By Veerle Vandeweerd
Richard Kelly of the island of Jamaica took to the stage here in Bridgetown, Barbados, with a story to tell.
Against the backdrop of iconic sprinters Usain Bolt and Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kelly spoke of a people renowned for their kinetic energy - energy that will be unleashed at the London Olympics this summer, he promised.
If only that same energy could light the nation’s homes and power progress, he said.
Jamaica is a nation on a mission for sustainable energy for all. The government spent $2.2 billion - or 40 percent - of its foreign exchange earnings on importing fossil fuels in 2011. So they decided to make a change.
They turned to the nature around them - the sunshine, waterfalls and rivers – investing in renewable energy. By 2030, 30 percent of Jamaica’s energy will come from renewables.
“Innovate or die,” they said, as they sought to expand energy access to the last five percent of their population and generate efficiencies wherever possible, swapping out old street lights and air conditioners and running power plants on cleaner fuels.
Jamaica is one of 29 small island developing states (SIDS) to share its story of determination to be free from dependence on fossil fuels during this week’s Achieving Sustainable Energy for All conference in Barbados.
Just weeks ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development or ‘Rio+20’, these nations with some of the highest energy bills in the world have come together, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme, and put forward a list of commitments to change.
By 2029, Barbados plans to reduce its fossil fuel bill by $283 million, announced Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, in opening the conference. Mauritius will increase the share of renewable energy to 35 percent or more by 2025; the Seychelles commit to produce 15 percent of energy from renewables by 2030.
Timor Leste set out another timeline of aims: by 2015, no households in the capital will need to use firewood for cooking; by 2020, 50 percent of energy will come from renewables; and by 2030, all families will have electricity 24 hours-a-day, with 100,000 families with access to solar energy.
Each of these commitments, captured in the Barbados Declaration, illustrate that change for a more inclusive, sustainable future is not only possible but practical. They give concrete expression to the kind of change the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative seeks to mobilize for a sustainable future.
Just like Jamaica, these nations are writing the stories of their future. They point towards a time when respiratory illness from cooking over smoky stoves is no longer a primary cause of death for the women and children of poor households; where girls can go to school instead of collecting firewood, and where students have light to study through the night for exams if they so choose.
I am sure my colleague Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, the head of the UN offices here in Barbados, will forgive me when I steal from her the following line: “No army in the world is strong enough against an idea whose time has come”. I am convinced. The time has come for sustainable energy for all.
Veerle Vandeweerd is director of the U.N. Development Programme Environment and Energy Group.