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Regional Keynote by Dr Carla N. Barnett, Secretary-General, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at the Opening Ceremony of the Caribbean Energies and Investment Summit, Bridgetown, Barbados, 1-3 November 2023

  • Senator the Honourable Lisa R. Cummins, Minister of Energy and Business Development of Barbados;
  • Other Honourable Ministers;
  • Representatives of Regional Institutions;
  • International Development Partners;
  • Other Distinguished Delegates;
  • Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to speak with you today on Regional Cooperation and Collaboration to support the Caribbean Energy Transition, an imperative which is of paramount importance to Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The Caribbean is known for its stunning natural beauty, cultural diversity and warm hospitality, such as we are privileged to be experiencing here in Barbados as we acknowledge the excellent environment within which these discussions are taking place. Tourism posters show easy living and endless good times.

Like many Small States, however, the countries in the Region are grappling with interconnected challenges to sustainable economic growth and development. Energy security and climate resilience are central to these challenges. Energy is the lifeblood of modern society, fuelling social well-being and economic stability. The high cost of energy, dependence on fossil fuels, and susceptibility to climate hazards, have made it necessary for us to rethink our approach to energy generation, distribution, and consumption.

We have seen at first-hand the devastating effects of hurricanes and other natural disasters on our energy infrastructure. Boosting energy security calls for us to invest in resilient and decentralized energy systems, which incorporate renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower, along with microgrids and energy storage solutions. By reducing our reliance on centralized grids, we can help to ensure that even when disasters unfold, our communities have electricity. The implementation of clean and renewable energy sources, along with modern smart grids, can significantly improve the reliability of our energy systems.

Transitioning to sustainable energy sources can help to reduce energy costs. Investments in clean energy technologies can lead to lower electricity bills for consumers and reduce the financial and emotional burden on the most vulnerable members of our communities.

The Caribbean Community has committed to a regional Energy Programme that prioritises the transition to sustainable energy.  CARICOM was founded on the philosophy of us being stronger together, and collaboration and partnerships are critical as we seek to advance the transition to sustainable energy. The CARICOM Energy Policy and the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy (C-SERMS) presents a common position to utilize a well-balanced combination of conventional and alternative energy resources available to the Region to advance sustainable development.

Collectively, the Region has identified ambitious renewable energy targets in the C-SERMS. Beginning with a baseline of 8% in 2012, the initial aim was to reach 20% by 2017, followed by 28% by 2022, and a more substantial target of 47% by 2027. Progress on these goals has been slow, but CARICOM remains committed to expanding the scale of deployment of renewable energy power systems. 

The challenge of access to the technology we need is real in this Region. There is a need to adopt and use more efficient, clean and renewable energy technologies to drive economic growth, but actually doing this requires the supply of equipment and technology – technology that is not always readily available to markets in the Caribbean. The hope is that the increase in the global supply of clean energy, renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, will lead to significant reductions in prices, increased competitiveness and will help to increase our access to the newer, most efficient technologies, not the older less efficient technologies that developed markets are leaving behind.

At their meeting in April this year, the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) on Energy approved the Regional Electric Vehicle Strategy. The Region is planning an accelerated deployment of electric vehicles (EV), as Member States implement national plans and strategies with the support of Regional Institutions. To do this effectively, our countries need access, not only to the EVs, but also to the range of service and operational technologies that EVs require. Electrification of the transport sector in the Caribbean region would reduce energy demand, particularly for imported diesel and gasoline, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from this sector.

A key action for sustainable energy transition is diversification of energy sources and leveraging renewable energy resources – such as wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) technology – for cleaner and more affordable energy. Each of the independent Member States within CARICOM has formally ratified the Paris Agreement, and they have all incorporated sustainable energy objectives and milestones into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

We understand that we do not significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. So, we know that as we transition to renewable energy, the impact on global emissions will not be significant.  But emissions reduction is not the only reason for undertaking the transition to clean renewable energy. The energy transition is also, critically, about energy security, independence, stability and efficiency. And, it is also about our own environmental protection and sustainability.

Critical to energy transition, is investing in education and training to develop the workforce needed for implementation and operation of sustainable energy systems. This would support the expected demand for the new job opportunities which the energy transition can create.

Community engagement and involvement are also essential for the success of any energy transformation. This is the thinking behind CARICOM Energy Month activities and other initiatives throughout the year.

Given the stark realities of climate change, Member States are seeking to invest in resilient infrastructure to withstand the impact of natural disasters. The Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) continues to facilitate the development of National Integrated Resource and Resilience Plans. These plans have been prepared for several Member States to address the threats posed by external shocks on their power system designs and operations.

Ladies and gentlemen, clearly there is a lot of work to do. The desired transformation of the Region’s energy systems requires substantial investments in infrastructure and technology, policy reform, and capacity development. This implies that the Region must secure significant funding for renewable energy systems, smart grids, battery storage, energy efficiency, and system resilience.   Access to affordable financing mechanisms, tailored to the unique dynamics of the small states in CARICOM, are an imperative.

Attracting investment is crucial. We need innovative financing mechanisms from the international and regional capital markets and from international financial institutions, tailored to the needs of the Caribbean, including the potential to bundle projects to achieve economies of scale. Public-private partnerships to advance this transition are also critical. When governments and the private sector collaborate, they have a greater chance to access the vital capital, expertise and innovation required. The private sector contributes investments, technology, and operational efficiency, and governments facilitate their involvement by establishing a transparent enabling regulatory framework, extending incentives, and ensuring long-term economic stability.

The commitment of our development partners to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technologies is important too. International development partners provide invaluable support through technical assistance and funding to implement sustainable energy projects. Partnerships allow Member States to leverage their individual strengths and collaborate to bridge gaps in systems, infrastructure and capacity.

The sustainable energy transition is not just a challenge, it is also a remarkable opportunity to reduce energy costs, protect our environment, and generate new economic activity. It paves the way for the emergence of new products and services, including distributed solar, microgrids, electric vehicles, energy storage and energy management devices.

The primary aim of the CARICOM Energy Programme is to guarantee that every CARICOM citizen enjoys access to modern, clean and reliable energy supplies at affordable and stable prices. By investing wisely and collaborating effectively, we can make this vision a reality for the Caribbean. It’s up to us to shape an energy landscape that benefits us today and safeguards the energy security and prosperity of generations to come.

Gatherings such as these present an opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities we have before us as we seek a fair and accessible pathway to energy transition. I wish you a productive and successful dialogue over the next three days.

I thank you.

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