Tom Roper
describes how three West Indian nations are planning to reduce their dependence on imported fuel and exploit their own sustainable energy supplies

Small island developing states (SIDS) are particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of the world’s energy markets. Most depend almost entirely on oil for their needs, but few have any oil of their own. So they must rely on importing it and are enormously exposed to the volatility of its price, and to the uncertainty of supplies. As most SIDS are remote, the fuel has to be transported for long distances, greatly increasing its cost.

This dependence entails a major threat to their economies. Importing the fuel absorbs a large proportion of their foreign exchange earnings, constraining investment in economic and social development. Additionally, the high price of energy slows down development even further, and makes it hard for the poor to get energy for the lighting and services they need.

Yet, while most SIDS are poor in fossil fuels, they are usually rich in renewable sources of energy such as the sun and the wind and could do much to improve their energy efficiency. They are therefore well placed to benefit from sustainable energy policies, which would cut back their expensive fuel imports and make modern forms of energy much more widely available to their people.

There is also a moral reason for taking this approach. Many SIDS are among the countries most vulnerable to the sea-level rise and extremes of climate brought about by climate change – yet they emit only a tiny proportion of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Setting an example by cutting back their use of fossil fuels would strengthen their moral position even further.

So far, however, little renewable energy is exploited in SIDS, and what development has taken place has been largely restricted to international assistance programmes. Now a planned project, initially in three West Indian islands, partially funded by the United Nations Foundation, aims to speed this up. The Global Sustainable Energy Islands Initiative (GSEII) seeks to bring sustainable energy projects, models and concepts together in a sustainable energy plan for small island nations, and to showcase their efforts to cut their greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

Projects developed under the GSEII will address key barriers that constrain the use of renewable energy technologies for power generation on these islands. This approach will enable the development of real, sustainable projects that can be adopted and implemented throughout other SIDS.

The GSEII – also funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the US Department of Energy – was founded in 2000 by the Climate Institute, the Organization of American States, the Energy and Security Group, Winrock International and Counterpart International. Since its foundation, it has concentrated its efforts on the island nations of St Lucia, Grenada and Dominica.

The three islands are heavily dependent on fossil fuels: in 2000 importing them accounted for 23 per cent of Grenada’s export earnings, 28.2 per cent of Dominica’s and 53.6 per cent of St Lucia’s. The islands have been found to have good potential for power from solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and biomass resources – and could improve their energy efficiency by 20 per cent.

The Prime Minister of Dominica and ministers from the other two island nations publicly stated their strong commitment to adopting measures to achieve energy self-reliance at the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. All three nations have since developed national sustainable energy plans, establishing aggressive targets for renewables and energy efficiency – the first objective of the GSEII.

The initiative now aims to support the consolidation of these policies. In the next two years, it also plans to expand its efforts to several additional member nations of the Alliance of Small Island States across the world and to provide outreach and training to over 20 island nations 

The Hon. Tom Roper is Project Director, Small Island States Energy Initiative at the Climate Institute, and former Minister for Planning and Environment and State Treasurer of Victoria, Australia.

PHOTOGRAPH: Mark Lynas/Still Pictures

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Into the mainstream | Creation’s forgotten days | Restoring a pearl | Stop my nation vanishing | Energy release | Oceans need mountains | People | An ocean corridor | At a glance: Seas, oceans and small islands | Profile: Cesaria Evora | No island is an island | Small islands, big potential | Small is vulnerable | Natural resilience | Books and products | Keeping oil from troubled waters | Redressing the balance | Neighbours without borders | Will Mother Nature wait? | Pacific canaries

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Climate change, 1997
Issue on Climate and Action, 1998
Issue on Small Islands, 1999
Issue on Biological Diversity, 2000
Issue on Energy, 2001
Issue on World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002
Issue on Energy, 2003