Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/893
    9 May 2006

    Renewable Energy Essential for Well-Being of Small Island Developing States, Commission on Sustainable Development Told

    Dependence on Imported Fuels Significant Challenge for Small Islands; Positive Initiatives Include Biofuel, Wind, Solar, Geothermal, Hydropower

    NEW YORK, 8 May (UN Headquarters) -- Renewable energy was not an option but a must for small island developing States, who were heavily oil-dependent for their energy supply and were the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, the Commission on Sustainable Development was told today, as it began the second of its two-week session.

    The Commission decided last year to devote one day of its future review sessions to taking stock of the sustainable development efforts of small island developing States.  As such, today's deliberations reviewed the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (Barbados, 1994), as well as the Mauritius Strategy for the Programme's further implementation, adopted last year.

    Addressing the opening of "SIDS Day", Patrizio Civili, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, said that the dependence of small island developing States on imported fuels for transportation and power generation remained a significant challenge to development.  Indeed, oil imports consumed the largest percentage of small island developing States' gross national income (GNI) and foreign exchange earnings.  As such, the development and application of innovative renewable energy technologies in small island developing States was extremely important.

    He said there were already many positive initiatives in that area, involving the innovative application of indigenous resources -- notably in biofuel technology development from waste, sugar cane and coconuts, as well as in solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower.  Further development and expanded use of those technologies would contribute significantly towards reducing the vulnerability of small island developing States and promoting wider access to modern energy services for their populations.  A continuing challenge for those States was how to implement those technologies on a scale appropriate to their small size.

    Noting that the adverse effects of climate change were real, immediate and devastating, Julian R. Hunte (Saint Lucia), Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said the international community's expressions of concern must be translated into action that would ensure that small island developing States were enabled to take appropriate action when natural disasters struck.  The availability of early warning systems was essential, but was no substitute for action on the ground in the affected small island developing States.  He wished to see greater emphasis on preparatory action that would enhance prospects for an effective response before, during and after serious weather events and other natural disasters.

    Small island developing States were well aware, he added, that they must have improved access to reliable energy supplies, particularly from renewable sources of energy, and must seek to lower the costs of energy production and services.  If they were unable to do so, countering the impact of climate change, eradicating poverty and other essential sustainable strategies and policies could not be implemented.

    During an afternoon panel discussion on climate change, Albert Binger, former Director of the University of the West Indies Center for Environment and Development, said climate change was really "the dark side of fossil fuel", and the world, especially small island developing States, was facing a very serious problem.  Having led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-funded Experts Group on Vulnerability of small island developing States, he noted that climate change was not an environmental problem per se, but an energy problem.  Some 75 to 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions came from the energy sector, and it was not possible to solve climate change on any level if energy was not made sustainable.  Only by attaining sustainable energy within the context of sustainable development would it be possible to address climate change issues within the island States.

    He said that the small island developing States produced less than .5 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases, about the same percentage as their share of global trade.  The future of climate change and high energy demands placed those countries in uncharted waters; no other countries had ever had to deal with those twin challenges.

    Tuvalu's representative stressed that the impacts of climate change were already happening, and were not some future prediction, as the Secretary-General's report had indicated.  His island nation was increasingly visited, not only by cyclones, but by rising sea levels, king tides and swells, all of which were impacting badly on freshwater and vegetation, and carrying away a lot of area in the foreshore of the islands.  That recognition seemed prevalent everywhere except when it came to financing concrete adaptation projects on the ground, which were so urgently and comprehensively needed to mitigate the climate change already "visiting" countries like his own.

    Also addressing today's meeting was Anwarul K. Chowdhury, High Representative of the Secretary-General for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, whose office was responsible for advocacy and the mobilization of international support and resources for the Mauritius Strategy.  He believed the United Nations should come up with a comprehensive set of indicators for measuring implementation, saying that identifying realistic and worthwhile indicators was essential for monitoring progress.

    The Commission will continue its session at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 9 May.

    Background

    The Commission on Sustainable Development met today to continue its fourteenth session with a review of the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.  (For background on the session, see Press Release ENV/DEV/887 issued on 28 April.)

    Introductory Statements

    ANWARUL K. CHOWDHURY, High Representative of the Secretary-General for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said it was appropriate that during today's discussion emphasis would be given to practical initiatives to enhance the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation, adopted at the 2005 International Meeting.  The Commission should, in the context of Small Island Developing States Day, provide an opportunity to look into the state of overall implementation of the Strategy.  That should be done on an annual basis with brief written inputs from all stakeholders.

    The Inter-Agency Task Force of the United Nations system for follow-up of the Strategy should come up with a comprehensive set of indicators for measuring implementation, he said.  Identifying realistic and worthwhile indicators was essential for monitoring progress.  Therefore, the Task Force should be meeting more often and on a regular basis.  It could also become a valuable forum for sharing of knowledge, experience and information among the United Nations system entities in the implementation process.

    Turning to the advocacy and resource mobilization efforts being made by his office, he noted that inclusivity was necessary for structuring broader partnership and strategic collaboration.  It was absolutely essential that the regional intergovernmental organizations and their secretariats -- the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Pacific Islands Forum and the Indian Ocean Commission -- should be organically linked to the implementation process with the full political and resource support of the United Nations.  His office was also undertaking efforts for the greater involvement of the international financial institutions, particularly the Bretton Woods institutions, in favour of small island developing States.  Regarding the World Bank, he said a remarkable decision that would positively advance the Strategy was the agreement on special measures for International Development Association (IDA) assistance in favour of small islands that would open up the prospects for increased development resources for those countries.

    His office had taken the initiative of sensitizing the newly-established Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to the need for giving priority attention to the post-disaster needs of small islands, he said.  It had also endeavoured for the inclusion of small island developing States in the context of South-South cooperation.  The social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities of such States, as well as their smallness and remoteness, called for the commitment and effective involvement of their partners in addressing every aspect of the Mauritius Strategy.

    PATRIZIO CIVILI, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, said that for small island developing States, their dependence on imported fuels for transportation and power generation remained a significant challenge to development.  Indeed, oil imports consumed the largest percentage of those States' gross national income (GNI) and foreign exchange earnings.  Energy efficiency and conservation were, therefore, critical measures which were being pursued by small island developing States through both domestic and commercial activity, while seeking at the same time to improve access and affordability of energy services for their populations and to promote industrial development.  All that rendered the development and application of innovative renewable energy technologies in small islands extremely important -- and worthy of the ongoing support of the United Nations system.

    He said here were already many positive initiatives in that area, involving the innovative application of indigenous resources -- notably in biofuel technology development from waste, sugar cane and coconuts, as well as in solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower.  Further development and expanded use of those technologies would contribute significantly towards reducing the vulnerability of small island developing States and promoting wider access to modern energy services for their populations.  On that front, a continuing challenge for those States was how to implement those technologies on a scale appropriate to their small size.

    Renewable energy could also be an effective option for small island developing States for addressing climate change, he said.  The implementation of adaptation measures was crucial to the long-term viability of small island States.  Sea-level rise remained an ongoing concern for many of those low-lying islands.  So, too, was the increased frequency and intensity of climate-related natural disasters.  Reconstruction and rehabilitation had become a challenge to development planning in affected small islands.  The international community must get more firmly behind the efforts of small island developing States to implement adaptation measures and to improve vulnerability assessment and monitoring.  That strengthening of small island States' resilience was also essential to enhancing and integrating measures for disaster preparedness, response and rehabilitation.  And it would entail such measures as capacity-building, training and technology transfer.

    Another important area of support for small island developing States was in the promotion of innovative and competitive industries in such States, particularly in the context of their response to challenges faced by their traditional industries as a result of globalization and trade liberalization, he said.  Since the Mauritius International Meeting, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had convened three regional follow-up meetings and an interregional meeting to support small island developing States' efforts to begin implementation of the Mauritius Strategy at the national and regional levels.  The Department would continue working to prepare a framework for comprehensive United Nations system support for small islands' implementation of the Strategy.  It was also supporting small island developing States' efforts to strengthen integrated decision-making at the national level, through the development and implementation of national sustainable development strategies.

    JULIAN R. HUNTE (Saint Lucia), Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said the Mauritius Strategy could only be implemented on the basis of global partnership.  Forging that critical partnership remained a challenge, particularly in respect of the facilitation and improvement of access to existing resources and, where appropriate, the allocation of new and dedicated financial resources.  Noting that the adverse effects of climate change were real, immediate and devastating, he said that the international community's expressions of concern must be translated into action that would ensure that small island developing States were enabled to take appropriate action when natural disasters struck.  The availability of early warning systems was essential, but was no substitute for action on the ground in the affected small islands.  He wished to see greater emphasis placed on preparatory action that would enhance prospects for an effective response before, during and after serious weather events and other natural disasters.

    He agreed with the assessment that current energy use by small island developing States had enormous economic, social or environmental impacts, and increased their vulnerability.  The energy sector was inextricably linked to vulnerability.  Air quality, atmospheric issues, climate change and industrial development were but examples of the issues impacting the vulnerability of small island States in respect of energy.  Rising costs of, and inefficiencies in, transmission and use of fossil fuels were primary reasons for their economic vulnerability.  Small island developing States were well aware that they must have improved access to reliable energy supplies, particularly from renewable sources of energy, and must seek to lower the costs of energy production and services.  If they were unable to do so, countering the impact of climate change, eradicating poverty and other essential sustainable strategies and policies could not be implemented.  Industrial development, for example, would be difficult to advance without a cost-effective and reliable energy supply.  On other hand, the efficient use of energy and building on indigenous energy sources would improve the chances for small island developing States to succeed in internationally competitive markets.

    The two areas in which small island developing States had placed emphasis in their sustainable development efforts were technology transfer and capacity-building.  For those States, technology transferred should be appropriate technology, adapted to the special needs and specific circumstances of the small island States concerned.  Likewise, capacity-building could bring about major changes in the way such States formulated and implemented public policies and programmes for sustainable development.  He added that very little could be done without resources.  It was important that small island developing States had access to existing international funds and financial mechanisms, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

    Panel I:  Energy Access and Efficiency and Renewable Energy

    This morning's panel discussion focused on energy access, energy efficiency and the development and expanded use of renewable energy technology in small island developing States.  The panellists were Basil Sutherland, former Executive Director of the Caribbean Electric Utilities Services Corporation; Kassiap Deepchand, Deputy Executive Director/Technical Manager at the Mauritius Sugar Authority; and David Barrett, Manager of Energy and Environment at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica.

    Small island developing States in the Caribbean, stated Mr. Sutherland, were mainly oil-importing developing countries, with a mix of public and private utilities and little use of renewable energy.  Most of the electricity generation came from fossil fuels.  The privatization of State-owned electric utilities was motivated by budgetary pressures, the desire to attract private capital for expansion, and the need to improve operational efficiency.  A major benefit of privatization was relieving the State of the financial burden for the expansion of the energy sector.  At the same time, a lowering of the real price of electricity had not been achieved.  Therefore, it was necessary to think more carefully about the benefits of privatization, as well as think more creatively about the use of cheaper fuels and hybrid systems, as well as increase renewable energy use.

    As Caribbean and other island States were predominantly energy importers, noted Mr. Barrett, they were energy insecure and vulnerable to events beyond their control.  In looking at the opportunities for implementing renewable energy technologies and cleaner technologies, he noted that all small island developing States in the region had solar energy potential, and wind and hydropower also provided much potential.  In developing and implementing such technologies, he highlighted the need for access to low-interest/grant funding for projects and, most importantly, political will, which had to be at the forefront of policy development and implementation.  Also needed were energy development plans, and fiscal and economic incentives for renewable energy technology.

    Small island developing States had no other alternative than to move towards a future without fossil energy, it was stated during the discussion.  Their dependency on fossil fuel imports for development, exacerbated by rising costs, highlighted the challenges those States faced in providing affordable, accessible and clean energy for the benefit of their populations.  Although there was some recognition of the potential that existed, noted one speaker, there was little interest by international partners to develop indigenous and new sources of energy in small island developing States.

    An example of some of the approaches some of those States were taking to meet their energy needs was provided by Mr. Deepchand, who elaborated on the experience of Mauritius in bagasse energy development.  His country, which had no fossil fuels, derived much of its energy from bagasse -- the fibrous residue from sugar cane.  The Bagasse Energy Development Programme, begun in 1991 and coincided with the Gulf crisis, had been designed to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuel, enable the modernization of the sugar industry, allow savings in foreign currency in fossil fuel and mitigate greenhouse gases.

    Like other small island developing States, Tonga relied heavily on imported fossil fuels for its energy needs, as well as depleting domestic mangrove and other forest resources for fuel, residential development and agriculture, stated its representative.  Tonga's economy was, therefore, particularly vulnerable to oil price shocks, disruptions in the world supply of oil and the environmental consequences of storing, transporting and combusting oil.  In an effort to address some of those challenges, Tonga was promoting alternative energy sources and energy efficiency by, among other things, exploring solar energy, wind power and biofuel.

    Biofuels should be seen as a global solution for clean transportation, stated Brazil's representative.  His country's experience with ethanol since 1976 had helped it expand its economic base and allowed its cars to run on ethanol, gasoline or any combination thereof.  Brazil would promote the transfer of technology in the context of South-South cooperation, and work to advance the creation of a world market for biofuels, thus contributing to poverty eradication, climate change mitigation and the development of clean energy as a whole.

    To further assist island States in their endeavour for sustainable development, many speakers cited the need for the international community to honour its commitments, particularly in the areas of technology transfer and capacity-building.  Improving the access of small island developing States to affordable energy and new technologies would require sizeable investments in areas such as capacity-building.

    Continuing long-term commitment and financial resources were critical for small island States to make the shift to sustainable energy, stated one speaker.  For example, while he supported the European Union Energy Initiative for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development, launched at the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the Union could better demonstrate its commitment to small island developing States by creating a window under that initiative to assist those States.  Also, the Global Environment Facility could play a more constructive role in assisting those States as they worked towards sustainable energy development, including by streamlining its application procedures.  Another speaker proposed that a specific proportion, such as 5 per cent, of national energy budgets and initiatives, such as the European Union Energy Initiative, be allocated to meeting the energy needs of the energy poor in small island States.

    Panel II:  Innovative Strategies to Enhance Industrial Development in Small Island Developing States

    The panellists were:  Pamela Baldinger, energy and environmental specialist,  USAID; Tom Wichman, Cook Islands, innovative technological builder/entrepreneur from the Cook Islands; Atina Myazoe, Energy Planner, Ministry of Resources and Development, Marshall Islands; and Carlos Echeverria, Strategic Alliances Manager, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

    Showcasing several small innovative technological projects, Mr. Wichman said that some of the islands were only one metre above sea level, but the concern was not only the sea wall rise, but the number of consultants that came around and sold them out-of-date technology.  Technology transfers to the Cook Islands was a big problem.  The islands had just bought a new programme from New Zealand for $7 million, and after a few months, it did not work.  Besides, what was supposed to have been achieved for $7 million could have been done for $700.  There was a problem in the villages, and the fish had become toxic; they could not swim in the sea.  After a while, the people were given a report, which stated that they had a big problem -- that the fish were sick and could not swim.  "We paid a lot of money for someone to tell us we had a big problem", he said.

    He said that another problem was the number of pigs and pig farmers.  There were 2,000 pigs, and the waste from one pig was equivalent to that produced by four human beings.  So, with 2,000 pigs, a lot of waste was going straight into the lagoon.  Thus, the islands needed a waste treatment plant.  His Government had paid $7 million for a treatment plant, which had killed the bugs but could not pull out the nitrates and phosphates from the water, and it was that which was poisoning the fish.  The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had offered a number of projects, including a solar panel.  He had personally sent the panel back to the UNDP, telling the Programme that it was "rubbish".

    Ms. Myazoe discussed the potential of small-scale initiatives and their crucial economic impacts in the outer islands of the Marshall Islands for the many people with no access to electricity or energy services.  The islands were spread out over an exclusive economic zone of nearly 1 million square miles comprising approximately 171 square kilometres.  There were nearly 60,000 people, and two main urban areas were basically connected to a main power grid.  Many people on the islands were living without access to energy.  The Government's aim was to provide basic life services, such as medical clinics and schools and access to vital services, enabling children to study during late hours, enabling the sick to be tended at night, and increasing household functioning through the provision of light.

    She said that the Marshall Islands was seeking a programme that was sustainable in terms of operation and maintenance.  A major constraint, however, was the limited natural resources base and the very high dependence on resource goods.  Thus, there had been an increased use of coconut oil as a fuel source.  The Government would continue to strengthen its ties with its bilateral, regional and international partners to overcome the constraints.  It would also address capacity-building and improve public awareness campaigns for renewable energy sources.  It was in the process of setting up a microcredit loan system.  It sought to provide basic energy services to enable its people to better their lives by engaging in small business development.

    Among the speakers in the ensuing discussion, India's delegate recalled that the Mauritius International Meeting, held in January 2005, had recognized the extreme vulnerability of small island developing States to sea-level rise and natural disasters.  Having more than 1,300 small islands in the Indian Ocean as part of its territory had ensured India's familiarity with the challenges of those islands, while simultaneously protecting their unique environments and fragile ecosystems.  India had committed concessional loans and credit lines amounting to $350 million and projected aid of $70 million to small island developing States, and it was ready to share its expertise and technological resources to contribute to their economic prosperity and sustainable development.

    He said it was equally important that those countries more fortunate than India shoulder their responsibilities for the provision of adequate assistance, including financial resources, technology transfer and capacity-building to the small island developing nations.  Those countries needed to increase market access for small island countries, eliminate trade barriers and agricultural subsidies and remove all other external constraints to their sustainable development.

    Mauritius' speaker said that India's initiatives were a great example of South-South cooperation.  In the tourism sector, Mauritius was not only limiting itself to building hotels, but branching out into larger, integrated development schemes involving hotels and apartments for foreigners.  Its tourism charter was based on environmental best practices, and more than 50 per cent of its heat from water came from solar energy.  Mauritius was also developing the fisheries hub and exploring possibilities for expanding the land-based ocean industry.  There was a lot happening with small island developing nations around the world.  While there was no way to mainstream them or have regular, yearly meetings, perhaps the international community could find a way to harness all the technologies, he said.

    Panel IV:  Mitigating Air Pollution and Promoting Climate Change in Small Island Developing States

    The panellists were:  Leslie Walling, Natural Resource Manager and Executive Director of the Caribbean Conservation Association; and Albert Binger, former Director of the University of the West Indies Center for Environment and Development, and former Chair of Strategic Planning of the Rockefeller Foundation.  Since 2002, he had led the UNDP-funded Experts Group on Vulnerability of small island developing States.

    Mr. Walling said that the reality -- and that was not just a Caribbean reality -- was that the world did not have to wait until tomorrow to start adapting to climate change.  It was currently vulnerable to climate variability and climatic extremes, and adaptation, in the Caribbean, was already being practiced independently of the global climate change framework.  Those practices could be fine-tuned by determining risk levels through more formal adaptation approaches.  The responses, however, must be institutionalized.  The current adaptation approach in the Caribbean recognized the impacts of extreme climatic events and had been motivated by an appreciation of the consequences of non- or mal-adaptation.  Many island States already experienced the effects of climate variations, such as in rainfall regimes, soil moisture, winds, sea levels and patterns of wave intensity and action.

    More specifically, he said, the Caribbean had experienced increased temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, more intensive and shorter rainfall episodes, and more intense hurricanes and tropical storms; and sea level increases were anticipated.  Various studies, such as those being undertaken by the climate studies group, had showed a significant warming trend from 1977 to 1997.  Studies on the impacts of more intense hurricanes and storms in the Caribbean showed that the likely impacts would have exponential increases as measured by insured losses.  In anticipation of the likely impacts, the Caribbean had embarked on several steps.  In December 2003, for example, the Heads of Governments had established the Climate Change Centre, which carried forward strategies on a programmatic basis and developed new projects, methods, tools and capacity for vulnerability assessment.  Parallel to that were several adaptation practices in the agricultural sector, insurance, and disaster preparedness sectors.  So, "we are not starting from zero", he said.

    Mr. Binger said the world, especially the small island developing States, were facing a very serious problem.  Climate change was really "the dark side of fossil fuel".  The world enjoyed the good benefits of fossil fuel, but there was a side that no one wanted to deal with, but everyone had to.  Climate change was not an environmental problem per se, but an energy problem.  Some 75 to 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions came from the energy sector; it was not possible to solve climate change on any level if energy was not made sustainable.  There were many opportunities for renewables, for increased efficiency, and so forth.  Only by attaining sustainable energy within the context of sustainable development would it be possible to address climate change issues within the island States.

    He said that the small island developing States produced less than .5 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases, about the same percentage as their share of global trade.  The future of climate change and high energy demands placed those countries in uncharted waters; no other countries had ever had to deal with those twin challenges.  New markets were needed and new opportunities must be found, but there were a lot more constraints than ever before.  For example, sea level rise impacted marine ecosystems, but the 15 airports in the Caribbean were one to two metres above sea level, so a sea level rise could drastically affect the airports, and, thus, tourism, as well.  Sea level rise also affected agriculture.  Indeed, it put it all at risk.  So, the challenge facing the small island States was unprecedented.

    If business continued as usual, then it was just a matter of time before there were potential devastating effects on those countries, he said.  Even if those States were to become 100 per cent energy renewable and they managed to solve the energy problem, they would still need the international community to solve the global climate change problem.  If the Caribbean, for example, was to dedicate 10 to 15 per cent of its land to growing plant oil, it could satisfy nearly 50 per cent of its diesel requirement.  The Caribbean States had more potential to produce all the fuel they needed for transportation and power generation; they did not need to depend on imported petroleum, except for aviation and maritime use.

    Papua New Guinea's representative had hoped the "Small Island Developing States Day" outcome would produce a firm political commitment, including one of resources from the developed partners in implementing the Mauritius strategy.  The experts and the leadership of the small island States, themselves, had articulated their issues very well to their development partners; however, it was crucial for the current session to give the development partners a firm signal of what was needed now.  He had heard during this discussion from countries such as India, which was doing a remarkable job helping small island nations in their sustainable development efforts, but he encouraged his developed country partners to give a firm political commitment of their resources to assist the small island partners in implementing and achieving their sustainable development plans.

    Tuvalu's representative said that, as Mr. Binger had pointed out, the impacts of climate change were already happening, and not some future prediction, as the Secretary-General's report had indicated.  In Tuvalu, the island was increasingly visited, not only by cyclones, but by rising sea levels, king tides and swells.  Those were really impacting badly on freshwater and vegetation, and carrying away a lot of area in the foreshore of the islands.  That was happening in all regions of the small island States.  That recognition seemed prevalent everywhere except when it came to financing concrete adaptation projects on the ground, which were so urgently and comprehensively needed to mitigate the effects of climate change already "visiting" countries like his own.

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