Small islands show the way on clean energy

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Today was an exciting day in Cancun. For me, it marked a break from the rhetoric of negotiations to focus on the reality of action on the ground to combat climate change. This morning’s weather was picture perfect as the World Bank’s President, Bob Zoellick arrived at the Press Conference Centre in the Moon Palace to voice the Bank’s support for the concrete actions of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).


ImageAOSIS consists of 43 island and low-lying countries that encircle the tropical belt around the globe. Given the very real threat posed by climate change, they have been attending international meetings on climate change for the last 20 years and are frustrated at the pace of progress and the lack of ambition. They are here in Cancun to fight for their survival and to call upon their partners and the international community to be ambitious. In the negotiating text, they want to see reference to 1.5 degrees, “loss and damage” and a legal form to the agreement. After 20 years of talks, AOSIS is going beyond negotiations and embarking upon concrete actions to lead by example: They are intent on entering an era of renewable energy and energy efficiency—hence today’s press conference. 


Amidst a blaze of flashing cameras, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the Prime Minister of Grenada in his capacity as chair of AOSIS, Dr. Lykke Friis, the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Gender Equality, Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP and the World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Simon Billett of UNDP who had been stellar in his efforts joined me on stage as we facilitated the signing. This MOU calls for the introduction of renewables and energy efficiency into these island states with an initial injection of US$14.5 million from the Danish Government as part of their Fast Start financing pledge.


These islands spend disproportionate amounts of their foreign exchange, up to 30% on fossil fuel imports—money that could be better spent on climate resilient development. The time had now come for action and Dr Lykke Friis the Danish Minister joined in this call. Bob Zoellick highlighted the leadership shown by the islands here in the climate negotiations (referring to Antigua’s John Ashe as chair the AWG-KP and Jamaica’s Clifford Mauling as chair of the CDM). Zoellick went further by also highlighting how action was already being taken by the World Bank and other partners in support of the leadership shown by the islands. He mentioned the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) and also the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) where US$60 -70 million was  made available to both the Pacific and Caribbean regions. The Grenada Prime Minister said that the CCRIF had paid out sums to islands that were hit by Hurricane Tomas recently. I checked the CCRIF website and it mentioned that 50% of these payments were made within seven days, well ahead of schedule.Image


For my part, I was happy when the lights went down. Prior to this moment, we had worked feverishly for the last four weeks to pull this event together. In addition to the unstinting efforts of the AOSIS bureau served by Grenada’s UN Ambassador Dessima Williams (chair), Ambassador Colin Beck of Solomon Islands and Ambassador Antonio Lima of Cape Verde, today’s spotlight was on Dr. Al Binger in the AOSIS Secretariat. Professor Binger worked in close collaboration with AOSIS colleagues in New York and with several other experts. They articulated a vision for renewables with calls for international support by their heads of government.  The Bank’s engagement with AOSIS accelerated when colleagues returned from the climate talks in Tianjin with the news that Denmark was prepared to be a first contributor and that AOSIS was inviting the World Bank and UNDP to help facilitate a program of action around renewables and energy efficiency. We at the Bank doubled our efforts and in the process have re-affirmed a great working relationship with these partners. 


Angus Friday

Senior International Climate Policy Specialist

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