Green economies offer small islands new economic and ecological opportunities

Barbados
© Margaret Badore. Pebble Beach, Barbados.

The green energy sector is booming in the U.S. and there’s much discussion of African nations like Kenya leapfrogging fossil fuels. Clean technologies hold great potential for smaller developing nations too, although their path to a greener economy may have different goals.

This year’s World Environment Day sought to draw attention to the issues facing small island developing nations. Throughout the events honoring World Environment Day, an important reoccurring topic of discussion was the need to develop an economy that’s both economically and ecologically sustainable.

Small islands are often dependent on energy, manufacturing and food imports. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, small island nations' electricity prices may be 500 times higher than in the United States. Investing in domestic renewable energy power, like solar and wind, offers small island nations a cheaper source of energy while lowering their carbon footprint. The South Pacific nation of Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand, is already rolling out its plan to be 100 percent solar-powered. Legislation supporting solar and renewable power in Barbados will go into effect this July. Solar energy may also offer greater resilience in the face of natural disasters, like hurricanes and tropical storms.

Although it contributes relatively little to greenhouse gases, Barbados does have a few sectors that are high energy consumers, namely transportation and hotels. Yet these are the very areas that offer opportunities to develop a greener economy.

Automobiles are a primary means of transportation on the island, which has a dense road system and consumes about a third of the fuel imported to the island. A Green Economy Scoping Study, released by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Government of Barbados last week, recommends expanding the public transportation system of buses and improving the infrastructure for walking and biking. These efforts can help reduce the dependance on private vehicles.

© Margaret Badore. There are over 90,000 private cars on Barbados, according to the Ministry of Transport and Works.

The tourism industry, which brought in an estimated $1.2 billion U.S. in 2010, offers another area of potential for the green economy. Barbados has already taken steps to protect some its natural wonders by creating eco-tourism destinations, however hotel accommodations still represent a major user of natural resources, and there’s a need to create lodging that’s both more water and energy efficient. The Scoping Study finds that there’s potential in heritage and community-based tourism, and that ecotourism can itself become a selling point for nations that invest in it.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to a flourishing green economy is the perception that green policies disadvantage companies and investors. Yet the Scoping Study finds that the costs of not investing in clean technologies and climate change adaptations will be much higher, as climate change may be completely destructive to many sectors.

At a forum held to discuss clean technology investment, Donville Inniss, Barbado's Minister of Industry, emphasized the need for businesses to consider their environmental impacts. "For too long the conversation has lingered at the doorstep of environmentalists."

Furthermore, environmental standards and initiatives can encourage innovation. UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner described the private sector as likely to turn ideas into action. Although government policies are key to reaching sustainability goals, he added that a green economy doesn’t have to interfere with “the business of business.”

Tags: Economics | World Environment Day