KINGSTON — Members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have joined forces in an attempt to bolster energy conservation and awareness efforts throughout the region, with its first staging of the annual Caricom Energy Week (CEW).
The brainchild of the CARICOM Secretariat, the initiative was launched on November 3 in Jamaica under the theme: ‘Energy Security for a Sustainable Future’, and will be observed November 6 to 12 this year, and during the second week of November in subsequent years.
CEW is being observed across the Caribbean Community as a series of concurrent National Energy Weeks, with regional focus on energy conservation. The initiative is expected to stimulate thought and encourage discussion on key energy issues, as well as initiate action in the area of energy conservation and efficiency and renewable energy.
Speaking at the recent launch, Minister of Energy and Mining, Hon. Clive Mullings, said he is pleased with the integral role the Ministry has played in the co-ordination of the first staging of the event.
“Through this initiative, the entire region has been forced to acknowledge the challenges we face in energy and that we need a regional approach in meeting these challenges,” he said.
The Minister further noted that the first staging of the CEW demonstrates the possibilities that arise from regional consensus and integrated partnership between government and non-governmental organisations.
He informed that the Week seeks to bring a holistic treatment to energy issues that affect not only those in Jamaica, but the entire region, particularly developing and non-oil producing countries.
Jamaica’s theme, ‘Energy Security for a Sustainable Future’, he said, is quite fitting, as it underscores the volatility of world oil prices “and the impact on our own economy.”
“The theme also fits into our energy diversification plans as it speaks to energy security, which for us means security of supply,” he said. “Jamaica spends billions of dollars annually to import this precious commodity. Just last year we spent over US$1.6 billion importing over 20 million barrels of oil and although we imported less oil than in 2009, we still spent more on the commodity,” he informed.
Mr. Mullings said that imported petroleum accounted for approximately 90 per cent of Jamaica’s energy needs, noting that the country’s expenditure on petroleum imports represented 29 per cent of the Real Gross Domestic earnings. “We consume 19.4 million barrels of oil and to put it in a context, our expenditure on petroleum is second after servicing the national debt,” he said.
“What we are witnessing is a devastation of our capabilities to grow and this devastation has to be tackled with an appropriate response that is equally focused, not only here in Jamaica, but across the region,” the Minister said.
He argued that to offset the impact of high energy prices, reduce dependency on imported oil, and heighten energy security in Jamaica, the country must pursue a diversified energy strategy.
“At this pivotal moment we must implement the strategies that will revolutionise our domestic consumption patterns, manufacturing and productive processes. This includes renewable energy, natural gas, and includes all the possibilities, because we cannot afford to put all our eggs in one basket, as we have done before, because current trends do not augur well for our country’s energy future,” he argued.
He further noted that each Jamaican has a part to play in improving Jamaica’s energy bill, through simple conservation methods that over time, can result in massive savings.
“We have to have a paradigm shift in how we think to take control of our energy future. We must have the kind of focus to understand that energy is a precious resource, and therefore, not only our high electricity bills ought to be a concern, but that concern must reflect itself in how we strategise in utilising the use of energy in a rational and effective way,” Mr. Mullings said.
Meanwhile, Programme Manager, Energy, CARICOM Secretariat, Joseph Williams noted that one of the main themes that have evolved throughout the region for CEW surrounds the development of a clean, low-carbon, sustainable and secured energy future for the region.
He said the CEW, though a new development, is a very important one, given the importance of energy throughout the region and the world.
Mr. Williams noted that the idea for a Week to focus on energy has been long overdue when one considers the critical importance of energy to economic development and the cross cutting nature of energy.
“Despite the fact that energy has been a challenging subject matter in CARICOM… because of the somewhat diverse views on the topic… we think that this is an important aspect of our development and that a co-operative and regional approach is imperative, if we’re going to be able to make the kind of steps that are necessary to take us forward,” he said.
He argued that for most CARICOM countries, the critical issue is that of energy security arising from over dependence on imported petroleum and petroleum products. Energy security in this context relates to availability, affordability and reliability of supply, he said.
“Linked to this is the whole issue of the volatility on the world market, which gives rise to the need for countries to explore and develop their indigenous resources, whether those are hydrocarbons, or whether it relates to renewable energy resources, and also diversifying the energy matrix to reduce the risk in these exposures,” he said.
The other broad goal for the region, he noted, is the issue of energy sustainability. “The issue of climate change is one of the single most important human development agenda issues of our time, and so, as Small Island Developing States (SIDS), we have to be at the forefront of this fight in supporting climate change mitigation,” Mr. Williams argued.
“We are bound to look at our energy system, to look at our energy production, our energy demand profile as a means of mitigating climate change,” he added.
He emphasised that the issue of affordability of energy is a significant one for the average citizen, in terms of being able to afford the basic services for a modern way of life, and also from the stand point of economic competitiveness. “If energy costs remain high for the productive sector, then the countries will simply not be able to compete regionally or globally,” Mr. Williams said.
“The situation in Jamaica has been articulated over time, but we believe that this Energy Week provides the platform upon which we can have useful dialogue, as there is significant space for informed discussions,” he added.
Activities throughout the Week will include: lunchtime presentations in various secondary schools in Kingston; a tour of PETROJAM, Wigton Wind Farm and JPS Hydro Facilities by students from various institutions; Northern Caribbean University will host Mandeville Energy Forum on Wednesday, November 9; there will be an Energy Awareness Expo at the University of the West Indies, Mona and a Panel Discussion at the University of Technology on Thursday, November 10.
By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter