‘If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it’
– Sir David Attenborough addressing COP26 Summit delegates
Renewable energy and the importance of water conservation are certainly not novel concepts. For years, countries worldwide have worked collectively to find the best channels to implement such great initiatives. While it is all well and good to champion and promote these enterprises, it is of equal importance to keep in mind sustainability, especially when one considers that renewable energy and water management can make or break, any so-called Small Island Developing State (SIDS)
A Brief Overview
The main premise behind this webinar was to explore potential partnerships within the fields of renewable energy sources and water management for SIDS. According to a sobering report delivered last August at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the negative impact on our planet’s climate brought about by human activity is unprecedented and in certain cases, irreversible.
Breakthrough findings cautioned nations of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and a key temperature limit being broken in merely over a decade. Undoubtedly, energy and water production and consumption are largely affected by this setting and play a significant role in the pursuit of sustainability.
In the run-up to the COP26 conference, the main aim of this webinar was to deliver a pertinent discussion between experts and distinguished speakers to explore possible partnerships and partnership agendas and programmes that endorse the resourceful and operative use of renewable energy sources and water management practices within SIDS. This webinar was in fulfillment of Malta’s co-Chairmanship of the SIDS Partnership Committee, of the United Nations.
A ‘code red for humanity’
Climate action is imminent. UN Secretary General, António Guterres refers to this dire state as a ‘code red’. Phenomena such as water scarcity, rising sea levels, extreme heatwaves, droughts and floodings are but a few of the alarming, not to mention devastating impacts many countries are experiencing first hand due to climate change.
To ensure maximum efficacy and implementation, sustainable renewable energy is imperative. The same can be said for small states partnerships. The dependence on non-renewable energy and water shortages and rising sea levels are also negatively affecting SIDS’ sustainable development. Thus, the use of renewable energy resources and improved water management systems is the way forward, and crucially, for the ongoing socioeconomic development of SIDS.
A Look at the Maltese Context
As a local potato farmer, Joseph Farrugia so pertinently put it: ‘with no water, there’s no life!’ Unsurprisingly, he fears that his generation of farmers and their work is where it could quite possibly end. Simply put: trees are dying. Carob trees that are at least a century or two – some even three – are perishing. There’s no going around it, the only point of origin is water, or lack thereof.
While sunny Malta is an attractive destination for tourists worldwide, the lack of rain may reveal a bleaker reality when it comes to agriculture and sustainable living. With an average of just 58 rainy days per year, in recent years, the shortage of rainfall has been even worse than this. This stat automatically places Malta on the frontline of climate change. In no uncertain terms, Malta is at risk of desertification. And while as a country we are minimal emitters in the EU, we will probably be the ones to suffer the repercussions first. Since Malta lacks rivers and lakes, its only source of freshwater is underground, by means of boreholes. Obviously, even such water resources are finite, and climate change only elevates this severe situation.
Common Challenges Highlighted
Perhaps one of the most startling facts is that SIDS contribute to less than 1% of global carbon emissions. Yet they feel the impact first and most acutely. For several endangered islands, losses of reefs, lands and fishing grounds can only be attributed to carelessness and supreme lack of urgency from the world’s biggest polluters.
Unfortunately, several SIDS continue to bank on generating their energy needs on the use of non-renewable sources, namely fossil fuels, which are imported from other countries. While there is vast potential to harness renewable energy sources in SIDS, obstacles including high investment costs, artificial barriers that prevent competitive advantages for renewable energy and locked in carbon intensive infrastructures continue to pose major challenges. A better environment needs to be created drawing on successful partnerships and eliminating impediments that prevent scaling up these initiatives. Undoubtedly, the challenges are multifaceted, this is why targeted approaches that take into account national circumstances and priorities is a necessity.
It is well-known that SIDS are at the forefront of climate change. UNESCO estimates that 71% of SIDS face a risk of water shortage, a figure that accelerates to 91% in SIDS with lowest altitude. Although surrounded by seawater, the groundwater of 73% of SIDS is prone to saline intrusion and groundwater pollution. It is a considerable challenge for countries that are vulnerable to phenomena such as tsunamis, hurricanes, floods and/or drought. Partnerships, international cooperation and technology are all needed to ensure water conservation and management in SIDS.
A Fiscal Fiasco
Unfortunately, small states are excluded from securing private financing and access to capital markets. This is mainly due to the small size of their projects, and due to the fact that Small Island Developing States are non economies of scale.. The margin of profitability for companies who take on said ventures are narrow, especially in comparison to larger, more lucrative projects with bigger countries.
Such issues have been made more critical and perhaps highlighted even further due to the global pandemic. SIDS today have even less fiscal space to invest in renewables, as they clamber to cope with the collapse of tourism and other major exports. Moreover, infrastructure projects have been delayed. Thus, limited travel to and from islands. At face value, the outlook seems rather bleak.
The solution is to look into more effective access to grants and investment funds. Yet, even when SIDS are eligible, small governments struggle to manage the lengthy application processes which necessitate very detailed technical competences. Partnerships address both of these challenges. If done properly and effectively, combining small renewable energy resources in SIDS can become large and investable.
The SAMOA Pathway
The SAMOA Pathway underscored the development of sustainable energy, including improved accessibility to modern energy services, energy efficiency and use of economically viable and environmentally sound technology.
Imported fuels such as fossil fuels have exposed a major point of vulnerability and a key challenge for SIDS, for decades. The reality is, that concerns have been raised in the SAMOA Pathway, asking SIDS and the international community to focus attention and cooperation on partnerships, to promote energy efficiency and to foster sustainable energy system based on all energy resources. This is particularly true for renewable energy resources such as wind, sustainable biomass, solar energy, hydroelectric biofuels and geothermal energy – which are all as germane today as they were during the drafting of the SAMOA Pathway in 2014.
Improvement of water management also has wide co-benefits including promotion of domestic industries such as agriculture and new industries like aquaculture. Furthermore, recognising the close interlinkages between the Sustainably Development Goals (SDGs) and the alignment with the SAMOA Pathway and its action across the two areas will also help achieve a broader, sustainable development aspirations as we move forward. As emphasized in both the SAMOA Pathway and SDGs, genuine, durable partnerships are critical to implement activities. Objectives of scaling up and expanding initiatives that deliver targeted and effective solutions for SIDS will bring such efforts to fruition.
SIDS have Strength, Diversity and Potential
With all the adversity SIDS face, one cannot negate the fact that there is a lot of potential. Increased use of renewable energy sources, including solar photovoltaic technology, wind turbine farms, geothermal sources and tidal power, as well as better water management, are therefore all vital to SIDS.
Plummeting emissions will bring about an improved environment for populations. It can also promote socio-economic development, especially when consideration is given to the critical role tourism plays in the economies of most SIDS and the development of SIDS’ blue economies. Improved water management can also help strengthen the water security whilst providing supplementary support to local agriculture.
Although, due to their size and limited emissions SIDS are not responsible for the greater part of global climate change, their efforts in these fields further strengthens their position and role as leading players in highlighting the effects of this phenomenon on the world stage.
There is an important role in retaining freshwater through water management, as it depends crucially on healthy ecosystems. The scale of the problems SIDS face requires urgent and innovative action. With projections of freshwater scarcity getting worse as time passes, countries must look into all viable and available solutions – both technological and traditional. Healthy mangroves protect the coastline from erosion and saltwater intrusion, and preserve wetlands and forests. Conservation and restoration of mangroves, coral reefs and forests in SIDS can contribute to a range of international targets and commitments and commitments including multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Recent efforts in raising awareness on the principles in restoration, will hopefully see a higher success rate for such efforts in the near future. improving the ecological restoration.
Renewable energy can have a twofold role: firstly, clean energy sources help mitigate climate change hazards, and secondly, it can fuel energy intensive freshwater desalination plants. Fiji and Papua New Guinea are prime examples implementation of renewable is greatly beneficial. Both SIDS use hydropower and freshwater management, solutions that complement each other. And, in Cape Verde, their pilot in solar powered desalination plants aims to address the country’s persistent droughts. What’s more, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) can generate freshwater, offering yet another great potential for many other SIDS.
Nevertheless, nations must be realistic in their endeavours and ventures. Some technologies still need improvement to achieve commercialisation. Additionally, to operate sustainably in each SIDS context, building local capacity is a must. This is where partnerships between states play vital role. Through knowledge sharing and playing to each country’s strengths, more commercial and concessional financing is required, but if a collective effort is made, this can become a reality.
Given the current global situation, it is undeniable that SIDS are embattled by both the Covid-19 pandemic and climate crisis at once. While it may seem like these circumstances leave nations in dire straits, there is still hope if SIDS join forces to make an impact not only for their own countries but to encourage larger countries to follow suit.
Indubitably, SIDS face constant challenges when it comes to renewable energy and water management. They have unique vulnerabilities due to the ongoing negative impact of environment and external financial shocks. Furthermore, as highlighted by the speakers in this webinar, the global pandemic has resulted in severe impediments to sustainable development and economic growth.
Yet, despite such seemingly austere circumstances, there is a building resilience through technological development, capacity building and human resources’ development. All of which are pivotal to recovery and getting back on track to achieve the SAMOA Pathway and STGs and to handle emerging risks.
Ultimately, if SIDS work together, it is very possible to improve the use and implementation of renewable energy sources and water management. As British naturalist Sir David Attenborough so astutely put it, we can ‘turn tragedy into triumph’ if we work collectively to leave a better legacy for future generations.
If you would like to watch this very insightful webinar, click here.