The Caribbean region stands at a crossroads, faced with several critical challenges associated with the generation, distribution, and use of energy. Despite the availability of tremendous domestic renewable energy resources, the region remains disproportionately dependent on imported fossil fuels, which exposes it to volatile oil prices, limits economic development, and degrades local natural resources. This ongoing import dependence also fails to establish a precedent for global action to mitigate the long-term consequences of climate change, which pose a particularly acute threat to small-island states and low-lying coastal nations.
These and other concerns have spurred a broad regional dialogue on improving energy security and independence, fostering sustainable economic growth, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the development and efficient use of local and renewable resources. CARICOM has aimed to provide guidance and support for Member States that are willing to transition to more sustainable energy systems. In 2013, the region reached a milestone when it adopted a regional energy policy—CARICOM’s first region-wide agreement on joint energy goals—that included the preliminary 48% renewables target. This commitment has since been lauded by UN Secretary General Ban Ki?Moon.
“C?SERMS is pivotal to the attainment of the sustainable energy and development goals of the Caribbean Community. CARICOM envisions that implementing the C-SERMS Baseline Report and Assessment advances regional goals whilst simultaneously supporting Member States,” says Devon Gardner, Program Manager for Energy in the CARICOM Secretariat and Head of the CARICOM Energy Unit. “All CARICOM Members have contributed to this Roadmap and the CARICOM Secretariat is excited to have this first in a series of assessments, which will provide guidance on the vision and strategy for building resilient energy systems within the region.”
Established in 1973, CARICOM is a regional organization representing 15 Member States: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Despite their diversity, CARICOM Member States, with a total population of over 17 million people, face many shared energy challenges.
For most Caribbean states, inefficient transmission and distribution networks, geographic remoteness, and steep topography increase the high costs of energy systems that rely on fuel imports. The loss of large shares of GDP to energy imports diverts large sums that otherwise could be invested domestically. As a consequence, national debts rise at the expense of a country’s financial ratings, and high electricity tariffs discourage economic development and foreign investment well beyond the energy sector. Additionally, all CARICOM Member States share a particular vulnerability to the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of climate change, caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels. Impacts include sea-level rise, water scarcity, coral bleaching, and increased strength and frequency of tropical storms.
“Caribbean countries are, and increasingly will be, affected greatly by the negative consequences of global climate change,” says Ochs. “They have a strong incentive to demonstrate to other countries that it is possible to reduce climate-altering emissions quickly. But even if the problem of global warming did not exist, and the burning of fossil fuels did not result in extensive local air and water pollution, CARICOM Member States would still have a mandate to transition away from these fuels as swiftly as possible, for reasons of social opportunity, economic competitiveness, and national security. They owe it to their people.”
Significant renewable energy resources exist across the CARICOM region and have yet to be fully harnessed, including biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, waste-to-energy, and wind. There are also tremendous opportunities to dramatically improve energy efficiency. However, realizing these sustainable energy potentials in the region will require a robust and dynamic framework of policy and legislation that, so far, remains inadequate. Although all CARICOM Member States have national energy strategies in some stage of development or implementation, most of these lack a coherent long-term vision and concrete policies and measures. Efforts so far have been disjointed and incomplete, and they face a variety of technical, financial, institutional, and capacity barriers.
The C-SERMS Baseline Report and Assessment aims to serve as a key planning tool for tackling existing barriers and communicating priorities that allow for a swift transition toward sustainable energy systems in CARICOM Member States. Suggested PIPPAs range from coordinated regional fuel efficiency standards and targeted model legislation on net metering, to the development of regional generation technology risk mitigation funds and country-specific electric system modelling efforts. The report distinguishes actions to be taken at the regional or national levels, or both, and specifies the required timeframes. It also highlights three broad priority areas for future action: transportation, regional energy trade agreements, and the water-energy-food nexus.
“Sustainable, reliable, and affordable energy can be provided throughout the Caribbean, and this report helps us see how,” says Andreas Taeuber, leader of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Technical Assistance (REETA) project, which supports the CARICOM Energy Unit in fulfilling its political mandate. REETA is a project of the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), which has supported the C-SERMS project and its Baseline Report from its inception. The Inter-American Development Bank also provided support for the project.
“Through regional collaboration, CARICOM Member States have a tremendous opportunity to spearhead sustainable energy development region-wide,” says Gardner. “Full transformation of the region’s energy sector will be a long-term process, requiring extensive and dedicated collaboration among Member States as well as regional and international actors. The regional approach outlined by C-SERMS ensures that no Member State will travel this path alone, but instead will be supported by a network of actors and institutions, united under a common vision for sustainability.”
The C-SERMS Baseline Report and Assessment is the latest outcome of Worldwatch’s longstanding and intensive engagement in the Caribbean and Central America. The Institute also recently published national sustainable energy roadmaps for the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica, as well as regional studies of Central America and Latin America and the Caribbean.