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Virtual parliamentary roundtable with Caribbean and African small island developing states

Opening the meeting, Nicholas Dunlop, Secretary General of the Climate Parliament, commended the role the of small island developing states (SIDS) in climate negotiations, noting that without their voice, we would not have the 1.5oC ambition written into the Paris Agreement.

After introductions from over 20 legislators and experts, UNIDO’s Martin Lugmayr focused on the energy policy impact on island youth, saying that the policies we make now must ensure that the next decade is a sunrise and not a sunset for the youth of today, noting that current energy policies are not sustainable. Economies must increase their resilience to climate shocks, reduce energy costs and fossil fuel subsidies. Decarbonising the energy sector with decentralised minigrids can make every household a producer of electricity with a smart charging network for electric vehicles also providing battery storage, he added. Regulatory frameworks and legislation need to be changed for this to happen. He urged legislators to think globally, act regionally and implement nationally, emphasising the importance of regional cooperation.

Dr Gary Jackson, Executive Director of the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) looked at the future of smart grids and e-mobility and challenged ministers to own an electric vehicle (EV) before the year ends. He explained the ‘Six Zeros’ concept: zero emissions, energy, congestion, accidents, empty (vehicle utilisation) and cost (the cost of owning your own car). He outlined three disruptors for mainstreaming EVs: electrification of transport systems, connectivity and transport demand management. CARICOM’s Regional EV Strategy (REVS) aims to electrify surface transport within the community –including riverine and coastal transport. Policy, technology, capacity and finance initiatives have been developed to implement these changes. So, he concluded, the future must be smart, and must have a community-based energy storage system which embeds renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Kuda Ndhlukula, Executive Director of the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE) noted that work on smart grids and e-mobility was in its infancy in the region. There are pilot projects in South Africa; Mauritius introduced additional incentives for EVs in 2016; and Seychelles approved an EV project in 2020 to build capacity, demonstrate EVs, and develop policies, business models and finance schemes. For e-mobility and smart grids to be more widely adopted, he concluded, countries need an enabling policy and regulatory environment, strategic infrastructure plans, capacity building across the value chain, and strong research and development.

Sergio Missana, Climate Parliament’s Executive Director, reminded MPs that Climate Parliament will be hosting a Parliamentary Summit in Glasgow during the COP26 talks in November and proposed that small island states should be represented there. That meeting will be closely tied to an initiative that Climate Parliament is working on, the Green Grids Initiative.

Nicholas Dunlop thanked the presenters and said he was struck by the fact that small islands could save $10 billion annually if they switched to renewable energy. Why are we asking people to pay more for dirty energy when clean energy is cheaper? he asked.

Many MPs reflected that SIDS had the political will to drive for higher levels of renewable energy and MPs cited examples of how far they had come in recent years. Some legislators noted that small islands had limited resources and had borne the brunt of increasingly intense hurricanes. They wanted to know how they could increase their ambition with the resources available. A just transition and the creation of green jobs was raised, with concerns that the transition to renewable energy could help the wealthier but leave behind people already below the poverty line.

An MP agreed that people should not pay more for dirty energy and asked for more information on comparative energy costs and best practices so MPs can educate others on the issues. While the cost of renewable energy is cheaper, the infrastructure costs during the transition to renewable energy must be considered especially as many small islands have already invested in fossil-fuel generation. Antigua and Barbuda’s Department of Environment is looking at the process of transition and found that signing long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with fossil fuel plants can limit the speed of transition. Small islands do not enjoy economies of scale and pay higher prices for renewable energy equipment.

The introduction of electric vehicles (EVs) was considered more problematic than introducing renewable energy by some MPs as the price of EVs is a barrier to their introduction as well as the costs of having to install charging points. Mauritius has 300 EVs on the road today but has plans for 26,000 by 2030.

Responding to MPs, the presenters reiterated that renewable energy is very competitive with diesel and heavy oils; installation costs are often less than the spend on fossil fuel subsidies; and they generate revenues for often underfunded utilities. It is important not to overlook energy efficiency measures which should be a priority, especially lighting and the introduction of EVs should begin now as they give stabilisation to the grid, they added. When integrated into an industrial policy, the transition to renewable energy can, as in Barbados, create local production and assembly jobs – more than the fossil fuel industry can. Planning for climate resilience is also critical and after hurricane damage, it is vital to build back better.


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