Energy, climate change and poverty reduction
"If you could pick just one thing to lower the price of, to reduce poverty, by far, you would pick energy." This was Bill Gates' statement at TED2010, and the point he emphasised at the climate negotiations now taking place in Paris.
This is a view endorsed by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI). Energy production and use account for two-thirds of the world's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and represent the single greatest cause of global warming. It is this impact on climate change that has led to Jamaica's current struggle with the most severe droughts since Independence, negatively impacting food security and the livelihoods of local farmers and the poorest groups in the Jamaican society.
The 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) currently being held in Paris has dominated international headlines this week. The meeting of 196 countries aims to do fundamentally two things:
1. Establish a new (and legally binding) deal on climate change that will limit GHG emissions; and
2. Essentially change the nature of how we conduct business - how we produce; how we farm; how we consume.
It is no coincidence that these climate negotiations are taking place just two months after the launch of the United Nations' (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York. Two of these goals - Goals 13 and 14 - are particularly relevant to the Caribbean and speak directly to efforts to address the impact of climate change.
In CaPRI's September publication, An SDG Agenda for the Caribbean, we stressed that the environmental dangers that the Caribbean faces are urgent. Failure to address them with the required urgency, on a global scale, poses dangers that will be realised long before economic growth can elevate the collective appreciation of conservation.
Indeed, while Caribbean governments were right to largely ignore the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it would be a catastrophic mistake to ignore the SDGs. Further, while the Caribbean does not have the economic or political clout on its own to change the course of industrial evolution on a global scale to reduce climate change, the UN's new SDGs and COP21 present an opportunity to support such changes.
Caribbean governments have a greater interest in supporting a global consensus towards sustainable economic and ecological management than any other country group in the world, but it will be more difficult to argue persuasively for such a global consensus if the nations of the Caribbean are themselves opting out of meeting the goals.
As such, CaPRI has articulated several recommendations in our September SDG brief:
1. Review existing regulations with regard to land use, property development, and construction to assess their consistency with sustainable development and the preservation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and promulgate appropriate new laws and regulations as is required to fill gaps.
2. Enforce existing regulations and development orders with regard to the minimisation and/or mitigation of environmental impacts.
3. Engage in a coordinated diplomatic push, through the United Nations, for countries to mobilise the promised funding under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address the mitigation needs of developing countries.
4. Review the adequacy of and revise existing, and then enforce, fish-harvesting regulations with the aim of putting an end to overfishing and destructive fishing practices, including placing restrictions on fishing and other detrimental activities with the goal of restoring fish stock to sustainable levels.
5. Conduct a review of existing fisheries programmes to identify explicit or implicit subsidies which contribute to overfishing and eliminate any such subsidies.
6. Conserve at least 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas. This recommendation refers to effective conservation, not legal protection without adequate enforcement.
7. Fully implement the United Nations conventions on the sustainable use of the oceans.
8. Conduct an audit of remaining important and healthy natural resources, such as forests, rivers, aquifers, mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs. Then articulate a plan to preserve them.
With energy production and use representing the single largest contributor to global warming, and with the value of petroleum imports representing, on average, one-third of Jamaica's GDP, no discussion on adapting to, or mitigating, the effects of climate change can be complete without engagement on energy.
It is with this in mind that Bill Gates and a group of 28 leading entrepreneurs, including Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Richard Branson and George Soros, have launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. These investors intend to work with 20 countries that have come together to form MissionInnovation. Their aim is to increase research and development into new technologies to deliver clean energy, and to do so at a low cost.
Low cost, clean energy will not only represent an attractive substitute for fossil fuel energy, reducing GHG emissions, but the natural endowments of the Caribbean for renewable energy technologies would help to boost the competitiveness of our businesses, and increase the chances of business expansion, economic growth, higher levels of employment and poverty reduction. Uruguay, now producing 95 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy, is a global example. Caribbean governments and private-sector leaders should, therefore, position themselves to benefit from these opportunities.
For governments, theirs is the responsibility to create an attractive business and regulatory environment. In Jamaica's case, the recent Covenant for Fiscal Responsibility, Good Governance and Social Inclusion,advanced by CaPRI, along with private-sector leaders and civil society two weeks ago, is a good place to start. Government and private-sector groups are also invited to use CaPRI's Energy Investment Analytical Tools, easily accessible on our website, to empirically inform their energy investment decisions.
Ultimately, energy, climate change and poverty reduction are far from disparate concepts. In fact, low-cost, clean energy is a fulcrum upon which climate change, economic growth and poverty reduction can be substantively addressed in the long term. To realise these long-term benefits, however, immediate action is necessary.
- The Caribbean Policy Research Institute is a not-for-profit, non-political policy think tank based at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.