|Posted by Dinesh on April 25, 2011 at 1:28 PM|
At the Alternative Energy and Climate Change in the Caribbean workshop held in Curaçao last August, Amigu di Tera (Friends of the Earth Curaçao) discussed Curaçao’s climate and energy situation in the context of small island sustainability. Their starting point is the recognition of climate change as a consequence of humankind’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels as an energy source. While certain effects are already noticeable in daily life, such as more extremely warm days per year, there is still a shortage of scientific data on coral bleaching, sea level rise and changing sea currents. The state structure of the Netherlands Antilles and Curaçao is currently undergoing significant change, which has meant that many pressing issues, including climate and energy policies, now feature less prominently on the political agenda. Consequently, preparing these policies will take longer than expected.
Because of their small scale and extreme vulnerability, small islands have very little room for error. Sustainability policies are critical to their survival, all the more so today as the changing climate affects all life conditions. It is imperative that the coastal and marine areas, the built and utilities environment (including production areas), and more generally the natural environment be managed properly. Nevertheless, the key to protecting and enhancing the environment is in the hands of the many, not the few. This means empowering citizens to engage actively in improving their own environment, as Professor Jacqueline McGlade, head of the European Environment Agency, stated last year.
Curaçao could do far more than just adapting to the consequences of climate change. It could also be part of preventive efforts. This small Caribbean island ranks among the world’s top ten in terms of per capita fossil energy use. Its economic growth indexes take fossil fuel use and even its wastage for granted. From this point of view, our economy shows (potential for) growth. However, climate change compels us to reconsider such a perspective and to develop a new vision on welfare and growth. By embracing energy efficiency and the use of alternative clean and sustainable energy sources, this small island’s citizens, local businesses and government apparatus will be able to reduce their carbon footprint, which might be small on a world scale but has severe impacts on the local economy and society.
A smaller carbon footprint can be achieved with the help of many practical policy instruments, of which we mention only a few. Encouraging the import of energy efficient appliances, and discouraging inefficient ones, would help reduce our carbon footprint. Restraining further urban sprawl would mean less transport movements are necessary. Free high-quality public transport could reduce private car usage, while a network of footpaths and bicycle lanes would also contribute to a lower-carbon island. Taking sun and wind into account in the design of houses and other buildings can significantly reduce the amount of energy currently used for air-conditioning and fans. Similarly, well-planned landscaping based on local plants and trees can help cool the built environment naturally. Currently, the production of piped water relies on high-energy (and therefore costly) desalination and reverse osmosis plants, making precipitation catchments such as cisterns a cost-effective and climate-friendly option, even in Curaçao’s semi-arid climate. Proper management of our nature areas can also contribute to a reduction in carbon dioxide production. The survival of coral reefs, which absorb 30% of emitted carbon dioxide, depends on mangroves, which in turn absorb much more carbon dioxide than many other trees due to their high biomass. Protecting mangroves and coral reefs clearly makes sense in the context of climate policies.
Within a few years, Curaçao will extend the capacity of its windfarms, increasing the share of electricity generated by windmills to 25% of total electricity production. Clean energy generation at the level of households and businesses could well replace an important part of the island’s fossil fuel based electricity production. While solar panels have become more affordable, a comprehensive scheme of subsidies is necessary to ensure access for all income groups. We advocate a decentralized energy production system in which citizens could be more involved in their own energy consumption and less dependent on the major centralized energy utilities. Decentralization also has advantages in relation to adaptation to expected consequences of climate change. The storms or even hurricanes predicted by scientists for this hurricane-free area of the southern Caribbean will make electricity networks very vulnerable. Even a minor hurricane could cause the centralized utility to fail, and brownouts or blackouts could affect the entire island for weeks. In short, the governments of small islands face significant challenges in foreseeing and managing their energy and climate issues. Yet there are also major opportunities which they can seize.
Curaçao, August 13, 2010
Amigu di Tera
P.O.Box 4688, Willemstad, Curaçao
tel. (+) 5999 737 3965
Categories: Renewable energy