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La Camera Cummins

By Kenton X. Chance

ABU DHABI (CMC) —  Barbados Energy and Business Minister, Lisa Cummins, Tuesday urged small island developing states (SIDS), including those in the Caribbean, to  lead globally and use their collective voices to champion the energy transition and climate action.

“Even though SIDS are varied and diverse in their global distribution and cultures, economic and political structures, languages and as many parameters as can be used to assess and categorise, the challenges we face are similar,” she said.

Cummins was addressing the “SIDS Ministerial – Charting a Resilient and Sustainable Energy Future for SIDS” on the sidelines of the  14th Session of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Assembly here.

The meeting discussed updating the approach for development partners to ensure initiatives like the SIDS Lighthouses remain effective in mobilising necessary finance and boosting decarbonisation, with an emphasis on inclusivity and strong partnerships.

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It aimed to set a direction for the upcoming 4th International Conference for SIDS in Antigua next month by focusing on sustainable development and climate priorities.

“Our small sizes and limited resource bases coupled with high dependencies on foreign trade results in our susceptibility to external economic shocks and natural hazards. As a result, the high debt to GDP ratios classifies us as high-risk territories which translates to a high cost of capital – a key barrier to attracting investments,” Cummins said.

She said SIDS face specific vulnerabilities such as the challenges of energy security and affordable energy services, as well as adaptation and mitigation to climate change.

“Despite this, SIDS have added a total renewable energy capacity of approximately 7.6 GW by the end of 2022. Despite the challenges of COVID, despite the high debt-to-GDP ratio, and despite natural disasters which we are exposed to annually, we have collectively doubled our renewable energy capacity over the last 10 years.”

Cummins said that partnering with international entities and investors can lower the debt financing and that such relationships are crucial for funding renewable energy projects and their associated infrastructure.

“However, access to long term investments is critical, and financing is a complex issue that requires a revolutionary approach for SIDS.”

The ministerial  featured an address by IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera and interventions by representatives from several Caribbean countries and extra-regional island states.

Cummins said SIDS’ commitment to accelerating their energy transitions have been heavily focused on the electricity sector “but resilience and sustainable development demands that we agitate for the decarbonisation of the transportation and other end-use sectors”.

She said SIDS cannot rely on “the same systems and methodologies if we are to chart a resilient and sustainable energy future for SIDS,” adding that new paradigms and innovative solutions are required, “or we will reach so far and no further”.

The Barbados minister said that coming out of the global climate change talks, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28), held here last year, the countries of the developing world, and SIDS in particular, breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“Funding arrangements were pledged for the Loss and Damage Fund which offers protection for the poor and the most vulnerable to benefit from relief for addressing the impacts of climate disasters.”

Cummins said it was “a momentous occasion” as the first ever international arrangement to transition away from fossil fuels was signed.

She said progress has been slow and hard “but we are here to capitalise on the momentum gained and to further advance as we seek to restrict the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels”.

SIDS have said that containing global temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-Industrialisation levels is a must if they are to avoid catastrophic impact of climate change and Cummins told the conference “this is not just an important moment for us as SIDS, but a pivotal moment in the energy transformation”.

She said that from the first global conference on sustainable development held in Barbados in 1994, SIDS have been “on the forefront fighting: fighting to save our environment, fighting to save our nations, fighting to not be erased from the world map by rising sea levels and unnaturally powered natural disasters.”

Cummins noted that in the Declaration of Barbados signed at the 1994 conference, Member States said the international community should “build new and equitable partnerships for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States through the implementation of the Programme of Action and should send a powerful message to the world’s peoples on the possibilities of joint action undertaken with a sense of common purpose and partnership”.

“As I speak to you 30 years later, I believe we can all agree that the SIDS Lighthouses Initiative has been a significant advancement of that bold declaration,” she said, referring to the LHI, a framework for action to support SIDS in their energy transition efforts from fossil fuel dependence to renewables.

Cummins said that success of the LHI speak for itself.

“Over the past 10 years the success of this initiative speaks for itself: the 2020 target of mobilising US$500 million, deploying 100 megawatts  of new solar photovoltaic  capacity, 20 MW of new wind power, significant quantities of small hydropower and geothermal energy, and requiring all SIDS to develop renewable energy roadmaps, as well as the 2023 target of 5 GW of installed renewable energy capacity were both achieved ahead of time.”

Cummins, however, warned that this  is “not a time for nostalgia or a time to rest on our laurels.

” It is a time to reaffirm our commitment and reassess our strategies for much remains to be done. The global stocktake calls for a tripling of renewable energy capacity and a doubling of energy efficiency by 2030,” Cummins said.

Quoting the theme of the two-day assembly which begins on Wednesday — “Outcome of COP28: Infrastructure, Policies and Skills for Tripling Renewables and Accelerating the Energy Transition” — Cummins said this will be SIDS’ focus over the next two days.

She noted that the  Bridgetown Initiative which addresses financing for climate resilience, is designed to reform the way rich countries finance poor countries in a climate crisis by preventing spiralling debt crises from successive natural disasters such as droughts, floods and hurricanes.

“It addresses the inherent imbalances hindering the international financing arrangements as it relates to SIDS and poor and vulnerable countries. It acknowledges that change in developmental financing is a requisite and allows the international community to focus on the humanity of SIDS and their economic realities.”

Cummins said that targeted solutions, comprising modern flexible policy, regulatory and legislative systems which are responsive to technological advancements as well as bespoke financial models are a necessity.

“Technical assistance, knowledge transfer and capacity building of our human resources need to be the nucleus of the transformation. The continuous development of these systems is vital to facilitate SIDS’ access to appropriate financing for the implementation of renewable energy projects.”

This, she said, would assist SIDS in better managing their high debt profiles and channel investments to modernising archaic infrastructure, to facilitate the onboarding of renewable energy and innovative solutions such as storage onto electricity grids without compromising stability and reliability.

“Among us we have the determination, passion and the ability to overcome any challenge, and today, we stand at the precipice of what portends to be the most significant period in the fight for the future of our planet.

“We have witnessed the first official acceptance and agreement on the role of fossil fuels in climate change and the operationalisation of a mechanism which addresses loss and damage due to climate change. Let us not pause to gaze on the significance of this moment but take the baton we have received and advance the flag for the cause of our peoples and nations,” Cummins said.