countries. It is one of the region’s major economic sectors, with 25 million visitors contributing upwards of $50 billion towards gross domestic product annually.
“We have to protect it. It’s a high-energy industry and it requires and has opportunities for significant improvement,” Binger said.
“If we look at what the sustainable development prospects are in changing climatic conditions we have to worry about the future of agriculture. Many of our agricultural crops may cease to be viable. Banana used to be a great export.
“The responsibility for saving our countries is ours. We have no choice, we have no option. We have to do it and we have to do it with a sense of urgency,” Binger added.
Transformation of the various energy systems has quickly risen to the forefront of the regional agenda within CARICOM. This has been driven largely by a focus on climate action and introduction of the energy goal for sustainable development within the UN framework at the global level, to recognition that an availability of reliable and affordable energy supplies are necessary to address energy security and industrial growth at regional level.
CARICOM countries, though at varying stages, have been pursuing strategies that promote increasing amounts of secure energy options, which are predictable in price and supply.
The CSEF, a biennial event, has been held in the region since 2008. Previous editions have been held in St. Georges, Grenada (July 2008); Montego Bay, Jamaica (June 2010); Frigate Bay, St. Kitts (September 2012); and St. Michaels, Barbados (November 2014).
“What we are talking about is security, it’s about sustainability, survival, it’s about safeguarding our environment, and it’s about creating the savings to enable us to invest in healthcare for our people, in education and jobs for our young people,” Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 January 2017]
Photo: Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Perry Christie. Credit: Desmond L. Brown | IDN-INPS