By Dymphna van der Lans , CEO of the Clinton Climate Initiative, where she oversees climate and energy related programmes within the Clinton Foundation and Jules Kortenhorst the Chief Executive Officer of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and a recognized leader on global energy issues and climate change.
LOOKING at recent headlines, the issue of climate change is hard to miss. Threats of rising sea levels, freak weather patterns, and dying ecosystems have become part of the daily conversation, yet the international response is yet to catch up. For many people, the level of separation between the lives they live and the effects of global warming is too great, and the repercussions seem too removed for any action to be taken.
Unfortunately, not everyone has this luxury. In island nations around the world, including Saint Lucia, citizens contribute only a small amount of emissions worldwide but face the greatest and most imminent consequences from climate change. Warmer ocean temperatures have put key aquatic environments at risk, unpredictable storms and droughts have destroyed vegetation, and the very nations themselves could soon be under water. Immediate action is necessary on all levels in order to build resiliency to climate change.
Though steps need to be taken globally, work can be done on a smaller scale. Our organizations— the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) and Rocky Mountain Institute–Carbon War Room (RMI-CWR)—have worked for years to help island nations like Saint Lucia transition to renewable energy. Now, we are partnering with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Lighthouses initiative to spread information about climate change and best practices for transitioning to energy independence.
Island nations like Saint Lucia will benefit economically if there is a systematic transition away from traditional sources of energy. Because of their dependence on importing diesel and petroleum, these nations are susceptible to global market fluctuations and have to pay high premiums on transport of fuel. For instance, the price of energy for some island nations has reached almost 500 percent the typical U.S. average. In Saint Lucia, 11.75 percent of the country’s GDP is spent on energy. Compared with non-island nations, whose energy expenditure only represents a small percentage of GDP, this high price causes a significant economic burden for the people of Saint Lucia and their families.
This high cost puts stress on the government by increasing the trade imbalance and discouraging foreign investment, as well as individual households who have to pay high prices for the power they receive. Saint Lucia can significantly reduce energy costs by becoming more independent, which will benefit the country as a whole. Here in Saint Lucia, work is underway to help create a sustainable energy system. RMI-CWR is helping the utility develop a 3.2 MW solar project. The government of New Zealand, in conjunction with the World Bank, has provided Saint Lucia with $2.8 million in grants to help its Geothermal Resource Development Project. Furthermore, Saint Lucia has signed a memorandum of understanding with CCI. These are great steps in the right direction, but more work can be done.
One of the biggest hurdles for creating widespread change across many different islands is the lack of shared information. Without sufficient knowledge, a plan of action cannot be created, which means that renewable energy systems won’t be implemented. By increasing the scope of accessibility, we are working to make the energy transition a realistic and achievable goal for all island nations. Our organizations can now share their tested methods of renewable implementation through IRENA’s vast network of governmental and business connections.
Island nations like Saint Lucia have taken admirable steps towards transitioning to renewable energy. Together with global leaders, we are working on a comprehensive effort to address the causes and mitigate the effects of climate change, and these next steps through the Lighthouses initiative are the key to the implementation and creation of a lasting, energy efficient legacy.